Delivering the Second Atal Bihari Vajpayee Memorial Lecture in New Delhi on December 16 (Monday), former President Pranab Mukherjee said that the number of seats in Lok Sabha should be increased to 1,000 from the present 543, and advocated a corresponding increase in the number of MPs in Rajya Sabha and state legislatures.
Every MP currently represents an average 16-18 lakh Indians — too large a number to be kept in touch with in a meaningful way, Mukherjee said.
This argument has been made by several political leaders in the past — most recently by Jitin Prasada, Mukherjee’s former Cabinet colleague, who said that the number of Lok Sabha seats should be rationalised on the basis of population.
In fact, the composition of the Lower House has remained more or less the same for four decades. How is the composition determined, and what are the arguments for and against a change?
Article 81 of the Constitution defines the composition of the House of the People or Lok Sabha. It states that the House shall not consist of more than 550 elected members of whom not more than 20 will represent Union Territories.
At present, the strength of the Lok Sabha is 543, of which 530 have been allocated to the states, and the rest to the Union Territories. (Under Article 331, the President could nominate up to two Anglo-Indians if he/she felt the community was inadequately represented in the House; however, The Constitution (126th Amendment) Bill passed by Parliament last week, while extending the reservation for SC/STs, did away with the provision for nomination of Anglo Indians to Lok Sabha and some state Assemblies. This has brought the strength of Lok Sabha down to 543 now.)
Article 81 also mandates that the number of Lok Sabha seats allotted to a state would be such that the ratio between that number and the population of the state is, as far as possible, the same for all states.
This is to ensure that every state is equally represented. However, this logic does not apply to small states whose population is not more than 60 lakh. So, at least one seat is allocated to every state even if it means that its population-to-seat-ratio is not enough to qualify it for that seat.
As per Clause 3 of Article 81, population, for the purpose of allocation of seats, means “population as ascertained at the last preceding Census of which the relevant figures have been published” — in other words, the last published Census.
However, as a result of an amendment to this Clause in 2003, the “population” now means population as per the 1971 Census — and will be so until the first Census that is taken after 2026.
When it was changed
The strength of Lok Sabha hasn’t always been 543 seats.
Originally, Article 81 provided that the Lok Sabha shall not have more than 500 members. The first House constituted in 1952 had 497 members. Since the Constitution provides for population as the basis of determining allocation of seats, the Lower House’s composition (total seats as well as readjustment of seats allocated to different states) has also changed with each Census up to 1971.
A temporary freeze was imposed in 1976 on ‘delimitation’ until 2001. Delimitation is the process of redrawing the boundaries of Lok Sabha and state Assembly seats to represent changes in the population.
But again, the composition of the House did not change only with the delimitation exercises of 1952, 1963, 1973, and 2002. There were other circumstances as well.
For instance, the first change in the composition of Lok Sabha happened in 1953 after the reorganisation of the state of Madras. After a new state of Andhra Pradesh came into existence, 28 of Madras’s 75 seats went to Andhra Pradesh. The total strength of the House (497) did not change.
The first major change took place after the overall reorganisation of states in 1956, which divided the country into 14 states and six Union Territories.
This meant subsequent changes in the boundaries of existing states and hence, a change in the allocation of seats to the states and Union Territories.
So with reorganisation, the government also amended the Constitution, by which the maximum number of seats allocated to the states remained 500, but an additional 20 seats (also maximum limit) were added to represent the six Union Territories.
Thus, the second Lok Sabha that was elected in 1957, had 503 members.
Subsequently, the Lower House’s composition changed when the state of Haryana was carved out of Punjab in 1966, and when Goa and Daman and Diu were liberated in 1961 and merged with the Indian Union.
When it was frozen, and why
As per Article 81, the composition of the Lok Sabha should represent changes in population. But it has remained more or less the same since the delimitation carried out based on the 1971 Census. Why is it so?
The population-to-seat ratio, as mandated under Article 81, should be the same for all states. Although unintended, this implied that states that took little interest in population control could end up with a greater number of seats in Parliament. The southern states that promoted family planning faced the possibility of having their seats reduced. To allay these fears, the Constitution was amended during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency rule in 1976 to suspend delimitation until 2001.
Even so, there have been a few occasions that have called for readjustment in the number of Parliament and Assembly seats allocated to a state. These include statehood attained by Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram in 1986, the creation of a Legislative Assembly for the National Capital Territory of Delhi, and the creation of new states such as Uttarakhand.
Although the freeze on the number of seats in Lok Sabha and Assemblies should have been lifted after the Census of 2001, another amendment postponed this until 2026.
This was justified on the ground that a uniform population growth rate would be achieved throughout the country by 2026. So, the last delimitation exercise — started in July 2002 and finished on May 31, 2008 — was conducted on the basis of the 2001 Census, and only readjusted boundaries of existing Lok Sabha and Assembly seats and reworked the number of seats reserved for SCs and STs.
With the total seats remaining the same since the 1970s, it is felt that states in North India, whose population has increased faster than the rest of the country, are now underrepresented in Parliament. It is frequently argued that had the original provision of Article 81 been implemented today, states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh would have gained some seats, and those in the South would have lost some.