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What Is Delimitation & What Does Women's Reservation Bill Have To Do With It?

The implementation of Women Reservation Bill is contingent on delimitation, a complex exercise. Here's how it works.

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The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023, also known as the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam which provides for one-third reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, was passed by the Lok Sabha and then the Rajya Sabha during the special session of Parliament.

But the passing of the Bill doesn’t mean that the reservation will come into play for the next several years, at least, given that it is contingent on a number of other factors. Home Minister Amit Shah, speaking in the Lok Sabha, acknowledged that the Bill will be implemented only by 2029, after the census followed by a delimitation process.

Point 5 of the Bill too states that the reservation “will come into effect after an exercise of delimitation is undertaken for this purpose after the relevant figures of the first census taken after commencement of The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023.”

The census was due in 2021, but got delayed initially due to the Covid pandemic, and there is no clarity yet on when it will be carried out now. But even after the census is conducted, it is delimitation which will play an important role in determining which seats are reserved. This can be a tricky and lengthy process. What is delimitation and why is the implementation of the women reservation bill intertwined with it?

What Is Delimitation & What Does Women's Reservation Bill Have To Do With It?

  1. 1. What Is Delimitation?

    Delimitation is the act and process of redrawing Lok Sabha and state Assembly constituencies as per the latest population data. The Election Commission’s website states that delimitation “literally means the act or process of fixing limits or boundaries of territorial constituencies in a country or a province having a legislative body.”

    The premise and underlying idea behind delimitation is for constituency sizes to accurately reflect demographic changes, and for each vote to carry the same weight in the larger scheme of the elections. The delimitation exercise is, thus, meant to ensure that by and large, a similar set number of voters across the country have one Lok Sabha representative (Member of Parliament) and on the same lines have one assembly representative (Member of Legislative Assembly).

    Besides reflecting population changes, delimitation is also meant to ensure all political parties have a more or less level playing field, and boundaries are redrawn at regular intervals.

    Article 81 of the Indian Constitution states that “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.” The same is said about constituencies within states.

    Delimitation is seen as a necessary pre-requisite for any women reservation to be implemented since it cannot be arbitrarily decided which 1/3rd of the seats will be ‘reserved’ for women candidates, and which won’t. Thus, a neutral and independent body is supposed to embark on this endeavor, in what can be a complicated process.

    Expand
  2. 2. How Delimitation Is Carried Out

    The constitution mandates that delimitation be conducted after every census.

    Article 82 of the Constitution (“Readjustment after each census”) mandates that there be a “readjustment” in the “allocation of seats to every state” in Lok Sabha, and the division of every state into constituencies “upon completion of each Census”. Articles 170, 330, and 332 also reiterate the same need for readjustment/redrawing.

    Now, for the delimitation to actually be carried out, the Parliament must frame a law that would authorise a Delimitation Commission to initiate the exercise. This is done as per powers given to the parliament by Article 327 of the Indian Constitution.

    The enactment of such a law is to be followed by the setting up of a delimitation commission, which will carry out the actual exercise.

    The delimitation commission is to be headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, and its members will comprise of Election Commission employees, including the Chief Election Commissioner. The orders of the delimitation commission are legally binding, and cannot be modified by the parliament or any other body.

    Once the delimitation commission’s draft report is ready, the body gets it published in the Gazette of India and seeks necessary feedback, if any, from the public. The feedback is then incorporated into the final report, and the changes come into place once approved by the President.

    Expand
  3. 3. Why Has There Been a Delay?

    The Delimitation Commissions have been previously set up in 1952, 1963, 1972 and 2002, after each census. But delimitation may just include redrawing of boundaries and doesn’t necessarily mean a change in the number of constituencies. In fact, the number of Lok Sabha constituencies were last revised in 1972, based on the 1971 Census. Since then, the number of Lok Sabha constituencies have remained constant—543.

    Each delimitation exercise involves studying the census data—from broad state-wise data to granular gram panchayat level data. This, expectedly, is a time-consuming activity, can take up to two years. The census, which was scheduled to be held in 2021, will now only take place post the 2024 elections.

    But there is another caveat, connected to past political concerns, which may further delay the delimitation exercise.

    The delimitation has been carried out in Jammu and Kashmir and Assam, as part of exercises separate from the national delimitation. However, in both these places, the process is facing criticism from Opposition parties.

    In Jammu and Kashmir, parties like the National Conference and People's Democratic Party have alleged that the delimitation commission went "beyond its mandate" and worked to "further disempower the Kashmir Valley".

    The criticism in Assam is similar. The AIUDF has alleged that the number of Muslim majority constituencies has been reduced in the state. The Congress has alleged that the redrawing of constituencies' boundaries has been done arbitrarily, without keeping in mind congruity.

    Expand
  4. 4. What Are the Political Concerns Around Delimitation?

    In 1976, the Indira Gandhi led government brought a Bill suspending the redrawing of seat boundaries and seat allocation until 2001, stating that this will help states bide time to implement family planning measures. This freezing on the number of seats was extended in 2001 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led government, which in its amendment stated that “Keeping in view the progress of family planning” in different states, it is “decided to extend the current freeze on undertaking fresh delimitation up to the year 2026 as a motivational measure to enable the State Government to pursue the agenda for population stabilisation.”

