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23 October, 2007

Freeze of States' seats in Lok Sabha into next century mooted

WILL the Lok Sabha be truly representative of the people of India in the 22nd century? Or will we have sacrificed the principle of allocating seats among the States on the basis of population by then to protect the gains on the population front?

Kerala now has an estimated population of 33 million. If birth and death rates remain unchanged, by 2101 the State’s population will shrink to 28 million, according to a recent population forecast, says Dr. M. Vijayanunni, a former IAS officer, who had served as India’s Registrar General and Census Commissioner, in an article in the Malayalam daily Kerala Kaumudi.

By then, he adds, India’s population, which was 1.03 billion in 2001, would have shot up to 2.18 billion. Tamil Nadu will be the only other State to have registered a population decline – from 62 million in 2001 to 58 million. The population of the northern States would have increased considerably: by 323% in Bihar, 298% in Rajasthan, 289% in Uttar Pradesh, 242% in Madhya Pradesh and 239% in Delhi. Together these five States will have as many people as there are in the whole of India today.

Dr. Vijayanunni points out that if the Lok Sabha’s composition is readjusted on the basis of population, the ten Hindi States’ share will go up from 226 seats to 321 and the non-Hindi States’ will go down from 317 to 222. Kerala’s representation will decline from 20 to seven. In the circumstances, he says, it may become necessary to continue the Constitutional amendment that freezes States’ representation in the Lok Sabha on the basis of the 1971 Census.

Originally, Article 82 of the Constitution provided that, upon the completion of each census, allocation of seats in the Lok Sabha to the States and the division of each State into territorial constituencies shall be readjusted by such authority and in such manner as Parliament may by law determine. In keeping with this provision, the Centre appointed a Delimitation Commission after the 1951, 1961 and 1971 Census operations.

In 1976, Parliament, by a constitutional amendment, put the delimitation process in abeyance until the first census after 2000. This was done to protect the interests of States like Kerala, which were making strenuous efforts to control the growth of population.

When the time came for delimitation on the basis of the 2001 Census figures, Parliament made two more amendments to the Constitution. The cumulative effect of these amendments is that there will be fresh delimitation but seat allocation to the States will still be on the basis of the 1971 Census until the first census after the year 2026.

Thus there is already a national commitment to retain the present pattern of distribution of Lok Sabha seats until after the 2031 Census. Its continuance into the next century means virtual abandonment of the principle of representation on the basis of population.

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