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Bill outlaws bulk defections

New Delhi, April 23: The Union Cabinet today decided to amend the anti-defection law to make any split in a political party illegal, even if a third of its members break away.

After the proposed amendment, legislators splitting from the parent party would not be recognised as a new unit and would have to face elections again.

The Cabinet also decided to amend the Representation of Peoples Act to limit the strength of a council of ministers to 10 per cent of the strength of the Assembly or Parliament.

The meeting agreed that delimitation of constituencies will be conducted on the basis of the 2001 census, not the 1991 census.

Cabinet spokesperson and parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, who announced the decisions, said the Bills needed to effect these changes would be introduced in the current Parliament session.

The 10th schedule of the Constitution would be amended to change the anti-defection law which at present recognises a split by one-third of a party’s legislators as legal, Swaraj said.

The Cabinet has decided to “omit” Para 3 of Schedule 10 which states that defection by one-third of its legislators would be recognised as a split in the party. Swaraj said this provision encouraged “bulk defections”.

“This provision is grossly misused. Now, after the amendment has been brought in, legislators defying the party whip have to resign and recontest the elections,” she added.

Explaining the delimitation decision, Swaraj said that making the 2001 census its basis would increase SC/ST reserved seats, both in Parliament and in state legislatures, by 15. Delimitation on the basis of the 1991 census would have increased the reserved seats by 8.

The number of constituencies in the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha and the state Assemblies and Councils — other than the reserved seats — will remain the same.

Though Swaraj iterated that there was “unanimity” among all parties on delimitation, parties from the south vehemently opposed a move to vary the number of constituencies according to population. Southern states have had success with population control programmes and should not suffer because of that, parties such as the DMK, MDMK and PMK argued. If the number of constituencies were to be linked to population, the southern states would end up with fewer seats in Parliament.

On the constitution of the council of ministers, Swaraj said that if the House had two tiers (Assembly and Council), the ministry strength would be 10 per cent of the total number of MLAs and MLCs. In case where the House was a single-tier (only the Assembly), the ministry strength would be 10 per cent of the total number of MLAs.

In the case of Assemblies having 60 or less members, a maximum of “seven members including the chief minister” would constitute the council of ministers, Swaraj underlined.

Since there was “unanimity” among all political parties, it would not be difficult to push through these changes in Parliament, she said.

Sources pointed out that the BJP fears “poaching” of its MLAs in Uttar Pradesh by Mulayam Singh Yadav and hence has taken this urgent step to stop defections.

The Congress has already suffered a “split” in its U.P. unit.

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