The Union government has moved a proposal to amend the Representation of the People (RP) Act 1950 to give legality to its March 6 order setting up a Delimitation Commission for Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Assam and Nagaland.
The Law Ministry had notified the Delimitation Commission for the four northeast states and Jammu and Kashmir on March 6. Former Supreme Court judge Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai is its chairperson, and Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra is the EC’s representative on the panel.
As first reported by The Indian Express on July 17, this notification violates Section 8A of the RP Act 1950. SK Mendiratta, who served with the EC for over 50 years, had red-flagged this in a letter to the three election commissioners in June.
Section 8A of the RP Act 1950, introduced by Parliament in 2008, states that delimitation in the four northeast states, when held, would fall within the EC’s remit. Hence, any delimitation exercise in Arunachal, Manipur, Assam and Nagaland by the new Delimitation Commission would be “declared void by the courts” and, subsequently, result in “wastage of huge precious public funds”, Mendiratta had written in his letter. The poll panel had forwarded the message to the Law Ministry for consideration.
According to sources, the Law Ministry, in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), has agreed to amend the RP Act 1950 to permit the Delimitation Commission to conduct the exercise in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Assam and Nagaland. The amendment would provide a legal basis for the March 6 order. The Law Ministry had also reached out to the EC this month for comments, and the latter is learned to have okayed the proposal.
Delimitation is the act of redrawing boundaries of Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies to represent changes in population and is done on the basis of the preceding Census.
The last delimitation exercise, that started in 2002 and ended in 2008, had kept out Arunachal, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland as the use of the 2001 Census for it had been challenged by several organisations before the Gauhati High Court, on the ground that it was riddled with defects.
The Delimitation Act of 2002 was amended on January 14, 2008, to empower the President to postpone the exercise in these states. Subsequently, Parliament had decided that instead of creating another Delimitation Commission for the limited purpose of redrawing seat boundaries in the four northeast states, the exercise there would be carried out by the EC. Section 8A of the RP Act 1950 was introduced for this purpose. Parliament was guided by the fact that there is precedence of the EC being vested with the authority to redraw boundaries of constituencies – including when Delhi was delimited to 70 seats in 1991-92, and Uttarakhand to 70 seats in 2000.