The Supreme Court on Monday refused to stay the current delimitation exercise by the Election Commission for 14 Lok Sabha and 126 Assembly seats in Assam and sought response from the Center and the Election Commission. A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Mishra agreed to look into the constitutional validity of Section 8(a) of the Representation of the People Act, 1950, which empowers the Election Commission to delimit constituencies.
What did the bench say in the order?
The bench said in its order, ‘At this stage when the delimitation has started, it would not be appropriate to stop the process in view of issuing the draft resolution on June 20, 2023. Therefore, keeping the constitutional challenge intact, we are not issuing an order restraining the Election Commission from taking any further steps. The apex court also sought response from the Center and the Election Commission on three petitions in three weeks and said that the petitioners can file their reply in the next two weeks thereafter.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal appearing on behalf of political parties
The bench took note of the submissions of senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the political parties who had filed the petitions, that now all states will follow suit and take steps as the way for the delimitation exercise has been cleared for states like Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. The Chief Justice said, “We will list it soon after the Delhi Services Ordinance case.”
Nine opposition parties in Assam
Ten leaders of nine opposition parties in Assam have recently filed a petition in the apex court challenging the delimitation process. Two other petitions on this aspect are also pending before the apex court.
nine opposition parties
Assam Ethnic Council
Marxist Communist Party (CPI)
Communist Party of India (CPI)
Trinamool Congress (TMC)
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)
Zonal Gana Morcha
Challenge to Section 8-A of the Representation of the People Act, 1950
The petitioners have specifically challenged the methodology adopted by the Election Commission and its proposals notified on June 20, 2023. A petition challenged Section 8-A of the Representation of the People Act, 1950, on the basis of which the Election Commission exercised its power to conduct the delimitation process in Assam.
Sibal said that the exercise of delimitation in Assam is being done by ignoring the rules and provisions of the Delimitation Act to some extent, because this law also has a provision for the participation of MLAs and MPs. He said that this process has to be done by the Delimitation Commission headed by a serving or retired judge of the Supreme Court.
He said that the delimitation exercise in Jammu and Kashmir was done by a commission headed by former apex court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai. The senior advocate said, “The reasons for which the delimitation process (in Assam and other states) was postponed no longer exist and that process should be a representative process under the Delimitation Act.” Now it has been said in the notification that the Election Commission will complete this process.
From where does the Law Ministry get this power, Sibal asked. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Center and the State Government, said that the exercise of power by its holder does not become invalid merely because it has been exercised in a wrongful manner from the point of view of the petitioner.
After a three-day public hearing, the Election Commission received over 1,200 applications on 22 July from various groups, including those who shared different views on Assam’s draft delimitation proposal on matters such as renaming of assembly constituencies. The Election Commission on June 20 proposed to retain the number of assembly seats in Assam at 126 and the number of Lok Sabha constituencies at 14 in the released draft of delimitation.