Recently, Congress leader Manish Tewari created a flutter with his claim that the Narendra Modi government was planning to increase the number of Lok Sabha seats from the current 543 to 1,000 ahead of the general elections in 2024. Ever since the unveiling of the Central Vista project, speculations were rife if a bigger Parliament was being constructed with a view to increasing the number of seats in the Lok Sabha.
The BJP's rivals believe that an increase in the number of Lok Sabha seats, based on population, could benefit the party since it is expected to enhance the representation of northern states in the lower house while reducing the proportion of seats in the southern states.
What is the current status?
The current strength of the Lok Sabha – 543 seats -- is based on the 1971 census. Currently, 16-18 lakh people are represented by one Lok Sabha member. There is a freeze on enhancing the number of constituencies till 2026.
How did the number of seats get frozen?
According to Article 81 of the Constitution, the composition of the Lok Sabha should represent the change in population. It originally allowed for not more than 500 members in the lower house. The first Lok Sabha constituted in 1952 had 497 members.
The last time the number of seats in the Lok Sabha was enhanced was in 1977, and it was based on the population as per the 1971 census, which was 55 crore.
In 1976, the 42nd amendment to the Constitution was passed by Parliament, putting a freeze on the number of Lok Sabha seats till 2001. It was aimed at limiting population growth. However, while some states were able to control the growth of the population, others were not so successful.
In 2001, Parliament had cleared the 91st amendment to the Constitution, which extended the 25-year-old freeze on the total number and state-wise distribution of seats in the Lok Sabha till 2026. The delimitation commission was allowed to adjust the geographical boundary of each seat within the existing number of constituencies. It was done on the basis of the population figures as per the 1991 census.
Demand for increasing Lok Sabha seats
There has been a demand for increasing the number of Lok Sabha seats based on the argument that there has been a substantial increase in population, and the current number of MPs does not adequately represent the people.
Former president Pranab Mukerjee had, in 2019, said the number of seats in the Lok Sabha should be increased to 1,000. “In 1977, the population was 55 crore or 550 million whereas today it stands at 1.3 billion. There has been an embargo on increasing the seats in Parliament and state assemblies till 2026. Even by the 2011 census of population, the number of voters has increased per Lok Sabha constituency," he had said.
It is argued that states with a poor record in population control will get a larger share of seats. The southern states have their apprehensions with regard to any move to enhance the number of seats in the Lok Sabha because they fear that since the exercise will be population-based, their representation in the lower house will reduce.
It is also pointed out that the population is expected to stabilise by 2061 and decline thereafter.