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.









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