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EXPLAINED: Why J&K Delimitation Commission's Proposal Has Sparked A Controversy

National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah said they will approach the Supreme Court against the delimitation exercise (File photo: PTI)

National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah said they will approach the Supreme Court against the delimitation exercise (File photo: PTI)

The major political parties in Kashmir Valley have slammed the delimitation panel's proposal even as officials have pointed out that they have followed the book

The allocation of additional seats in the Jammu and Kashmir legislature proposed by the delimitation commission set up for the purpose has been greeted with protests by parties in the Kashmir Valley, which say that the recommendation is aimed at favouring the Jammu division over the Muslim majority Valley. But officials have argued that the delimitation award that has been proposed is based on several factors that the panel was mandated to take into account. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is The Delimitation Commission’s Proposal?

The delimitation commission set up for J&K has proposed an extra six seats for the Jammu region, which will take its total representation in the legislature to 43 from 37 while only an increase of one seat has been recommended for Kashmir, which will come to have 47 seats if the draft advice is given effect in the current form.

Section 60 of the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019 — which provided for the change in J&K’s status to that of a Union Territory with the separation of Ladakh, which became a new UT — says that “the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of UT of J&K shall be increased from 107 to 114". The creation of the new seats, the 2019 Act said, will be by way of “delimitation of the constituencies… determined by the Election Commission".

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The Delimitation Commission for J&K headed by Justice (Retd) Ranjana Prakash Desai has said in its draft proposal that the Jammu division districts of Kishtwar, Samba, Kathua, Doda, Rajouri and Udhampur/Reasi would each get one extra seat along with Kupwara district in Kashmir division.

The delimitation panel also proposed reservation of nine seats in J&K for Scheduled Tribes while the number of Scheduled Caste seats remains seven.

Why Has The Proposal Triggered A Controversy?

The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), a group of J&K-based mainstream political parties, including the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has protested against the delimitation award, saying that the panel’s recommendations are “divisive and unacceptable".

“In our views, this will further divide the ranks of people of J&K, deepen their alienation, and create a much bigger void between communities and the regions," PAGD said in a statement, maintaining that the delimitation exercise should be based on the 2011 Census.

It has been alleged that the BJP-led government at the Centre is rushing ahead with delimitation as it wants to tilt the electoral balance in favour of the Hindu-majority Jammu division at the expense of the Kashmir Valley, which has a Muslim majority population. Critics of the delimitation have pointed out that the exercise should have been carried out after the completion of 2021 Census.

While the 2011 Census data is to inform the delimitation process, it has been alleged that there is a mismatch in the apportionment of seats between the Jammu division and the Valley. The proposed delimitation leaves each assembly constituency with close to 1.5 lakh voters in Kashmir but the number of voters in each Jammu division seat is about 1.25 lakh.

However, reports said officials had clarified that the delimitation panel’s recommendations were not based solely on Census 2011 figures but had also taken into account the guideline laid down in the 2019 Act that “all constituencies shall, as far as practicable, be geographically compact areas, and in delimiting them, regard shall be had to physical features, existing boundaries of administrative units, facilities of communication and conveniences to the public".

What Is Delimitation?

According to election officials, delimitation is the process of “fixing limits or boundaries of territorial constituencies in a country or a province having a legislative body". But simple as it sounds, delimitation has had a contested history in India. Article 81 of the Indian Constitution says that seats in the Lok Sabha should be allocated among the different states in such a manner that, “the ratio between that number and the population of the state is, so far as practicable, the same for all States".

As to the territorial constituencies in each state, the Constitution says they shall be divided “in such manner that the ratio between the population of each constituency and the number of seats allotted to it is, so far as practicable, the same throughout the state".

But population is subject to change and, hence, there should be periodic review of the population and suitable adjustments in the allocation of seats to various legislative and elected bodies. That is the work of delimitation, which in India is executed by a Delimitation Commission, of which there have been four so far: 1952, 1963, 1973, 2002, although the last of those did not result in any change in the number of Lok Sabha seats, which were frozen in 1976 till 2026 by way of amendments to constitutional provisions. That was done with an eye on encouraging population control since the states that met with little success in pushing family planning schemes would end up having a larger share of legislators while those that did manage to control population growth would be penalised into having fewer legislators.

The delimitation exercise is to be held per the data from the most recent census.

Did J&K’s Special Status Mean Separate Delimitation?

Yes and no. As to Lok Sabha seats, delimitation for J&K happened along with the other states, but the Assembly seats were delimited according to the separate constitution that J&K had by virtue of its special status. But Article 370, that gave J&K its special status now stands abrogated. In fact, there was no adjustment in Assembly seats in J&K when the last delimitation exercise, between 2002 and 2008, was held across the country.

After J&K lost its special status and became a Union Territory, a delimitation commission was set up to redraw boundaries of Parliamentary and Assembly constituencies. Jammu and Kashmir has been under Central rule since June 19, 2018, following the collapse of the PDP-BJP coalition government.

What Is Strength Of The J&K Assembly? Will The Number Go Up After Delimitation?

Prior to reports in 2019, when the Centre said that “the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of UT of Jammu and Kashmir shall be increased from 107 to 114", 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).

The increase in seats is seen as part of a move to ensure there is electoral parity between the two regions of Kashmir and Jammu, 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.

The J-K Reorganisation Bill, 2019, introduced in the Rajya Sabha by Union Home Minister Amit Shah also said that the Lok Sabha will have five seats from the UT of J-K, while Ladakh will have one seat. The undivided J&K state had six seats total in Lok Sabha and sent four members to the Upper House.

The Delimitation Commission for J&K 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.

What Happens Next?

NC leader Farooq Abdullah has said that the associate members of the delimitation panel had told the officials that the entire exercise was “illegal" since the abrogation of Article 370, which conferred special status on J&K, had been challenged in Supreme Court and a decision was pending in the matter. The delimitation commission has five associate members — BJP MPs Jugal Kishore Sharma and Jitendra Singh, NC MPs Mohammad Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi, and Abdullah.

Abdullah said that right at the outset, the point was raised “by us at the meeting… that the commission was illegal" as the petition challenging the reorganisation of J&K was pending in Supreme Court. But he added that chairperson Desai had told them that she had been appointed by the government to carry out the exercise and had accordingly made her recommendation. “But whatever the Supreme Court finally says, it will be binding on them (Commission) also," Abdullah said. His party is reportedly planning to approach the Supreme Court on the delimitation exercise.

Reports said that the proposal put forth by the delimitation panel are in the draft stage now with suggestions having been sought from the associate members. Thereafter, the draft will be placed in the public domain to allow the people to register their objections. Public hearings in Jammu and Srinagar would follow before the final delimitation award.

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first published:December 27, 2021, 09:23 IST