Delimitation Should Not Solely Be Determined by Numerical Superiority: Former SC Judge Chelameswar

There needs to be a debate if some states should get a "premium for their non-performance", the retired judge said, speaking about delimitation and Central funds.

Retired Supreme Court judge Justice Jasti Chelameswar asked whether there should be a pattern where somebody gets a premium for their nonperformance, with the South Indian states paying for the nonperforming states.

He was speaking during a panel discussion on “Delimitation: Southern Discomfort And Solutions” at Dakshin Dialogues 2023, the annual flagship thought conclave of South First, in Bengaluru on Saturday, October 7.

“The matter of delimitation and ‘One Nation, One Vote’ should be debated seriously. Funds from the government of India are being used for the different states… Some of us in some other parts of the country are not being cared for so well. Something is required to be done. But should it be such a pattern that somebody gets a premium for their non-performance? How to solve it? That’s a matter which should be discussed along the line of delimitation,” said Justice Chelameswar.

On amending the constitution

He added that the constitution of India was a legal document that deserved the utmost respect: It was crucial not to view it as something infallible, but rather subject to scrutiny and adaptation.

This aspect has been a topic of discussion for the past 75 years, from the very beginning when questions arose about whether the constitution could be amended by parliament, he noted.

“It was in 1973 that the Supreme Court ruled that the constitution could be amended by parliament, with the limitation that the basic structure of the constitution could not be altered. Defining what constitutes this ‘basic structure’ is a complex task, akin to traditional Indian philosophy – it’s challenging to explain,” he said.

However, it was also worth noting that there were aspects of the constitution that might benefit from periodic reevaluation.

“What may have been suitable a century ago may require reexamination through rigorous and intelligent debate,” he explained. “The process should not be solely determined by shouting and numerical superiority; it demands thoughtful consideration.”

On interpreting the constitution

The framers of the constitution were individuals of great wisdom, with vast experience and deep commitment to the nation, noted the retired Supreme Court judge, adding that many of them endured prolonged periods of incarceration during the British colonial era.

Their sacrifices and dedication to the country’s development and democratic principles culminated in the creation of this constitution, he said.

“While there are aspects that might warrant reconsideration. I’d like to emphasise that the constitution’s ongoing interpretation and application are essential for its relevance and effectiveness,” he said.

“As for the principle of ‘one person, one vote’, it’s indeed a fundamental tenet of democracy. However, it raises questions about how political power, derived from numerical representation, intersects with other crucial aspects like financial distribution. I’m not an economist, but I can provide an example to illustrate this,” he added.

He also said there are two high courts in India where the use of Hindi as a language of communication is legally permissible – Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Other states have subsequently joined.

“This development occurred in the 1950s when the assemblies passed a resolution, and the government was tasked with notifying Hindi as a language for high courts,” he noted.

“It’s important to note that this decision wasn’t influenced by any particular political party. However, despite the resolution, the use of Hindi in high courts has not become widespread. This raises questions about the practical application of such decisions,” he said.

Request for Hindi in court

He said that he once attended a gathering where the demand was raised to make Hindi an official language for legal documents and court proceedings. Many speakers supported this demand.

“When it was my turn, I mentioned that I come from a region where Hindi is not widely spoken, and I had watched numerous Hindi movies. I asked if anyone in the audience had seen even one South Indian movie, irrespective of the language. Surprisingly, not a single person had. My point was that diversity in languages is important, and learning more languages is enriching,” he said.

He added that, however, these decisions could be politically influenced. For instance, Hindi-speaking individuals formed a majority in parliament, and this influenced decisions regarding language use.

Similarly, election processes should adhere to the constitutional principle that the ratio of representation among states should be roughly equitable.

This story was originally published on South First.