The Madras High Court has said that Tamil Nadu should be compensated for losing two Lok Sabha seats in the 1960s, thanks to the state’s success with family planning, pegging the damage at Rs 5,600 crore. It said that the state could instead be given extra seats in Rajya Sabha to make up for its loss of two Members of Parliament. Here’s how the court computed the loss and what decides the number of members in Lok Sabha.
What Has Madras HC Said?
Asking whether the “successful implementation of family planning programmes" could be used “against the people of the state by taking away political representations in the Parliament", a division bench of Madras HC said it was “very unfair and unreasonable" that Tamil Nadu was made to lose two seats in the Lok Sabha, its representation having come down from 41 to the present 39 ahead of the 1967 elections.
“Normally, a state government has to be honoured and complimented for successfully implementing central government’s policies and projects etc., and interests of such State cannot be adversely affected," the HC said, adding that Tamil Nadu should be compensated for its loss of Members of Parliament (MPs).
Hearing a plea seeking the removal of the state’s Tenkasi Lok Sabha constituency from the list of seats reserved for the Scheduled Caste communities, the court said that “those states which failed to implement the birth control programmes were benefited with more political representatives in the Parliament whereas states, especially, southern States, namely Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, which successfully implemented the birth control programmes stood to lose two seats".
What Is The Compensation It Has Mooted?
Taking a dim view of the way in which “existing political representatives were reduced based on population count, for no fault of the state", the Madras HC said compensation should be paid for the abridgement of crucial seats. The HC noted that a single vote had in 1999 led to the toppling of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
“When one… vote itself was capable of toppling a government, it is very shocking that Tamil Nadu lost 2 MPs because of successful implementation of birth control in the State," the HC said as it provided options for redress.
The HC said that Tamil Nadu could either be paid Rs 5,600 crore for the loss of its seats, or be given additional representation in the Rajya Sabha. To arrive at the figure of Rs 5,600 crore, it said that “notionally, the contribution of an MP in five years could be taken as Rs 200 crore, though it cannot be determined monetarily".
Since there have been 14 Lok Sabha elections from 1967 onwards, the HC calculated that “for every election… Tamil Nadu has to be compensated Rs 400 crore for reduction of two MP seats, which amounts to Rs 5,600 crore".
How Is The Number Of Lok Sabha Seats For Each State Decided?
The Indian Constitution envisages that population will determine the number of MPs a state will have. However, while the process was supposed to be dynamic with mandated periodic review of seats based on change in population, the count of MPs in Lok Sabha has been frozen since 1976. Prior to that year, there were fluctuations in the number of MPs in the lower House, but the 42nd Amendment Act in 1976 — passed during the Emergency — set a freeze on the number of MPs.
That was because unbridled population growth was seen as a major challenge for India and urgent steps were being devised to encourage family planning. That, however, raised questions about states that were less successful in controlling population growth being “rewarded" with extra seats in Parliament. It was as an insurance against such an eventuality that the number of seats were frozen.
But Article 82 of the Constitution says that after the completion of each census, which is held once every 10 years, “the allocation of seats in the House of the People to the states and the division of each state into territorial constituencies shall be readjusted". The count of 543 seats now in Lok Sabha though reflects not the population as represented by Census 2011, but is per the Census of 1971.
Till that year, the seats in Parliament had kept fluctuating as much due to changing population as for the carving out of new states from existing ones. The 1976 amendment said that the strength of Lok Sabha would remain constant for the next 25 years, that is, till 2001. But in 2001, another amendment was passed, extending the freeze for another 25 years, till 2026. The expectation was that all states would be demographically stable by that time and it would be easier to come at rational numbers for states’ seats in Lok Sabha. The argument was that, unless such a step was taken, states like UP and Bihar would keep growing in population and come to have considerably more MPs than the likes of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, etc. that have managed to slow population growth.
What Has Been The Result Of The Freeze On Number Of MPs?
Experts say that the fixed strength of Lok Sabha has diluted the principle of “one person, one vote" laid down in the Constitution, which says in Article 81(2)(a) that the seats given to each state shluld ensure that “the ratio between that number and the population of the state is, so far as practicable, the same for all states". But the freeze of 1976 has led to a significant departure from that exhortation.
Reports say that there exists a big mismatch now between the average number of voters per MP that a state sends to Lok Sabha. Thus, there are instances where the average number of voters per seat is close to 30 lakh while for other states, it’s less than 20 lakh.
In the years since 1976, there has been a mixed run as regards population among the various states. Although on a whole India has seen a decline in fertility rates, the slide in population growth has not been uniform throughout the country. Which is the reason why Parliament has decided to wait till the first census after 2026 to revisit the allocation of seats in Lok Sabha.
In the meantime though, to ensure that the number of voters in each constituency are same throughout the country, the Parliament has been authorising delimitation exercises, the last of which was okayed in 2002. Delimitation has been done such that the “population (on the basis of 2001 census) of each parliamentary and assembly constituency in a state shall, so far as practicable, be the same throughout the state".