Context

  • The lifting of the freeze imposed on increasing the number of parliamentary seats by the Constitution (forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976, due in 2016 will require building of a new Parliament due to increase in number of seats in both houses.

The new debate

  • The debate revolves around the issues with constitutional dimensions of far-reaching importance of additional seats that will be allocated to the States.
  • It also addresses the concerns which compelled the freezing of the allocation of seats on the basis of the 1971 Census figures.

Article 81

  • According to Article 81 of the Constitution as it stood before the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976, the Lok Sabha was to comprise of not more than 550 members.
  • Clause (2) of Article 81 provided that for the purposes of sub-clause (a) of clause (1), there shall be allotted to each State a number of seats in the House of the People in such manner that the ratio between that number and the population of the State is, so far as practicable, the same for all States.
  • Further, clause (3) defined the expression “population” for the purposes of Article 81 to mean the population as ascertained at the last preceding Census of which the relevant figures have been published.

Result

  • As result of this directive, States taking a lead in population control faced the prospect of their number of seats getting reduced.
  • States having higher population figures stood to gain by increase in the number of seats in Lok Sabha.
  • To relieve this anxiety, Section 15 of the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976 effected a freeze on the population figure with reference to the 1971 Census (which was 54.81 crore with a registered electorate of 27.4 crore) for the purposes of proviso to Article 81(3)(i) until the relevant figures for the first Census taken after the year 2000 have been published.
  • Section 3 of the Constitution (Eighty-fourth Amendment), Act 2001 extended the deadline from 2000 to 2026
  • Due to the freezing of the allocation of seats, the allocation done on the basis of the 1971 Census continues hold good for the present population figures.
  • According to the 2011 Census, the population of India stands at 121 crores with a registered electorate of 83.41 crore.
  • Basing the 1971 Census figure of 54.81 crore to represent today’s population presents a misleading version of democratic polity and is contrary to what is mandated under Article 81 of the Constitution.
  • The first Census figure will be available after 2026 that is, in 2031, a fresh delimitation will have to done which will dramatically alter the present arrangement of seat allocation to the States in Parliament.

Benefits of limiting the increase of parliamentary seats

  • The concerns expressed by the States in 1976 which demanded the freezing of seat allocation on the basis of 1971 population figures would appear to be there even today and have to be addressed to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.
  • The Presiding Officers of the Houses/Legislatures will deal with such a large number of members jostling with each other to capture the attention of the Speaker to raise issues in the House is another question.
  • Even with the current strength of 543 members, the Speaker finds it extremely difficult to conduct the proceedings of the House.
  • Members do not show much heed to the entreaties of the Speaker, thereby making smooth conduct of House proceedings a difficult affair.
  • The Speaker’s directions and rulings are not shown proper respect, and disruptions of proceedings aggravate the problem.
  • The sudden increase in numbers will render the task of the Speaker more difficult and onerous.

Why do we need to deal with it?

  • With 2026 looks far away, it has become a necessity to debate now on how to deal with the problems that are likely to arise.
  • Parliament will be forced to postpone the lifting of the freeze to a future date as was done in 2001.
  • Doing this will only postpone the problem for which we must find a solution sooner or later.
  • Various proposals for electoral reforms recommended by various Commissions over the past decade do not address these issues. These are challenges which our political leaders have to address in the immediate future.
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