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J&K Delimitation Commission finishes consultation with stakeholders;  key points to know

The Jammu and Kashmir Delimitation Commission on Friday completed its four-day consultation with various stakeholders — political parties and civil society groups alike — and stated that it would base its final report on the 2011 Census to add at least seven more seats to the 83-member Assembly of the erstwhile state.

The commission also added that it understands the complexity of people’s political aspirations and is willing to take into account the topography, difficult terrain, means of communication and convenience available while undertaking the delimiting exercise. In addition to redefining constituency limits and adding more seats to improve regional representation, the commission will also be making recommendations to reserve certain seats for the Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Schedule Caste (SC).

“Delimitation is not a mathematical exercise. It must reflect the political aspirations of society bound in a particular geography. Though the population forms the base [for delimitation], the commission shall take into account constituencies’ practicality, geographical compatibility, topography, physical features, means of communication and convenience available,” Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra said.

The Delimitation Commission for Jammu and Kashmir was set up by the Centre in March last year but got a year’s extension this March in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is led by Justice (retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai and includes two other members.

Key points from delimitation commission’s four-day-long consultations

  • Delimitation will be conducted on the basis of the 2011 census report. This assumes significance because the last delimitation exercise was conducted 26 years ago in 1995, and that too was based on the census of 1981.
  • Apart from the demographics indicated in the Census, the commission will also take into account practicality, geographical compatibility, topography, physical features, means of communication and convenience available. To do this, the commission had taken into account the representations made by 290 groups, comprising 800 people.
  • Twenty-four seats that are reserved for Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK) would not be delimited in this process. This further makes the delimitation exercise relevant because some political parties argue, that this freeze has created inequity for the Jammu region and a more practical representation plan is needed to accommodate citizens’ actual aspirations as they exist on the ground today.
  • The commission will also specify the number of seats to be reserved for the SC and the ST communities in the Union Territory. This is important because despite having a sizeable tribal population, no seats had ever been reserved in the past for the Scheduled Tribes in Jammu and Kashmir.
  • A draft report will be prepared and put in the public domain for consensus and feedback. Only after the fresh comments, the final draft will be prepared.

What is the need for delimitation?

  • As Chief Election Commissioner of India, Sushil Chandra put it in a presser today, “In 1995, there were 12 districts. The number has gone up to 20 now. The number of tehsils has gone up from 58 to 270. In 12 districts, constituency boundaries are extended beyond the district’s limit. There is an overlapping of districts as well as the tehsils in constituencies. All such facts indicate that the public faces inconvenience due to such anomalies.”
  • Furthermore, the politicians from the Jammu region have always demanded more electoral parity between the two regions, which in the pre-2019 scheme of things had 46 and 37 seats, respectively. That was seen as tilting the balance in favour of the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley at the expense of Jammu.

 

Do we know how many seats will be added?

  • The Delimitation Commission has said it will suggest the addition of at least seven Assembly seats. The effective strength of the Assembly was 87, including four seats falling in Ladakh region, which is now a separate UT without a legislature. Twenty-four seats of the Assembly have remained vacant as they fall under Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
  • This means that overall the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of UT of Jammu and Kashmir will be increased from 107 to 114.
  • Furthermore, the Lok Sabha will have five seats from the UT of Jammu and Kashmir, while Ladakh will have one seat. The undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir had six seats in the Lok Sabha and sent four members to the Upper House.

How have political parties reacted to delimitation?

  • The BJP delegation led by its Jammu and Kashmir president Ravinder Raina raised the demand of unfreezing the 24 assembly seats falling in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to grant reservation to people displaced from PoK, Kashmir Pandits, SCs and STs.
  • Congress submitted a memorandum to the Jammu and Kashmir Delimitation Commission and said undertaking a delimitation exercise in Jammu and Kashmir will be meaningless until full statehood is restored to it. Statehood is imperative for the restoration of the democratic process in Jammu and Kashmir, it said.
  • “Until full statehood for Jammu and Kashmir as part of the Union of India is restored, there would be no meaning for the Delimitation Commission to undertake any exercise,” the delegation led by former minister Muka Ram and Raman Bhalla said in a memorandum.
  • National Conference delegation led by its provincial president Devender Rana met the commission expressing hope that it will work in a transparent, judicious and fair manner.
  • “This Delimitation Commission in the circumstances that it has been constituted is unique and its findings can have far-reaching consequences in shaping the future of Jammu and Kashmir. History will judge its decision and our role critically and if we fail, we shall fail our people and the nation as a whole,” the National Conference delegation said.
  • They said each region and sub-region in Jammu and Kashmir has its own diverse characteristics and peculiar needs which need to be addressed by the Commission in a manner that everyone feels involved and democratically empowered.
  • West Pakistan Refugees Action Committee president Labha Ram Gandhi, who led its delegation, demanded reservation of two to three seats in the Assembly for the people of the community living along the border from Jammu to Kathua.
  • An Apni Party delegation, led by Vice President and former minister Choudhary Zulfikar Ali, also met the Commission.
  • The delegation urged the Commission to expedite the process of delimiting the Assembly constituencies by involving all stakeholders.
  • “J&K is being run by bureaucrats and bureaucracy. Bureaucracy may be performing well but in any democracy, bureaucracy cannot be the substitute of democracy,” the delegation told the Commission.

 

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