A day after several opposition parties in Assam submitted memorandums to the Election Commission of India (ECI), urging the poll panel to hold the delimitation exercise in abeyance until conclusion of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process, Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar on Tuesday said delimitation and NRC are “different issues”, and there is no “legal bar” on carrying them out separately.
On Tuesday, ECI concluded a three-day visit to the state to consult stakeholders on the ongoing delimitation exercise in the state.
“NRC and delimitation are different issues and there is no legal bar in carrying out [the] two processes separately and simultaneously; there is no legal sequencing,” Kumar told the media in Guwahati. “These are two legally distinct activities and figure under different legislative frameworks. So we are well within the process of defining this based on the Census of 2001.”
“The trigger for us is the rescindment of the deferment by the Honourable President on February 20, 2020,” he said.
On using 2001 Census as the basis of the exercise, Kumar said this was in line with the provisions of Article 170 of the Constitution.
He said: “There are two aspects to this exercise. The readjustment of existing constituencies after every Census is provided for in Article 170. The existing boundaries will be changed based on the first Census after 2026. Until then, wherever it is remaining — for some reason, if that readjustment is not taking place, and the last delimitation took place on the basis of 1971 — the Article (170) says it will be on the basis of the 2001 Census.”
On December 27, 2022, the ECI had announced a plan to carry out delimitation of Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies in Assam based on the 2001 Census after years of deferral. The exercise was carried out in Assam last in 1976. While several states saw a fresh round of the exercise in the first decade of the new millennium, it was deferred in Assam on multiple occasions because political parties opposed it citing the ongoing exercise to update the NRC.
On Monday, the poll panel held meetings with nine recognised political parties, three regional parties and more than 50 civil society organisations.
Besides suggestion that the NRC be completed before this exercise, Kumar said the primary concerns raised by the parties were why 20-year-old figures from 2001 Census were being used as the basis for delimitation; why there is not going to be an increase in the number of Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies; adequate representation through SC and ST constituencies; and safeguards against reduction of seats in areas with lower population growth.
Stating that suggestions and concerns submitted by stakeholders will be considered in the process, Kumar said the ECI will prepare a draft, after which there will be a month-long window for people to send more suggestions. The poll panel will subsequently return to Assam again for another round of consultations, he said.
Kumar, however, did not clear the air on whether this process will be completed before next year’s Lok Sabha election. “We do not disclose timings,” he said. “However, we are very encouraged by the response which suggests that there is an understanding and participation to get this exercise completed. If we continue to get this kind of support and suggestions, we will do our work in a speedy manner but with extreme care since it’s a complex exercise.”