An all-party meeting on Friday rejected the proposal to increase the number of Lok Sabha and Assembly seats as this would jettison the work already done by the Delimitation Commission on recasting constituencies on the basis of population to make them as equitable as possible.
It stressed that the 2009 general election should be held on the basis of the recast constituencies.
The two hour meeting also decided that the women's reservation bill be delinked from the ongoing delimitation exercise and brought during the Winter session of Parliament.
The occasion was used by parties like the Trinamool to question the delimitation process and by the Samajwadi Party to reiterate its opposition to the women's bill.
There was no unanimity at the meeting but the consensus against an increase in seats allayed apprehensions that the work done so far by the Delimitation Commission could be abandoned on the twin issues of earmarking seats for women and addressing the anomalies in the delimitation exercise.
"By and large, the consensus of the meeting was that the Delimitation Commission work should continue and be completed on time," said Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister and Leader of the Lok Sabha, who will now convey the views expressed by leaders to the Delimitation panel which has to complete by July 2007 the task of redrawing boundaries of constituencies on the basis of population to make them equitable. The panel has already completed its work in 12 states.
During the meeting, Mukherjee did not spell out the stand of the Government or the Congress. Instead, he sought the views of leaders on how to deal with the problems that have arisen during the delimitation exercise.
A discussion paper circulated at the meeting proposed a one-third increase in Lok Sabha and Assembly seats and a 25 per cent variation in population to deal with the problems that have surfaced while recasting constituencies.
These include: an increase in the number of urban seats and a decline in rural constituencies because of migration; a difference in the geographic spread of constituencies in plains and in hilly and rough terrains; and an increase in the number of reserved seats and a decrease in general seats.
There were also fears that the delimitation exercise, coupled with the reservation of seats for women, would, for instance, leave less than 250 of the 545 Lok Sabha seats in the general category unless it is remedied by increasing the total tally through a constitutional amendment that removes the cap (on such increase) till 2026.
"Almost all parties opposed the proposal of allowing a 25 per cent variation in population while redefining constituencies,"’ said CPMs' Basudeb Acharia. He said the problems relating to delimitation are "not major" and can be addressed by the Delimitation Commission—a point of view shared by BJP leaders also.
According to BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley, the objections raised do not affect the guiding principle of ensuring every vote being given equal weight in the delimitation process. He alleged that the "trivial" objections raised about the ongoing exercise were meant to "scuttle" it.
On its part, the BJP's ally, the Trinamool, denied a consensus at the meeting and raised questions about the authenticity of the 2001 census on the basis of which delimitation was being carried out.
"In West Bengal, the democratic process has been totally subverted," alleged Trinamool's Dinesh Trivedi.
On the women's bill, the majority view was that it should be brought in the Winter session of Parliament so that one third seats of the existing seats in the Lok Sabha and Assemblies can be earmarked for women.
Leaders rejected the proposal of raising the number of seats in the Lok Sabha from 545 to 826, stating that this would jettison the Delimitation Commission's work and involve a fresh delimitation exercise.
While parties like the Congress, the Left and the AIADMK support the bill in its existing form, the Samajwadi Party and the JD-U reiterated their opposition to it.
They demanded a sub quota for other backward castes (OBCs) and minorities. SP's Ram Gopal Yadav also favoured the Election Commission formula of parties allotting one-third tickets to women during elections. But the other strong opponent to the women's bill, Rashtriya Janata Dal's Lalu Prasad Yadav, did not attend the meeting. Nor did Lok Janshakti leader Ram Vilas Paswan but he sent a message supporting the bill.
Besides Mukherjee, the meeting was attended by Union Ministers Shivraj Patil, Sharad Pawar, PR Dasmunsi, HR Bhardwaj, TR Baalu, Oscar Fernandes and Shibu Soren. The leaders of political parties who participated in the meeting included among others, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Sharad Yadav, Sitaram Yechury, K Yerrannaidu, Mehbooba Mufti, Dinesh Trivedi and Basudeb Acharia.