Saturday, February 21, 2009
Lok Sabha and Demographic Shift
From 1951 to 1971 the number of seats in the Lok Sabha was updated each time to reflect the growth in population. However, since 1971 the number of seats in the Lok Sabha has been fixed at 542. In 1971 India's population was 547 million, today it is 1.1 billion. In addition, the number of seats in each state has also remained fixed since 1971.
Due to variations in population growth in the different states in India over the past 40 years we have "significant" imbalances in the number of seats each state has in the Lok Sabha. For example, according to their current share of the population, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh (the so called BIMARU states) should be allocated 193 seats in the Lok Sabha. However, they only have a combined 175 seats, an under representation of 18 seats. On the other hand, the southern states, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh should have 117 seats based on their population share but they actually have 129 seats, an over representation of 12 seats.
In addition, small states have always been over represented in the Lok Sabha. The states and union territories with a population under 3 million should have a combined representation of 8 seats in the Lok Sabha but they actually have 19 seats. Laskhadweep, our smallest Lok Sabha constituency has a population of only 60,000 people compared to the nationwide average of about 2,000,000 people. That is over representation by a factor of 40.
This imbalance can actually determine who comes to power especially in a coalition scenario. In 2004 the UPA and Left Parties gained an estimated 25 seat swing over the other parties due to this imbalance because they did well in the over represented regions and poorly in the under represented regions. This played a crucial role in the UPA's ability to form the government.
This imbalance is not fair if we are committed to universal adult franchise. It is the duty of the Election Commission to update the number the seats in each state at least after each new census.
P.S. The case may be made that we are rewarding those states which have made the least progress checking the growth of their population.