India’s electoral constituencies remain frozen in time: they still represent populations based on the 1971 census. While our population has grown by leaps and bounds, the number of constituencies have remained the same. Consequently, while each Lok Sabha Member of Parliament represented approximately 7.24 lakh people in 1971, the average population represented by a seat stands at 17.11 lakh people in 2011 (the latest Census).
Population serves as the main parameter for demarcating constituencies. In 1971, the delimitation exercise ensured that seats were allocated in a uniform ratio of roughly one seat to every ten lakhs of population.
In the figure below, we chart out the population represented by a seat for major states (states with more than 5 Lok Sabha seats) using the 1971 and 2011 population census figures. In 1971, the ratio of seats to population remained roughly the same for states – that is, one seat for every ten lakh of population. However, when using updated 2011 population census figures, we witness a large variation in the ratio of representation. While the standard deviation in average population to seats across major states (more than 10 Lok Sabha seats) was 16,052 people in 1971, it has increased over 17-fold to 2,78,428 people in 2011.
There is a clear divide in representation emerging between the northern and the southern states. While Kerala has a Lok Sabha MP representing every 16.7 lakh of population, Rajasthan has one seat per approximately 27.4 lakh people. The southern states with lesser population are now clearly over-represented compared to the more densely populated northern states. The ratios for states as we project population figures into the future will only start to vary a lot more.
In 1976,the Forty Second Amendment Act of the Constitution froze Lok Sabha seats until 2001. When the time for reevaluation arrived in 2001, the southern states that had implemented population stabilisation measures would have stood to lose their share of the pie to those northern states that had fared worse in reducing population growth. Consequently, the date for a new delimitation exercise was pushed to 2026. Unfortunately, this trend looks set to only get worse. The question we are posing is: have we pushed addressing an important issue too far into the future?