THE Supreme Court of India on Wednesday issued notice to the Central Government and the Assam Government on a petition challenging the decision of the Central Government to commence delimitation exercise in Assam.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) S A Bobde after hearing senior advocate Kapil Sibal for the petitioners proceeds to call for a response from Centre and Assam Government.
Brelithamarak and Bhanu Jay Rabha, the petitioners, who are residents of Assam, alleged that the decision to conduct the pending process of delimitation of assembly and parliamentary constituencies was not only a hasty decision but also stood contrary to the very idea behind conducting delimitation.
They contended that the process of delimiting the constituencies, in the State of Assam, had been deferred in 2008. And the same is being resumed almost 10 years later in absence of an amendment to the Delimitation Act, 2002. It would, thus, be conducted on the basis of the population figures as old as of 2001 Census.
In view of this, the petitioners asserted that this would frustrate the very purpose of conducting delimitation, which has historically been based on the most recent census figures.
“Not only, an older Census data from 2001 is proposed to be used as the basis for delimitation in the State of Assam, the haste is evident inasmuch as the most recent population figures will be available from the Census of 2021, the preparations whereof are already underway”, the petitioner said.
According to the petitioners, the reasons stated in the notification of 2008 for deferring the exercise of delimitation for the State of Assam, are by and large still in existence and the present decision for resuming the exercise of delimitation in the State, issued on February 28, 2020, order is devoid of any reasons justifying the change in circumstances.
The Central Government in February 2008 had deferred delimitation exercise in Assam for the following reasons:
- The delimitation work was stayed pursuant to the orders of the Gauhati High Court in PIL No. 62/2007 (Shri Ram Prasad Sarmah Vs. UOI) and “resumption of delimitation by the Delimitation Commission consequent to the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s stay on the order of the Guwahati High Court (in the aforesaid petition) is likely to arouse the sentiments of the people living in the State of Assam due to their apprehension that the ongoing delimitation in many electoral constituencies may result in break-up of affiliation between public and its representatives, change of boundaries thereof, which may cause alienation of different groups of tribes”;
- Delimitation exercise should be postponed “till such time as the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is updated to reflect the true population configuration in the State”;
- That the process of delimitation in Assam had evoked strong opposition from all concerned in the State, with various organisations strongly opposing the delimitation exercise, which had given apprehensions with regard to break down of public order in the State of Assam. It was stated that “issues in regard to delimitation of constituencies in the State of Assam are very serious and sensitive in nature and may give rise to break down of public order on account of serious law and order situation in different districts and more, particularly, in the areas which are disturbed areas or very sensitive areas”
- Central Government had declared the entire State of Assam as “disturbed area”, under Section 3 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958;
- The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), declared as unlawful associations under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1976, were “likely to exploit the sentiments of the local people, and create large scale violence and disruption of the public order, in furtherance of their agenda”;
- “Strong objections” had been lodged by “the legislators, parliamentarians, all political parties, Panchayats and public leaders on the proposed delimitation of Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies”;
- The State Government was “of the view that the delimitation process should be kept in abeyance and has requested for the maintenance of status quo in the interest of peaceful coexistence of people of the State and its territorial integrity and the maintenance of public order.”
The Central Government, however, on February 28, 2020 rescinded its order of 2008 and resumed delimitation exercise in Assam. On March 6, 2020, it also constituted a the Delimitation Commission for the purpose of delimiting assembly and parliamentary constituencies in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland.
The petition filed through Advocate on Record (AoR) Fuzail Ayyubi also made reference to a fact that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) Assam is being prepared on the basis of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the validity of the said section is pending consideration before a constitution bench of the apex court.