The Supreme Court on Monday refused to stop the delimitation exercise of the Election Commission in Assam, PTI reported.

A delimitation exercise refers to demarcating boundaries of assembly and parliamentary constituencies as well as civic wards.

A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, however, agreed to examine the constitutional validity of Section 8A of the Representation of the People Act, 1950 that empowers the poll body to undertake the delimitation process.

The bench also issued notice to the Centre and the Election Commission on the petitions, asking them to respond within three weeks.

In a draft on June 20 , the Election Commission had proposed to abolish several Muslim-majority assembly seats by either merging or subsuming them under other newly-created constituencies – many of them with significant Hindu populations.

Nine Opposition parties in Assam had moved the Supreme Court challenging the methodology adopted by the Election Commission in creating a delimitation draft.

The parties are the Congress, Raijor Dal, Assam Jatiya Parishad, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Trinamool Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Anchalik Gana Morcha.

In their petition, the parties claimed that the methodology adopted by the poll body for the exercise took different average assembly sizes for different districts and argued that population density has no role to play in the delimitation exercise.

The petitioners also said that by relying on the data of the 2001 census, the Election Commission has created three categories of districts and has taken a different yardstick for each category. This has led to a possible deviation of up to 33% between the populations of the largest and the smallest constituencies, they submitted.

They also contended that the statements made by Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma indicate that the exercise was carried out to benefit the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

The delimitation draft

In Barak Valley, the draft has recommended reducing assembly seats from 15 to 13 – one each from the Muslim-majority districts of Karimganj and Hailakandi.

In Barpeta, another Muslim-majority district, the poll body has proposed to reduce the Assembly seats from eight to six. Among them, one would be earmarked for a candidate from the Scheduled Caste community if the draft proposal is accepted.

Overall, the Election Commission has proposed to increase the seats reserved for the Scheduled Castes in Assam from eight to nine, and for the Scheduled Tribes from 16 to 19. However, the poll body has retained the number of Assembly seats at 126 and the Lok Sabha constituencies at 14.

Also read: Why the Election Commission’s Assam delimitation proposal is being seen as communal