NE Students Press for Delimitation in Four States, Stage Demonstration
New Delhi: Flaying the Central government for “sleeping over” the long-overdue exercise of carrying out the delimitation of seats in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh, student groups on Friday staged a demonstration here at Jantar Mantar, pressing the former for immediately redrawing boundaries of constituencies to represent the changes in the population of the northeast states.
Fresh demands of delimitation in these states, which has not happened since 1973, were made by northeastern students, days after the Supreme Court sought a response from the Centre on a plea seeking direction to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to conduct the exercise in said four states as per the Representation of Peoples’ Act, 1950.
Led by one North East Students’ Forum on Delimitation (NESFOD), hundreds of students on Friday had gathered at Jantar Mantar with placards saying "We Demand Equal Treatment" in their hands. According to the forum, the continuing delay in conducting the delimitation process in the four northeast states is "depriving the people of these states [of] their political and fundamental rights."
Hundreds of north-eastern students gathered on Friday, with placards in their hands. Image clicked by Ronak Chhabra
According to the Delimitation Act of 2002, when the act of redrawing boundaries of Lok Sabha and Assembly seats last took place in the rest of the country in 2002-08, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh were reportedly kept out due to apprehensions overuse of the 2001 Census for reference.
In February 2008, Presidential orders were issued to defer delimitation in these four states again. This time, the postponement came in the backdrop of apprehension of threat to the peace and public order in these states.
In 2020, however, then President Ram Nath Kovind cleared the decks for resumption of the delimitation exercise in the four northeast states, noting that there had been a reduction in insurgency incidents, making the situation conducive for carrying out delimitation in the said states.
Subsequently, in March of that year, the Union Law Ministry constituted a Delimitation Commission for the four north-east states and Jammu & Kashmir, which was also left out in 2002-08.
This was done only for the Central government to cut back the mandate of the said Commission in the next year, taking Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh out of its purview owing to a legal hurdle: Section 8A of the Representation of the Peoples' Act, 1950, mandates ECI, and not the Delimitation Commission, to carry out delimitation in the said states.
Incidentally, the 1950 law was amended in 2008, and Section 8A was introduced to avert the creation of another Delimitation Commission in future for the limited purpose of redrawing boundaries in the four northeastern states, according to a report by The Indian Express.
But, decades later, options are now being discussed within the Centre to address the legal anomaly that has further resulted in halting of the delimitation process in the said north-east states.
The people of the four northeastern states have been knocking on the doors of the Centre and the election commission through "memorandums after memorandums" for many years now, "but all have fallen to deaf ears," NESFOD said in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday.
The letter added that the "democratic movements" in the four states will intensify in the coming days "until justice is done". That is, in case immediate action over delimitation exercise in these states is not taken.
NESFOD co-coordinator Haineube Newme on Friday told NewsClick that the four northeast states deserved equal treatment per se with the rest of the country and, as such, there are "no more justifiable reasons" for withholding the delimitation exercises in these four states. “For how long will the people of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh wait for delimitation exercise to happen in these states?” he asked.
Dr Nani T Jose, the spokesperson of Tanw Supun Dukun, a council of Apatani language speakers in Arunachal Pradesh, said that the delay in the delimitation exercise directly affects many tribal communities in the north-east states which have been waiting for many years for their adequate representation in constitutional bodies.
Likewise, on Friday, Naga People’s Front leader and member of Parliament from Manipur Dr Lorho S Pfoze, also touched upon the "absence of proportionate political representation" of varied communities in the said north-east states, as it has been for over five decades that boundaries in these states were adjusted.
“In my own constituency – Outer Manipur Lok Sabha constituency – which covers 92% of state's landmass, representation of people belonging to different communities is not at all adequate," Pfoze told NewsClick, adding that the absence of a political voice also thereby, fuels "dissent" among the people, who then resort to taking to streets to let themselves heard.
Last month, on a public litigation suit filed by one Delimitation Demand Committee for the North Eastern states (DDC-NE), the Supreme Court also took up the matter of the delay in redrawing constituency boundaries in the four north-east states and issued notices to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Union Law Ministry, Chief Election Commissioner, and others.
The petitioner argued in the PIL that selectively denying delimitation to the said four north-east states, while the same exercise was conducted in the rest of India, is in violation of the fundamental right under Article 14 of the Constitution.
On Friday, DDC-NE convenor Habung Payeng, who had joined the students' protest, told NewsClick that the people of the four north-east states have “exhausted all available remedies,” and that “Our only available hope is now for the [Supreme] court to deliver justice to the people of these states.”
The matter is scheduled on September 9 for the next hearing in the apex court, according to him.
Asked about the delay in conducting the delimitation of seats, Payeng said: "The very basis for withholding delimitation exercise in four northeast states, on account of the non-prevailing peaceful situation was totally based on misconception and is highly deplorable."
Moreover, he added: "Elections after elections have been conducted peacefully in the past two decades in these four northeast states without any issue of law and order problems. How is it that a peaceful situation prevails for conducting elections but not for the delimitation exercise in the same states?"
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