THE DELIMITATION IN ASSAM: A JUDICIAL INTERVENTION
Saurabh Chatterji, V year, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, School of Law, Dehradun.
In Layman’s terms, delimitation refers to the process of fixing certain specific boundaries or restructuring of boundaries of something. In the purview of ‘Delimitation of Constituencies,’ it refers to the procedure of fixing the limits or the process of restructuring of boundaries of territorial constituencies in a particular country having a legislative body of its own.
Now let us extensively look upon this matter by establishing a timeline which could help us ascertain the crux of the whole situation regarding the matter of Delimitation of Assam.
Supreme Court Issues Notice
This matter had kickstarted from the point wherein the Supreme Court of India had issued a notice to the Centre as well as the State Government of Assam through a plea challenging the hurried decision of the Centre to resume the process of Delimitation exercise of Assam.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal had represented the petitioners in the hearing in front of the bench which was headed by the Chief Justice of India - Sharad Arvind Bobde. It was apparent from the purview of their plea that their primary concern regarding the decision to deal with the continuation of the delimitation process of Assam was mainly focused on the hastiness of the decision which had proved not only to be unethical but also contradictory to the very idea of conducting a delimitation in that particular state.
Significance of this development
This particular plea had highlighted the adverse implications which this process of delimitation would have as well the hastiness of this decision. The promulgation of the order regarding delimitation of the territorial constituency of Assam was in no doubt a rash and hurried decision considering the data which had been ascertained through the census reading which was a prerequisite to conducting the delimitation was an old census reading of the year 2001.
It is a predicament that the particular procedure to limit the constituencies specific to the State of Assam, which had earlier in the year 2008 had been deferred had been resumed after almost a decade and that too without any amendments about the Delimitation Act, 2002 and the population figures which had been relied upon were of the old 2001 census reading.
It should be duly noted that this particular promulgation had come at a time wherein there is a serious threat to the breakdown of public order. In lieu of Section 3 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 there was an imposition which declared the entire region of Assam to be a ‘disturbed’ area for 6 months, commencing from August 2019, as the situation had resulted in being more and more haywire.
Salient features of the notice
If we take an insight on the principal issues regarding the petition there are certain noteworthy points which could be taken into account.
Firstly, it was pertinent to bring into attention the procedure of NRC (National Register of Citizens) was still unresolved and over 19,00,000 people were yet to receive their identity cards.
Secondly, the aforementioned petition which had been filed had also shed light on the fact that the NRC (National Register of Citizens) about the state of Assam which was being prepared was merely based on Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the validity of this specific section is pending consideration before the constitution bench of the Supreme Court.
Thirdly, there were two known unlawful associations known as the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) which were declared as ‘unlawful’ as per the provisions of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1976. These two particular associations were likely to create a havoc in the entire region through the means of exploiting the sentiments of the local people which would eventually lead to large scale barbarity and destruction of public property which would help these associations to fulfil their agenda.
Legal provisions regarding delimitation
As per the provisions of Article 82 of the Constitution of India, after every census, the Parliament enacts a Delimitation Act and the Central Government is assigned with the duty of constituting the Delimitation Commission. The monumental task of delimitation assigned to the Delimitation Commission or a Boundary Commission.
It is pertinent to note that the representation from any given state is not changed during the exercise of delimitation, but the number of SC and ST in any particular state is changed under the readings from the latest census. The most controversial and noteworthy point regarding the Promulgation to resume the Delimitation process was that it was done based on the reading of the census of 2001.
Historically speaking, there have been four previous instances wherein the Delimitation Commission has been set up. It was set up in 1952, 1963, 1973 and 2002 — under Delimitation Commission Acts of 1952, 1962, 1972 and 2002. Moreover, the specific boundaries of the constituencies had already been altered in the year 2001 to equate population among the parliamentary and assembly seats. Hence, it should be noted that the number of Lok Sabha seats of each particular state has remained unamended and should only be altered after the year 2026.
Now let us draw a linkage between the statutory provisions regarding delimitation and its execution in the State of Assam which could help us give a detailed analysis on this matter.
Considering that ascertaining the population figures according to the Census reading is the most crucial element in conducting a delimitation process in any state, continuing the process of delimitation by relying upon an old census reading of the year 2001 was a huge fallacy in the entire process.
In addition to that the entire region of the State of Assam had already been declared as a ‘disturbed area’ as per the provisions of Section 3 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958, so why continue with the process at such a time
which could eventually lead to making the condition of Assam even more chaotic?
It was evident that this promulgation might have several ramifications as compared to it being a fruitful decision and as anticipated, there were a large number of protests regarding this issue by various parliamentarians, panchayat leaders and renowned public leaders.
If we take a look at the very idea of the delimitation process in Assam and the repercussions which it holds in the future, it is evident that continuing with the entire process would be a blunder. The current situation in Assam being so fragile considering the entire State is in an imminent threat due to large scale protests, a decision of such a magnitude would only lead to creating more havoc in the region. Therefore, I would like to conclude by saying that this process should be kept in abeyance until the time that the situation is the less hostile and peaceful coexistence of the public, in general, is restored.