The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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MPs seek seat shield for polls

New Delhi, March 13: Worried about fighting elections on “unfamiliar home turf” in just over a year’s time, Lok Sabha members today made the first tentative move to explore ways of insulating the 2004 general elections from the ongoing exercise of delimiting parliamentary and Assembly constituencies.

An all-party meeting convened by parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj this afternoon tossed up a suggestion for a constitutional amendment.

If the parties support it, the government could come up with an amendment Bill in the second phase of the current session.

The amendment would mean that the next general elections — as indeed the next round of Assembly elections later this year — would be held as per the existing boundaries of parliamentary and Assembly constituencies.At the 90-minute meeting, also attended by law minister Arun Jaitley, the leaders participating in the deliberations found a convincing enough ground for holding the next elections within the existing framework.

Briefing reporters later, Swaraj said most of the leaders felt that the 2001 Census should form the basis of the delimitation exercise, not the 1991 Census as mandated by the two-year-old delimitation Act of Parliament. The Act had been unanimously cleared by a parliamentary standing committee, passed unanimously in the two Houses of Parliament and ratified by state legislatures.

The preference for taking the 2001 Census as the basis is because this would, in effect, ensure that the delimitation will not be complete before the next general elections. The 2001 Census would be officially notified only in September this year and only thereafter can the delimitation commission take up the task of fresh delimitation of seats.

Swaraj said the proposal for making the 2001 Census the basis would require a constitutional amendment — not only for making it the basis but also for allowing the next elections to take place according to the existing delimitation order.

The leaders who attended the meeting also raised other problems with the ongoing delimitation exercise. The delimitation commission, they said, has not consulted the associate members for each state in question (five Lok Sabha and five Assembly members) so far, although for seven states draft delimitation had been published.

They argued that the associate members should be associated with the exercise at every stage of the task — even before coming up with the draft delimitation proposals.

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