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Delimitation Commission for Jammu & Kashmir may get another extension. Here is why

A security agent takes a sniffer dog around the Commission's meeting venue in Jammu, July 2021
Jammu and Kashmir is under the direct central rule since June 2018. The last elections were held in 2014 and the next were due in 2021. In the meanwhile, the state was downgraded and re-organised in two Union Territories in 2019. The resumption of the stalled political process by way of holding elections would formally begin only after the Delimitation Commission report is finalised and notified by the President of India.

JAMMU: The Delimitation Commission tasked with redrawing of Assembly Constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir is all likely to get a short extension before the final report makes its way to the Gazette.

Even as the Commission has yet to go through a number of technical stages to wind up its work, the sudden surge in the pandemic has further slowed down its public activity. “A three-month extension is inevitable for Commission to be able to complete its work”, said a reliable source familiar with the ongoing process. The Dispatch reached with this question to a member of the Commission who didn’t comment.

CURRENT STATUS AND PENDING STAGES

  • The Commission had its first proper meeting with all Associate Members on December 20, 2021, explaining to them the methodology of its work and pattern of allocation of seven additional seats. The cartography detail of the 90 Assembly seats and five Lok Sabha seats –the main task of the Commission –has yet to be explained to the members.  The members were asked to submit their feedback, which they have done.
  • Based on the feedback received following the first round of meetings, the Commission will share changes, if any, with the Associate Members and invite them to another meeting. In this meeting, the Commission may also share with the members its proposal on allocation of all 90 seats and five Lok Sabha seats. This meeting will also have a presentation on the Constituencies reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
  • In follow up to the discussions with Associate Members in the second round of meeting, Commission will direct the Secretariat to send copies of the complete Working Paper to the Associate Members who will be given a reasonable time to study the proposals and to come up with their suggestions for the further meeting(s) in the Commission. The CEO of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir will provide the Associate Members with copies of required data and maps.
  • At third second round of meeting of the Commission with the Associate Members (AMs), their suggestions with regard to the Working Paper will be duly considered, and the draft proposals of the Commission will then be prepared in the light of the suggestions of the AMs. A copy of the draft proposals so prepared will be sent to each of the AMs and they may give a dissenting note in respect of any of the draft proposals if they so desire.
  • The draft proposals of the Commission shall then be published in the Gazette of India and the State Gazette of Jammu and Kashmir along with the dissenting notes, if any, submitted by the Associate Members and who desire publication thereof. These shall also be published at least in two regional newspapers. The CEO and DEOs will be directed to make copies of the notification containing the draft proposals available to all those who may ask for it. Widest publicity will be given through print and electronic media. A notice will also be issued specifying a date on or before which the public is requested to send their objections and suggestions to the proposals.
  • After the specified date, the suggestions and objections received will be tabulated and made into sets and distributed to all Members of the Commission including Associate Members.
  • After the last date for submitting suggestions and objections is over, the Commission will hold public sittings at one or more places in Jammu and Kashmir to hear the public in person. Wide publicity will be given to those sittings.
  • After hearing the public, the Commission will hold a final meeting attended by Associate Members (though they have no right to vote) to consider all suggestions received in writing as well as orally made at the public sittings and decide the modifications that are required to be made to the draft proposals and prepare a final order. The final order thus prepared, both for assembly constituencies and parliamentary constituencies, will be signed by the full Commission and the Secretary to the Delimitation Commission will cause the final orders to be published in the Gazette and also in the newspapers. After the final orders are published, the President of India shall be requested to issue a notification specifying a date from which the said orders shall come into force. The copies of those orders shall also be laid before the House of the People and the State Legislative Assembly concerned, but no modification shall be permissible therein by them. 

As evident in the stages explained above, the Commission has yet to undertake a bulk of tasks which will surely need much longer time than what is left in the present term -45 days. These stages are standard for the delimitation process even as the current Commission and the prevalent circumstances, particularly the pandemic, may have already called for more creative ways to economise on time.

The Delimitation Commission during its public hearing in Jammu on July 8, 2021

The Delimitation Commission for Jammu and Kashmir, it may be recalled, was announced in March 2020 with a mandate to redraw the 90 Assembly seats and five Lok Sabha seats within one year. The Commission did do plenty of desk work in its mandate year but no public meetings could take place due to pandemics. An extension of one year was granted on March 4, 2021 which is about to end in the next month and a half.

Session in progress: A view of Assembly during its last session in February 2018

BACKGROUND

The reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir by slicing away Ladakh as a separate Union Territory, without legislature, had left the erstwhile state with 83 seats in the Legislative Assembly. On the same occasion, August 5, 2019, the Reorganisation Act provided for seven more Constituencies to be added to the Floor of the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly. Put together a total number of 90 seats are to be filled by direct elections. As has been in the past, 24 seats are left vacant for the areas under occupation of Pakistan.

The draft report the Delimitation Commission shared with the associate members on December 20 merely explains the procedure it adopted for allocating the seven additional seats across the districts. While regions in the erstwhile state –Jammu region and Kashmir region –are historically deeply polarized along religious and regional lines, the Commission has skirted this question to take districts as basic units for allocation of new seats.

Allotment of six seats across as many districts in the Jammu region and only one in Kashmir has left the Kashmir-based political parties livid. Almost all political parties have objected to the criteria adopted and subsequent allocation of seats.

The current round of reactions is only to the allocation of seven constituencies while the delimitation is basically about all 90 constituencies. The larger picture of how the cartography has been done to include the unique population sets is yet to be seen. The regional political parties, mainly with a Kashmir-heavy leadership, have

Treasury bench: Mehbooba Mufti as last Chief Minister of the undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir
Treasury bench: Mehbooba Mufti as last Chief Minister of the undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir

called the allocation of seven seats as an exercise on communal lines. Some Jammu-based political parties such as Panthers Party have also reacted but their demand is for more seats in the Jammu region. Some Kashmiri Pandit groups have also voiced concern as they were expecting the reservation of some seats for the community.

Even as the Commission is an independent quasi-judicial authority headed by a retired Judge of the Supreme Court, former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has accused it of furthering BJP’s political agenda. “There is no doubt in my mind that this recommendation is political in nature and designed to address the BJP’s desire to marginalise the voters of Kashmir division”, Omar wrote in an opinion piece on NDTV’s website. The PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti has clearly accused the Delimitation Commission of having worked for the BJP. In a long post she wrote on her Facebook page, Mehbooba said, “My apprehensions about the Delimitation Commission weren’t misplaced. They want to pitch people against each other by ignoring the population census & proposing 6 seats for one region & only one for Kashmir. This commission has been created simply to serve BJP’s political interests by dividing people along religious & regional lines. The real game plan is to install a government in J&K which will legitimise the illegal & unconstitutional decisions of August 2019”.

Interestingly, while the Kashmiri political parties and groups are livid over the allocation pattern of seven seats, in Jammu, the reaction is equally bitter. Except for BJP, local parties and groups have strong demand for scrapping the present process and making the 2021 census the basis for factoring in population seats.

Jammu and Kashmir is under the direct central rule since June 2018. The last elections were held in 2014 and the next were due in 2021. In the meanwhile, the state was downgraded and re-organised in two Union Territories in 2019. The resumption of the stalled political process by way of holding elections would formally begin only after the Delimitation Commission report is  finalised and notified by the President of India.

 

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About the author

Zafar Choudhary

A journalist since 1999, Zafar Choudhary is also a policy analyst and author. An alumni of the London School of Economics, his book ‘Kashmir Conflict and Muslims of Jammu’ addresses a critical gap in scholarship on Kashmir. Zafar is founder and editor of The Dispatch

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