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September 2, 1999


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The Rediff Election Specials/ K C Sivaramakrishnan

Under-representation of urban areas will seriously jeopardise consensus and debate

Time for Change

The purpose of this analysis is not to raise the bogey of rural versus urban. In either case under-representation affects the value of the franchise. However, there are some important implications of such under-representation so far as urban areas are concerned. In the context of the significant economic changes that have taken place across the country, urbanisation needs to be viewed not as an aberration in space but as an inevitable outcome of economic changes.

Indeed in the coming years, urbanisation in many parts of India will be propelled by increases in agriculture productivity, the rise in farm incomes and the demand it creates for goods and services in urban locations. Several of the districts in Haryana, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, etc, which are significant performers in rice and wheat production are already confirming this trend.

Traditionally, industrialisation has been perceived as a main determinant of urbanisation. With the recent emphasis on industrialisation and foreign direct investor industry will continue to be a major factor in urban growth. However, trade and services will become more significant in adding to urban growth. The economic performance of the country will depend significantly on the performance of the cities. The efficient upkeep of cities is therefore crucial and cannot be dismissed as merely a 'municipal' matter.

Some may argue that since the 74th amendment has sought to make urban local bodies more autonomous, the responsibilities for urban management have been decentarlised and it is their business to deal with this problem. In truth, however, the follow up of the 74th amendment is highly varied among the different states. Few have taken consistent steps in determining the functional and financial domain of the cities.

Besides, in the wake of economic liberalisation and increased flows of capital and incomes into urban areas their infrastructure and environment are already showing considerable strain. Some studies also indicate a widening and deepening of urban poverty. All these are issues which need deliberation and resolution, as much in Parliament and the state assemblies as in the corporations and municipal councils. Under-representation of urban areas will seriously jeopardise the much needed debate and consensus at the national and state levels.

We may also consider certain other consequences of the present disparity which deny to the country the benefits of a rational delimitation. Across the country, assembly segments are organised as integral parts of a parliamentary constituency is supposed to comprise a certain number of assembly segments. It is expected that parity between the assembly constituencies would enable parity in the parliamentary constituencies as well, provide delimitation is done for both.

The case of Delhi is an eloquent illustration of the distortions when this is not the case. Pursuant to the setting up of a separate state out of the Union territory with a legislative assembly of its own, vide the constitutional amendment in 1991 and insertion of Article 239a, it became necessary to undertake a delimitation of assembly constituencies in the territory for the first time.

The Delhi assembly is made up of 80 constituencies which are more or less similar in size. Each assembly segment has about one lakh to 1.3 lakh population in most cases and comprises two municipal wards with a population of 50,000 to 60,000 each. Because delimitation exercises were undertaken for both the municipal an assembly elections, such broad parity could be achieved.

However the freeze on delimitation continues to apply to Lok Sabha constituencies. As a result the number of assembly segments varies from four to 21 in the different Lok Sabha constituencies. New Delhi, Karol Bagh and Delhi Sadar Lok Sabha constituencies have five assembly segments each, Chandni Chowk has four, South Delhi has 10, while East Delhi and Outer Delhi have 20 and 21 assembly constituencies respectively.

Some assembly segments have also been split up with some parts forming part of one parliamentary constituency and other parts tagged to another. For example, some blocks of the Sarojini Nagar assembly constituency are included in the New Delhi parliamentary constituency while some others are in the South Delhi parliamentary constituency. The resultant confusion in the public mind can be imagined.

The 73rd and 74rd amendments to the Constitution provide for mandatory elections to rural and urban local bodies in the country. The amendments also stipulate that elections to these bodies will be conducted by independent state election commissions. The delimitation of wards for the panchayats at the village or the intermediate (block) levels as well as wards in the municipalities is expected to follow the same principles of similarity and equality or franchise.

Wards and panchayat constituencies, thus delimited, can become the building blocks of a countrywide electoral system. These would be the constituent units of an assembly constituency which in turn would be a segment of a parliamentary constituency. In such an arrangement, voters would be able to identify themselves clearly with their constituencies and elected representatives at the local, provincial and national levels. This would also considerably facilitate the actual conduct of the elections.

So long as a fresh delimitation of the Lok Sabha constituencies is not done, the mismatch between the constituencies at different levels and public confusion will continue.

The position in regard to small state also needs further examination. During the 1976 delimitation exercise, the smaller states were all dealt with in a rather summary fashion; some of them have been growing fast particularly the north-eastern states. Because most of the states have only one Lok Sabha seat such as Mizoram or Nagaland or two seats like Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura, the identification will be noticed mainly in the assembly constituencies.

For instance in Mizoram, 15 out of 40 assembly seats exceed the state's average constituency size by more than 20 to 100 per cent. These 15 have an electorate of nearly two lakhs out of the total state electorate of 3.37 lakhs. Both Meghalaya and Tripura have 60-seat assemblies. Out of these 27 and 23 exceed the state average respectively. As urbanisation spreads the disparity among constituencies will become prominent in the North-Eastern states as well.

Reproduced from the Economic and Political Weekly, with their kind permission.

The Rediff Election Specials

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