Gerrymandering in delimitation of Assembly and Parliamentary Constituencies

Professor Laishram Ladusingh
Delimitation of Assembly and Parliamentary Constituencies is undertaken to make balance between population size and constituencies so as to ensure the fundamental principle of political equality of one-person, one-vote and one-value. Delimitation is a cumbersome, at times politically motivated and socially sensitive exercise. Many times, it antagonized the public and led to public protest as officials tempered and deviated from the methodology enshrined in the Delimitation Act. The main criticism of the Delimitation Acts of 1952, 1962 and 1972 were their silence on the methods, and the issue of gerrymandering, that is, deliberate redrawing boundaries of constituencies so as to put a particular party or community or candidate in an advantageous position. The practice has been named after Elbridge Gerry, the then Governor of Massachusetts, who created an electoral district in 1812 of elongated and squiggly shape. Gerrymandering is often adopted in delimitation of assembly and parliamentary constituencies so as to either concentrate opposition votes in a few electoral districts or spread opposition votes across many districts.
In order that the fourth Delimitation Commission under the Delimitation Act 2002 is impartial, it should adopt a method free from any such bias. Secondly, the most important aspect to be factored into the process of delimitation is the assessment of consistency, correctness and reliability of the based population by cross validation with important factors of population change-births, deaths and migration. The important consideration in the present exercise of the fourth Delimitation Commission is the Constitution 84th Amendment Act 2001 on freezing the number of seats of Lok Sabha under Article 81 and Assembly constituencies under Article 170 till 2026, which is practically after 2031 Census. The present note shall first briefly touch on the methods adopted for delimitation of Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies, and then provide a critical assessment of the base population data in the context of Manipur.
Methods usually adopted in delimitation of Parliamentary and Assembly constituencies are Jefferson, Hamilton, Hill and Huntington, Quota and Weber methods. The Jefferson method is often used for allocation of Parliamentary and Assembly seats to states. In this method, the total population of the country is divided into the number of total seats and the seats for each state are allotted according to the arrived calculation disregarding any fractional remainder and suffers from rounding of digit bias. Whereas in the Hamilton method, first, the proportioning of seats is made on the basis of each state’s quota disregarding the fractural reminder and any leftover seats are allotted to states with largest fractional remainder. Hill and Huntington provide a method for allocation of seats for Assembly constituencies on the basis of equal proportion. Under this method, the seats allocation is arrived by dividing the state’s population by the geometric mean of the state’s current number of seats. The remaining seats are allotted so that the smallest relative difference between any two pairs is minimum. In the Quota method, the number of seats for Legislative Assembly is considered as fixed and then the state population is divided by this fixed number of seats to arrive at the state average of the quota of population and the quotient is used for allocation of number of seats. Weber method allocates seats as near as possible to the quota of population and is considered to closely conform to the principle of one-person, one-vote and one-vote. Thus, it is very crucial that the terms of reference of the Delimitation Commission specify the method adopted for delimitation.
Further, as per the Constitution 87th Amendment Act 2003, the number of reserved constituencies for the SCs and the STs in the State Assembly is to be made on the basis of SCs and STs population in 2001 Census. In that case, the 40 unreserved seats out of the total 60 seats in Manipur shall be downsized to 37 leading to the loss of 3 unreserved seats - one in favor SCs and two in favor STs. As these expected changes in the number of reserved constituencies depend on the population of 2001 Census, there is an urgent need to assess the consistencies of reported SC, ST and General population by cross validating with demographic factors of population change. One of the important factors in analysing the population change over time is the decadal growth rate in the districts of Manipur. The district wise percent of decadal population growth rate of population for two consecutive decades 1981-1991, 1991-2001 and 2001-2011 shows an unusual pattern of population change in the last three decades and more particularly in the last two Censuses. In Senapati district, decadal growth rate marginally increased from 34.1 to 36.1 % during 1981-1991 to 1991-2001 and then spiked to 68.9 % during 2001-2011. In contrast, in Chandel district, the corresponding change in the growth rate of population was 25.8 to 66.6 % during 1981-1991 to 1991-2001, which suddenly dropped down to 21.9 % during 2001-2011. Change in growth rate of population in Bishnupur and Churachandpur during 2001-2011 were also not in expected lines. Such unusual population growth cannot be accounted for by any demographic factors and indicates inconsistency in the figures of population reported in Census. Similar inconsistencies in factors of population change were also present in the Census count of the neighboring state of Nagaland, which have resulted in a negative growth rate of population of the state during 2001-2011.
Therefore, it will be fallacious to carry out delimitation of Assembly Constituencies of Manipur on the basis of Census 2001. There is a need for further rectification of the census by a body of experts. A feasible approach is reassessment of the population of Census 2001 by reconciling with sources of information, such as, voter identity card, PAN card and even parish records and school enrolment to mention a few.

The writer is former Director, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai.