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Lok Sabha sigh of relief on seat recast

New Delhi, May 6: The Lok Sabha today gave its nod to a Constitution amendment Bill seeking to make the 2001 census the basis for the delimitation of Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies.

The Bill seeks to readjust electoral constituencies, including those reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, based on the 2001 census.

The Bill, passed unanimously, is, ironically, a victory for most members who do not want to face the next round of elections based on fresh delimitation of constituencies.

Though they supported the Bill, they believe that the 2001-census delimitation would not be ready by next year's general polls because the census results are yet to be formally notified. They hope the polls will thus be held on the basis of 1991 census figures.

Minister for law and justice Arun Jaitley, however, said new software would help the Centre publish the final figures for the 2001 census by October. Jaitley piloted the Bill in the House.

The members fear that if constituencies are redefined on the basis of the 2001 census, the geography and the demography of their seats will undergo vast changes, making it difficult for them to win the election.

They will need a few years to gain ground in the new constituencies thus created and cultivate the electorate.

The members hope the 2001 census figures would become the basis for delimitation only by the 2009 general polls.

Answering a discussion on the Bill (Constitution 96th amendment), Jaitley hoped the 2001 figures will be ready. Sufficient time, he said, would be given to candidates and incumbent members to get to know the redefined constituencies and file objections, if any.

Expressing inability to accept the suggestion of rotation of constituencies, Jaitley said there has to be a larger consensus in Parliament. Quoting relevant constitutional provisions, he said population has to be determined on the basis of the last published census, which will be ready by October.

The CPM’s Somnath Chatterjee, however, did not share Jaitley’s optimism. He said new software technology notwithstanding, it would be impossible to make the 2001 census applicable for the next general polls.

Though the Bill was passed by all parties, Chatterjee had earlier said “there appeared to be a consensus between the government and the Opposition Congress on the Bill”.

The Delimitation Commission, set up in July 2002, has completed the compilation of provisional figures. It is expected to finalise the process based on the final 2001 census figures by July next year — that is about three months before the general polls in October 2004.

Jaitley said there would be flexibility in fixing seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes based on the percentage of their total population.

The Bill was brought following the all-party meeting of March 13 on the functioning of the commission. During the meeting, many political parties had expressed the view that delimitation of parliamentary and Assembly constituencies should be done on the basis of the 2001 census.

Earlier, minister of state for parliamentary affairs Vijay Goel suggested that all types of elections — Lok Sabha, Assembly, bypolls and others — be held together as this would save the government a lot of money.

The Centre, he said, must set up a committee or a commission to consider the feasibility of the suggestion.

Chatterjee opposed the suggestion, saying any such move should be left to the next ruling combine that comes to power after the general elections next year.

“A Constitution amendment cannot be done for public consumption. It should be done with full consensus,” Chatterjee said. As the next elections cannot be held on the basis of the 2001 census anyway, he said the current Lok Sabha should not “tinker” with the Constitution.

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