    This effectively means that the delimitation exercise cannot be initiated till after 2026, and even after that, needs to be done swiftly, in order for it to be implemented for the 2029 Lok Sabha polls.

    Many South Indian states’ leaders have expressed their reservations about the exercise of delimitation—touting it as potentially unfair.

    Tamil Nadu CM M.K Stalin, while supporting the Bill, said that “It is unjust that southern states, which have diligently followed the union government’s policies to control population growth, must face punitive measures during constituency delimitation.”

    Most North Indian states have a significantly higher population than South Indian states, thus leading to the fear that the number of seats from the latter states may get thwarted as part of the delimitation exercise.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What Is Delimitation?

Delimitation is the act and process of redrawing Lok Sabha and state Assembly constituencies as per the latest population data. The Election Commission’s website states that delimitation “literally means the act or process of fixing limits or boundaries of territorial constituencies in a country or a province having a legislative body.”

The premise and underlying idea behind delimitation is for constituency sizes to accurately reflect demographic changes, and for each vote to carry the same weight in the larger scheme of the elections. The delimitation exercise is, thus, meant to ensure that by and large, a similar set number of voters across the country have one Lok Sabha representative (Member of Parliament) and on the same lines have one assembly representative (Member of Legislative Assembly).

Besides reflecting population changes, delimitation is also meant to ensure all political parties have a more or less level playing field, and boundaries are redrawn at regular intervals.

Article 81 of the Indian Constitution states that “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.” The same is said about constituencies within states.

Delimitation is seen as a necessary pre-requisite for any women reservation to be implemented since it cannot be arbitrarily decided which 1/3rd of the seats will be ‘reserved’ for women candidates, and which won’t. Thus, a neutral and independent body is supposed to embark on this endeavor, in what can be a complicated process.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

How Delimitation Is Carried Out

The constitution mandates that delimitation be conducted after every census.

Article 82 of the Constitution (“Readjustment after each census”) mandates that there be a “readjustment” in the “allocation of seats to every state” in Lok Sabha, and the division of every state into constituencies “upon completion of each Census”. Articles 170, 330, and 332 also reiterate the same need for readjustment/redrawing.

Now, for the delimitation to actually be carried out, the Parliament must frame a law that would authorise a Delimitation Commission to initiate the exercise. This is done as per powers given to the parliament by Article 327 of the Indian Constitution.

The enactment of such a law is to be followed by the setting up of a delimitation commission, which will carry out the actual exercise.

The delimitation commission is to be headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, and its members will comprise of Election Commission employees, including the Chief Election Commissioner. The orders of the delimitation commission are legally binding, and cannot be modified by the parliament or any other body.

Once the delimitation commission’s draft report is ready, the body gets it published in the Gazette of India and seeks necessary feedback, if any, from the public. The feedback is then incorporated into the final report, and the changes come into place once approved by the President.

0

Why Has There Been a Delay?

The Delimitation Commissions have been previously set up in 1952, 1963, 1972 and 2002, after each census. But delimitation may just include redrawing of boundaries and doesn’t necessarily mean a change in the number of constituencies. In fact, the number of Lok Sabha constituencies were last revised in 1972, based on the 1971 Census. Since then, the number of Lok Sabha constituencies have remained constant—543.

Each delimitation exercise involves studying the census data—from broad state-wise data to granular gram panchayat level data. This, expectedly, is a time-consuming activity, can take up to two years. The census, which was scheduled to be held in 2021, will now only take place post the 2024 elections.

But there is another caveat, connected to past political concerns, which may further delay the delimitation exercise.

The delimitation has been carried out in Jammu and Kashmir and Assam, as part of exercises separate from the national delimitation. However, in both these places, the process is facing criticism from Opposition parties.

In Jammu and Kashmir, parties like the National Conference and People's Democratic Party have alleged that the delimitation commission went "beyond its mandate" and worked to "further disempower the Kashmir Valley".

The criticism in Assam is similar. The AIUDF has alleged that the number of Muslim majority constituencies has been reduced in the state. The Congress has alleged that the redrawing of constituencies' boundaries has been done arbitrarily, without keeping in mind congruity.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

What Are the Political Concerns Around Delimitation?

In 1976, the Indira Gandhi led government brought a Bill suspending the redrawing of seat boundaries and seat allocation until 2001, stating that this will help states bide time to implement family planning measures. This freezing on the number of seats was extended in 2001 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led government, which in its amendment stated that “Keeping in view the progress of family planning” in different states, it is “decided to extend the current freeze on undertaking fresh delimitation up to the year 2026 as a motivational measure to enable the State Government to pursue the agenda for population stabilisation.”

This effectively means that the delimitation exercise cannot be initiated till after 2026, and even after that, needs to be done swiftly, in order for it to be implemented for the 2029 Lok Sabha polls.

Many South Indian states’ leaders have expressed their reservations about the exercise of delimitation—touting it as potentially unfair.

Tamil Nadu CM M.K Stalin, while supporting the Bill, said that “It is unjust that southern states, which have diligently followed the union government’s policies to control population growth, must face punitive measures during constituency delimitation.”

Most North Indian states have a significantly higher population than South Indian states, thus leading to the fear that the number of seats from the latter states may get thwarted as part of the delimitation exercise.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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