May 11, 2022 - 4:49 am

Delimitation panel notifies new J&K Assembly constituencies

    The delimitation commission set up the Centre to redraw the electoral map of Jammu and Kashmir notified and submitted its much-awaited final report for the delimitation of Assembly and parliamentary constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir to the Election Commission of India. The former state is without an elected government since June 2018. A day before its term was to end, the Commission, chaired by Justice (retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai and including Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and J&K State Election Commissioner K.K. Sharma as ex-officio members, met to finalise its order and later issued a gazette notification. The delimitation was carried out based on the 2011 Census and other considerations like geographical features and access.

     The seats in Kashmir will have an average population of 1.46 lakh against 1.25 lakh in Jammu. All five parliamentary constituencies will have an equal number of assembly constituencies for the first time. The new Assembly would have 90 seats, 47 in Kashmir and 43 in Jammu, which was an increase from the earlier 83, with six of the additional seats being in Jammu and one in Kashmir. The commission said in its statement that for the first time in J&K, nine seats have been reserved for Scheduled Tribes. Six of the ST reserved seats were in Jammu region and three in the Kashmir Valley. Seven seats had been reserved for Scheduled Castes. 

     In two significant recommendations, the Delimitation Commission has asked the Central government to reserve two seats for ‘Kashmiri Migrants (essentially Pandits)’ as well as nominate representatives of people displaced from Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK) and settled in J&K, in the Assembly of the Union Territory. While there was no official provision for reservation for Kashmiri Pandits in the Assembly of the erstwhile J&K state, parties would ensure that at least one or two members from the community got elected to the House, including from the Muslim-majority Valley, or nominated them. The commission said it had accepted many of the suggestions regarding names of constituencies that came up during consultations. It restored old names and reworked a few Assembly segments in the Kashmir division, which had been renamed in the previous draft and had evoked criticism from local parties. 

     Soon after the notification was issued by the delimitation commission, the Gupkar Alliance, a conglomerate of the National Conference and People’s Democratic Party among five regional political parties based in Kashmir led by Farooq Abdullah, criticised the exercise, saying the commission has “worked beyond its mandate” to propose “sweeping changes” which will “alter the demography” of J&K. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry has summoned India's Charge d’Affaires and handed a demarche conveying Islamabad's categorical rejection of the Delimitation Commission report.

     Constituency boundaries are being redrawn only in J&K when delimitation for the rest of the country has been frozen until 2026. The last delimitation exercise in J&K was carried out in 1995. In 2002, the then J&K government led by Farooq Abdullaha mended the J&K Representation of the People Act to freeze the delimitation exercise until2026, as in the rest of the country. This was challenged in the J&K High Court and then the Supreme Court, both of which upheld the freeze. Again, political parties in Jammu and Kashmir have been pointing out that the Delimitation Commission is mandated by the Reorganisation Act, which is sub judice. Also, while delimitation as a rule is carried out on the basis of Census population, the Commission said it would take certain other factors into consideration for J&K, including size, remoteness and closeness to the border.

     While the basis for delimitation is the 2011 Census, the changes mean that 44% of the population (Jammu) will vote in 48% of the seats, while the 56% living in Kashmir will vote in the remaining 52% of the seats. In the earlier set-up, Kashmir’s 56% had 55.4% of the seats and Jammu’s 43.8% had 44.5% of the seats. Of the six new seats in Jammu, four have a predominantly Hindu population. Of the two new seats in Chenab region, comprising Doda and Kishtwar districts, Muslims are a minority in Padder seat. In Kashmir, the one new seat is in Kupwara, the stronghold of the People’s Conference that is seen as close to the BJP. Political parties have pointed out serious flaws in the delimitation process, which may have long-term and serious repercussions for democracy in the region.

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