Parts of this story was first published on Sunday Navjivan in Print.

Congress leader Manish Tewari recently claimed there was a “proposal” by the BJP-led central government to increase the strength of Lok Sabha to 1000 MPs or more before 2024, saying there should be a public consultation before any such decision is taken.

Taking to Twitter Tiwari said, “I am reliably informed by Parliamentary colleagues in @BJP4India that there is a proposal to increase strength of Lok Sabha to 1000 or more before 2024. New Parliament Chamber being constructed as a 1000 seater. Before this is done there should be a serious public consultation.”

Congress leader Karti Chidambaram also expressed concerns that if the seats are increased based purely on the basis of population then the southern states would stand to lose which would not be acceptable. “Public debate is needed. A large country like ours needs more directly elected representatives. But if the increase is based on population, it will further diminish the representation of the southern states, that will not be acceptable,” said Karti Chidambaram.

The issue of increasing Lok Sabha seats have been raised from time to time owing to the Constitutional mandate of proportional representation. Per Article 81 of the Constitution each state to receive seats in proportion to its population and allocate those seats to constituencies of roughly equal size. The number of seats for a State can be increased once the boundaries of each constituency is redrawn by a Delimitation Commission. Delimitation is done on the basis of the preceding Census.

Delimitation Commissions were set up in 1952, 1963, 1972 and 2002 but the number of Lok Sabha constituencies has not been revised since 1972. However, the Forty-Second Amendment enacted in 1976—during the twenty-one-month Emergency rule by then prime minister Indira Gandhi—suspended the revision of seats until after the 2001 Census. One of the impetus for the freeze was Gandhi’s desire to promote family planning policies by ensuring that states that managed to lower their fertility rates (and, hence, limit their population growth) would not be punished. In 2002, it was frozen further till 2026 by way of the Eighty-Fourth Amendment.

Manish Tiwari’s latest statement is in consonance with what was already a buzz in the political corridors since 2019, that the Modi government would initiate the process of delimitation since the process would give more seats to the Hindi heartland states and weaken the southern states in the Parliament.

According to a March 2019 report by Carnegie Endowment For International Peace and Hindustan Times the next delimitation process would wedge a gap between southern and northern states. Next delimitation may give Uttar Pradesh as many as 143 seats in the Parliament while Kerala would continue to have only 20 seats.

Concerns have been raised that instead of being rewarded for keeping the population growth in control the delimitation process would punish southern states as they would lose their strength in the Parliament. 

We spoke to a few leaders. Here are the excerpts.

Congress MP Manish Tiwari

The increase of Lok Sabha seats and delimitation are both very serious and complex matters on which no hasty decision should be taken without a structured public debate weighing the pros and cons. Last such debate happened in 2001 when the 84th Amendment was passed and the number of seats were frozen till 2026.

BJP is likely to benefit from the process because they want to centralize everything in the Executive and turn the Parliament in another redundant institution. With around 1200 MPs the Parliament would become a dysfunctional and unyielding institution. Even with 543 members the Lok Sabha is not a very easily manageable entity. How would you manage a house of 1200 members? Just compare the number of notices given by Lok Sabha members which are admitted as opposed to those by Rajya Sabha members. The chances of starred questions, zero hour, adjournment motions etc getting admitted is far greater for Rajya Sabha than Lok Sabha members.

Figure 1 Data prepared by Praveen Chakravarty shared by Manish Tiwari on Twitter

Juhie Singh, Samajwadi Party Spokesperson

Samajwadi Party spokesperson Juhi Singh raised doubt over the credibility of the delimitation process. “Everything this government does is to its own advantage using all the government machineries and institutions. I have no faith that they will observe the various yardsticks for a fair and impartial process of delimitation,” said Ms Singh. She also raised doubt over the purpose of increasing the number of seats. “How is increasing the number of seats going to ensure that more voices would be heard? We have enough MPs to raise relevant issues in the Parliament but that itself is not happening properly. The government does not allow opposition to start any debate, does not answer any question, how would more MPs change that? First, they should allow the Parliament to function properly and then take up this complicated process,” she said. Ms Singh also said, “Merely increasing number based on population does not make the process more representative of our diversity. With the delimitation you would have to also change the roster of reservation, disturbing various constituency. I do not think there is enough time to do the process before the next elections. As of now they are just throwing another Googly to distract us from real issues.”

Md Salim, CPIM, former Rajya Sabha MP

The question is not of quantity but the quality of the Parliament. Proportional representation of the people of India in the Parliament is important, so that members can serve their constituency better, but today Parliament itself is not being held properly.

More often than not legislative actions are taken by bypassing the Parliament by way of Ordinances, Executive Orders etc. The bureaucracy has become more powerful than elected representatives. There is an unhinged attack on Parliamentary democracy – that is the main issue we need to address. Instead, what we have in public discourse is construction of new Parliament building, increase in number of seats – things which are merely cosmetic steps. 

BJP and RSS do not bring any issue to the fore, and media does not publicize any topic unless it suits their agenda. The very fact that this is being discussed in the media indicates the ruling party will benefit from it.