Redrawing Constituencies: The Basics, and the Implications of recent legislation

M.R. Madhavan, the Head of Research at PRS Legislative Research, has an insightful column in today’s Indian Express where he explains the history of the practice of delimitation of constituencies in India, while also providing basic facts and explanations about the policy dilemmas involved. His piece is written against the backdrop of recent legislative efforts in this respect, and Madhavan also explains details of the process that is now afoot. He describes a significant implication of the current process as follows: The number of seats in each state remains unchanged. An important implication is that the Hindi heartland would be under-represented in Parliament to the benefit of the southern states. That is, the 11 Hindi speaking states and Union territories would have 18 seats less than their population share, while the 6 southern states/UTs will have 12 more than theirs. The next delimitation will not be carried out before 2026. Given the continued divergence in population growth, the under-representation of Hindi states would increase to 37 seats and over-representation of the south to 26 seats by 2026. In the next election, Uttar Pradesh alone would have a deficit of 8 seats, which would widen to 16 seats by 2026. In the remaining part of the article, he analyses the issues that arise as a result of this decision. The implications seem staggering even to those (like me) who are probably getting exposed to this area of the law for the first time. For some inexplicable reason, despite the importance of elections in India, analysis of electoral laws has not received the prominence in constitutional law that it deserves. In other constitutional democracies, this area of the law garners prominent attention among constitutional scholars. Perhaps the legal community in India would do well to go beyond focusing on the more dramatic aspects of election law (issues arising out of Article 356, the provisions of the Representation of People’s Act that gained prominence in the Hindutva cases, etc).

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Tarunabh Khaitan
Tarunabh Khaitan
13 years ago

Thanks for this Arun. It was as recently as 2002 in PUCL v Union of India that the right to vote was recognised as a constitutional and not merely a statutory right. To quote a very intersting passage from the judgment:

“The right to vote for the candidate of ones choice is of the essence of democratic polity. This right is recognized by our
Constitution and it is given effect to in specific form by the
Representation of the People Act. The Constituent Assembly
debates reveal that the idea to treat the voting right as a
fundamental right was dropped; nevertheless, it was decided to
provide for it elsewhere in the Constitution. This move found its
expression in Article 326 which enjoins that the elections to
the House of the People and to the Legislative Assembly of
every State shall be on the basis of adult suffrage; that is to say,
every person who is a citizen of India and who is not less than
21* years of age, and is not otherwise disqualified under the
Constitution or law on the ground of non-residence, unsoundness of mind, crime, corrupt or illegal practice-shall be entitled to be registered as voter at such election (* Now 18 years). However, case after case starting from Ponnuswamis case [(1952) SCR 218] characterized it as a statutory right…….With great reverence to
the eminent Judges, I would like to clarify that the right to vote,
if not a fundamental right, is certainly a constitutional right. The right originates from the Constitution and in accordance with the constitutional mandate contained in Article 326, the right has been shaped by the statute, namely, R.P. Act….. a distinction has to be drawn between the conferment of the right to vote on fulfillment of requisite criteria and the culmination of that right in the final act of expressing choice towards a particular candidate by means of ballot. Though the initial right cannot be placed on the pedestal of a fundamental right, but, at the stage when the voter goes to
the polling booth and casts his vote, his freedom to express
arises. The casting of vote in favour of one or the other
candidate tantamounts to expression of his opinion and preference and that final stage in the exercise of voting right marks the accomplishment of freedom of expression of the voter. That is where Article 19(1)(a) is attracted.”

Now, wouldn’t the right to vote, combined with the right to equality in Article 14 give rise to a possible constitutional challenge on the grounds that Mr. Madhavan explains? However, given the extremely deferential reasonableness enquiry under Article 14 that will follow, the Court will probably find that the restriction on equality has reasonable nexus with the goal of promoting family planning.