Special Category Status and States

[op-ed snap] India should begin discussing the delimitation question


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Functions & responsibilities of the Union & the States, issues & challenges pertaining to the federal structure

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: 15th Finance commission, Delimitation commission

Mains level: Debate related to 15th Finance commission’s methodology & North-South divide


Strident tones against 15th Finance commission

  1. There is fear that the 15th Finance Commission might use the 2011 Census to determine the share of each state in the nation’s resources
  2. In doing so, the richer and less populous states in South India may end up contributing more than they receive

Why is redistribution necessary?

  1. Richer regions contribute to the well-being of poorer regions, and redistribution happens in all modern democracies
  2. All states are part of a national project of balanced economic development

Why is there an opposition to redistribution?

  1. Indian states exhibit a continuing divergence in economic development
  2. There is a trend contrary to the global trend among rich and poor countries
  3. The divisible resources are going increasingly to the poorer states
  4. These also happen to have much higher fertility rates, hence their population share is rising

Fears related to 15th FC redistribution

  1. Finance commissions are a constitutional mechanism to ensure some degree of logic and transparency in the allocation rule
  2. Over the years, their main criteria have been population and backwardness
  3. Fifteenth finance commission will be considering 2011 census instead of 1971 census used by previous finance commissions and this might lead to more finances being allocated to populous north Indian states

The question of delimitation

  1. India’s Constitution puts an upper limit of 550 elected members in the lower house of Parliament
  2. Until the early 1970s, it was the general practice to redraw constituencies based on the most recent population available, but the total number of members was constant
  3. The idea of redrawing was to have each member of Parliament (MP) represent roughly an equal number of voters, hence the redrawing of constituencies
  4. Parliament passed an amendment during the Emergency years in 1976, freezing all delimitation as per the 1971 census, up to the census of 2001
  5. In 2000, another amendment postponed the day of reckoning to 2026
  6. Thus, only after 2026 will we consider changing the number of seats in Parliament

Population Surge & its effect on Parliament seats

  1. In 1971, India’s population was 548 million, and by 2031, the first census after 2026, it may well be close to 1.4 billion
  2. Redrawing boundaries and distributing the existing 550 MPs might mean that the south will lose a lot of seats to the north
  3. Even if more members are added to the Lok Sabha, that incremental gain will mostly go to the northern states

Resolving 15th FC’s dilemma

  1. The weightage given to population can be reduced to 10% or even 5%
  2. The focus could be on other parameters like per capita income and intrastate inequality
  3. Newer aspects like direct devolution to the lowest tiers of government, or giving credit for an increase in forest cover and improvement in health indicators can be adopted

Way forward

  1. We may desire “equality” of constituencies, but economic development and demographic patterns do not develop uniformly across the country
  2. Just as the nation took more than 12 years to come to a consensus on “one nation one tax” (i.e. the roll-out of the goods and services tax), a national consensus exercise should be started to sort out issues much before 2026
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