Tuesday, May 17

DELIMITATION & FUTURE OF KASHMIR

 

AR Bhat

The Delimitation Commission was first constituted for J&K in 1952. Subsequently, they were constituted in 1963, 1973 & 1995. Delimitation in J&K has followed a slightly different trajectory than the rest of the country due to its special status which was accorded under Article 370 whereby the delimitation of Lok Sabha seats in J&K was governed by the Constitution of India while the delimitation of the erstwhile state’s Legislative Assembly seats was governed by the J&K Constitution in conjunction with the J&K representation of the people Act, 1957.

The last delimitation ex in J&K was conducted under President’s Rule in 1995 by the Delimitation Commission headed by Retired Justice KK Gupta. The commission resulted in an increase in the No of Assembly Constituencies from 76 to 87 wherein Jammu region saw an increase of five seats (from 32 to 37 seats), Kashmir region, an increase of four seats (from 42 to 46) while Ladakh region saw an incr of two seats (from two to four). The next ex was due in 2005, but in 2002, the Farooq Abdullah chose to freeze delimitation until 2026 by amending the J&K representation of the people Act, 1957 as also Sec 47 (3) of the Constitution of J&K.

The J&K Assembly had a total of 111 seats wherein Kashmir had 46 seats, Jammu had 37 seats, Ladakh has 04 seats and 24 seats were res for PoK. Post abrogation of article 370, Ladakh got separated whereby the total seats of J&K Assembly came down to 107. However, as per section 60 of J&K reorg Act, 2019, the seats for J&K Assembly will be increased from 107 to 114 post-delimitation thus effectively increasing the seats from 83 to 90 (excluding seats res for PoK). On 06 Mar 2020, Delimitation Commission for J&K was set up by the Govt. The commission was tasked to carry out Delimitation of J&K as per 2001 census and submit its report within one yr. However, it couldn’t make substantial prog due to the COVID-19 induced shutdown across the country.

Moreover, J&K state election commissioner KK Sharma was appointed only on 30 Oct 2020, following which he was preoccupied with the District Development Council (DDC) polls in J&K that concluded in Dec 2020. Therefore, in effect the Commission could start functioning properly, with all members in place, only in Jan 2021. National Conference MPs Farooq Abdullah, Mohammad Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi refused to participate stating that the J&K Reorg Act of 2019 was “Palpably unconstitutional” and that till the time the Supreme Court decides the constitutional validity of this no decisions emanating from the Act should be implemented.

In view of the above developments, on 04 Mar 2021, the commission was granted Extention for one yr. In Jun 2021, the Election Commission wrote to Dy Commissioners of all 20 districts in J&K seeking fresh information on several aspects including population density and topography in all the districts as well as Assembly constituencies. In Jun 2021, PM Narendra Modi chaired a meeting with 14 top political leaders from J&K in order to discuss delimitation wherein he urged the leaders to participate in the delimitation process. The member of the Delimitation Commission visited J&K in Jul 2021 wherein they met several leaders of national and regional political parties, administrators & civil society groups. The purpose of the interaction was to gather first-hand information about the conduct of the delimitation process.

The Commission added seven assembly constituencies to J&K increasing its strength from 87 to 90. The Interim report proposes an increase of six seats for the Jammu province, taking the number of constituencies to 43 and an increase of one seat in the Kashmir province, taking the seat strength to 47, almost bringing two reserve at par with each other. The commission has suggested reducing of boundaries of most of the assembly segments in J&K. It has named and reconfigured 28 new constituencies & deleted 19 assembly segments. The commission proposed six new constituencies in Jammu & in Kashmir valley. The commission has proposed to reserve seven seats for SC/ Hindus that mainly populate Samba – Kathua – Jammu – Udhampur belt & nine seats for STs which will help Gujjar & Bakkarwals mostly non Kashmiri speaking muslims inhabiting Rajouri – Poonch belt in Jammu province. The delimitation of J&K is a politically volatile issue since it is directly related to the representation of Muslim-dominated Kashmir & Hindu- dominated Jammu in the Legislative Assembly. Political parties seeking greater representation for Jammu in the Assembly, have argued that the freeze enforced in 2002 has led to inadequate representation from Jammu.

The concern for several mainstream political parties in the valley has been that representation may be increased for Jammu after the delimitation exercise and not Kashmir, thereby weakening their electoral fortune. In view of the same, the mainstream political parties in Kashmir boycotted the meeting of the Delimitation commission, calling the exercise “palpably unconstitutional”. However, after a rethink within the parties, several of them agreed to engage in a dialogue with the central government.

The delimitation process was undertaken across the country from 2002 to 2008. However, the same was not done in J&K where the last delimitation exercise was carried out in 1995 and that too was based on the 1981 Census (Census could not be carried out in J&K in 1991 due to terrorism). Therefore there is a need for fresh delimitation process as demography of the state has changed substantially over their last three decades.

Delimitation in J&K has followed a slightly different trajectory than the rest of the country due to the special status it was accorded under Article 370. However, Post Abrogation of Article 370 on 05 Aug 2019, there is a need to carry out delimitation as per the provision of the constitution of India.

With the split of the state into Union Territories, the complexion of the Legislative Assembly has changed as the Union Territory of Ladakh has been separated. Moreover, seven additional seats as stipulated by J&K Reorg Act 2019 also need consideration. Conduct of Delimitation before the proposed assembly elections will result in accurate reflection of the will of the people during the democratic process. It is anticipated that SC & ST might get reservation in the J&K Assembly for the first time after this Delimitation Commission. This would be a major step towards their upliftment through inclusive representation in the Legislative Assembly.

The expected impact of delimitation on future of J&K with special reference to Kashmir are as under:-

Accurate reflection of the will of the people during all democratic processes within J&K.

Conduct of suffrage Assembly Elections.
Adherence to the Constitution of India and amalgamation of J&K into Indian mainstream.

Inclusive representation of demography in the Legislative Assembly (SCs & STs).

Bolster the democratic process in the state, thereby leading to higher accountability of the elected representatives, better governance and accelerated progress.

Pave the way for eventual reinstatement of statehood in r/o J&K.

The Delimitation exercise as necessitated vide J&K Reorg Act-2019 is a major step in strengthening the democratic setup in the UT and is a prerequisite to conduct of successful Assembly Elections that reflect the will of its people in the purest form. The Delimitation process as has already been studied above in detail, is carried out by an indep body and the methodology followed leaves little scope for errors or manipulation. In light of the aforementioned, it can be said with a reasonable amount of certainty that this step will usher in a new era of inclusive democracy in J&K which will be characterised by greater accountability of the elected representatives acting as a catalyst in improving governance and uplifting the socio- economic fabric of the state to ever higher levels.

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