Article 82 of the Indian Constitution mandates that after every census, a delimitation exercise should be carried out to redraw boundaries of assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies. For this, Parliament should enact a Delimitation Act every 10 years, following which a commission is formed to conduct the exercise.
But this has not happened in the case of four northeastern states — Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland — for the past five decades, allege the Delimitation Demand Committee – Northeast (DDC-NE) and other groups from the region.
The present constituencies were demarcated under the provisions of the Delimitation Act, 2002 taking into account the 2001 census figures, except the four NE states, which had last seen this exercise in the 1970s.
Besides, the Constitution was specifically amended in 2002 not to have delimitation of constituencies till the first census after 2026. Thus, the present constituencies carved out on the basis of 2001 census shall continue to be in operation till the first census after 2026, according to an explainer put out by the Election Commission of India.
The problem lies in Section 8A of the Representation of Peoples (Amendment) Act, 1956, which says, “If the President is satisfied that the situation and the conditions prevailing in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur or Nagaland are conducive for the conduct of delimitation exercise, he may, by order, rescind the deferment order issued under the provisions of section 10A of the Delimitation Act, 2002 (33 of 2002) in relation to that State, and provide for the conduct of delimitation exercise in the State by the Election Commission.”
DDC-NE and other outfits, which recently staged a demonstration at Jantar Mantar in Delhi demanding delimitation be carried out in the four states, contend that the law and order problem is just an excuse given state and national elections are being held across the region.
Addressing the protesters, Habung Payeng, former information commissioner in Arunachal Pradesh claimed the Centre has violated Article 14 (Right to Equality) and 21 (Right to Life and Liberty) of the Indian Constitution by delaying the exercise.
“The Centre and ECI have been citing law and order situation as an excuse to delay the delimitation exercise. If there is law and order problem in these four northeastern states, then why are they conducting elections? This is nothing but hypocrisy,” Payeng said, adding that the NE groups are only demanding their “constitutional right”.
Lorho S. Pfoze, Manipur’s Lok Sabha MP and an associate member of the Delimitation Commission, had said there was a need to “reorganise” the borders of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Manipur, adding, the Centre had given “very little importance” about the delimitation exercise there.
“It is sad that even after so many years, we find ourselves in a situation where people still have to fight for their fundamental rights. They (Centre) cite law and order situation for not ordering delimitation, but the truth is, the Centre has given very little importance to the northeastern states,” Pfoze alleged.
A case is pending in the Supreme Court, which on July 25 sought responses from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Law and Justice, Chief Election Commissioner, and others on the matter.