about 9 months ago
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With the Govt concentrating on everything but the economy, another new distraction has come; this time not from Amit Shah but from Pranab Mukherjee.

Yesterday, at an event, the former President said that there is a strong need to increase the number of seats in the Lok Sabha from the current 543 to 1000. He also urged that there should be a proportionate increase in the Rajya Sabha seats too.

With the CAA and NRC already raging through the country, you cannot help but think, “what now?”

But a quick, silent rethink to what Pranab Mukherjee said makes you realise that there is merit to his suggestion. While the population is surging, how can the same seats suffice the needs of so many more people now?

The last time the strength of the Lok Sabha was revised was in 1977, which was based on the 1971 census that put the total population at 55 crore. On that same note - the provisional population figures released by the Census of India show that the population has increased by 21% since 1991. Thus in that context alone, the number of seats should have been increased. To put this more into context - the British House of Commons has 659 MPs who legislate for a population of some 6.7 crore.

Voters have been increasing because population is increasing  and with the seats remaining the same, it means that a MP has to represent more and more people with each passing election. In the elections held this year, more than 90 crore people registered to vote – this means each MP today represents over 16.58 lakh people. This is more than 5 times what an MP represented when the first general elections were held in 1951-52.

The state-wise imbalance between voters per MP is huge – in most northern states, more people are represented per MP than that in South , simply because the north has more population than the south. This means large northern states are under-represented in the current Lok Sabha, whereas the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu are over-represented. Failure to carry out redistribution after the 2001 Census meant that that is  large discrepancies between the constituency sizes in different states.

There was an amendment made to the Constitution, which suggested that the next redistribution will happen in 2026 but with Census scheduled for 2031, it will happen only after that. By then, the discrepancy between constituency sizes in the North and the South would be even greater.

Why was the delimitation postponed to 2026? The government then, Congress, as part of the National Population Policy strategy, decided to extend the freeze on undertaking fresh delimitation up to the year 2026 as a motivational measure to enable the state governments to pursue the agenda for population stabilization. The idea was that if seats were increased, it would go to the very states which failed to cirb population growth thus once again tilting the balance of power in favour of those who had been derelict in their duties. Well, that logic does not hold any merit today.

To deny a person an equal voice in the democratic process because they happen to be living in a state that has had a high population growth rate is clearly indefensible. The real fear is not about population control but political control.

Pranab Muhkerjee is spot on- there is a desperate need to increase the Lok Sabha seats. We cannot wait till 2026. There has to be a balance of representation and population without reducing the number of MPs in any particular state.

The fact is that the decision not to face up to the democratic consequences of the changing demography of India undermines the representative nature of the Lok Sabha.

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