With President’s Rule operational in Jammu and Kashmir, Home Minister Amit Shah has had a series of meetings with top bureaucrats and comprehensive discussions with J&K Governor Satyapal Malik.
The Indian government is believed to be working on an action plan for fresh delimitation of constituencies and appointment of a delimitation commission. At the very heart of the delimitation exercise is redrawing the scope and size of assembly constituencies and determining the number of seats to be reserved for SCs.
This is, in the main to correct the anomaly of regional inequality long suffered by the Jammu region and also provide representation to all reserved categories in the state assembly. The main grouse of Jammu being that growing imbalance emerging out of the composition of various constituencies would continue.
Another section of thought is that Kashmir Valley claims that it has no SC or ST while Gujjars, Bakerwals and Gaddies were given ST status in 1991 and form 11 per cent of the population but have no political reservation.
The last time a delimitation exercise took place in the state was also under President’s Rule, as far back as 1995 in extremely difficult circumstances by the Justice (retd) KK Gupta Commission. Incidentally, the Constitution provides for delimitation every 10 years, the next delimitation of assembly constituencies should have logically taken place in 2005.
However, in 2002, the Farooq Abdullah government chose to freeze delimitation until 2026 by amending the Jammu & Kashmir Representation of the People Act 1957 and Section 47(3) of the Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir.
National Conference, PDP Oppose Delimitation
The reports on the plans about commencing the delimitation process for Jammu and Kashmir Assembly constituencies triggered a critical response from both National Conference and People’s Democratic Party.
Abdullah tweeted, “When delimitation takes place in the rest of the country the BJP is welcome to apply it to J&K until then we in the @JKNC_ will oppose, tooth & nail, any attempt to make changes without a mandate from the people of the state.
“It’s rather surprising that the BJP, which talks about bringing J&K at par with other states by removing 370 & 35-A now wants to treat J&K differently from other states in this one respect.
“The freeze on delimitation was applied to J&K and was done to bring the state in line with the rest of the country. The same was challenged & upheld in both the High Court of J&K & the Supreme Court.” NC chief also shared his detailed response on his Facebook page.
PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti said that she was distressed to hear the plans.
“Distressed to hear about GoIs plan to redraw assembly constituencies in J&K. Forced delimitation is an obvious attempt to inflict another emotional partition of the state on communal lines. Instead of allowing old wounds to heal, GoI is inflicting pain on Kashmiris,” she said on Twitter.
One needs to be mindful that the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, enacted in 1957, was based on the Maharaja’s Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir of 1939, which was still in force. After accession to India, the State Constituent Assembly was constituted under the 1939 Constitution, but Sheikh Abdullah’s administration arbitrarily carved out 30 seats for Jammu region and 43 seats for Kashmir region and two seats for Ladakh region. This regional disparity became entrenched thereafter: Kashmir (46), Jammu (37) and Ladakh (four).
During Ghulam Nabi Azad’s term as chief minister, he had recommended a proposal of 25 per cent all-round increase in the number of assembly seats of all three geographical regions in the state which would have resulted in an additional 22 constituencies in the assembly.
According to the 2011 census, the total population of Jammu Division was 53,78,538 of which Dogras are the dominant group comprising 62.55 per cent of the population. Jammu has 25.93 per cent of the area and 42.89 per cent of the population.
Against this Kashmir Division or the intermontane valley population in 2011 was 68,88,475 with 96.40 per cent Muslims. Though it has 15.73 per cent of the state’s area, it holds 54.93 per cent of the population.
Ladakh has 58.33 per cent of the area accounting for 2.18 per cent of the population, a mere 2,74,289 people reside thereof which 46.40 per cent are Muslims, 12.11 per cent Hindus and 39.67 per cent Buddhist.
Incidentally, the Constitution provides for delimitation every 10 years, the next delimitation of assembly constituencies should have logically taken place in 2005. However, in 2002, the Farooq Abdullah government chose to freeze delimitation until 2026 by amending the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act 1957 and Section 47(3) of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir. The amended Section 47(3) provided “that until the relevant figures for the first census taken after the year 2026 have been published, it shall not be necessary to readjust the total number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of the State and the division of the State into territorial constituencies under this sub-section”. This put the contentious matter in abeyance.
This is where the Governor comes in. On his intervention, this can be changed. For during President’s Rule, the legislative authority is vested in the Governor. The last delimitation on the provisional basis was done in 1993 by Governor Jagmohan when Jammu and Kashmir was divided into 87 assembly constituencies.
The Governor is competent to amend Section 47 of the Constitution to delete the objectionable proviso which barred the setting up of a delimitation commission. Furthermore, Section 3 of the Representation of the People Act gives the Governor the mandate to constitute a delimitation commission.
Jammu and Kashmir has the powers to revoke the law through a Constitutional amendment with a two-thirds majority and ramp up the number of seats. If the Governor sets up a delimitation commission, then the ball will start rolling. By fast-tracking it before the elections, some sort of common ground could be found. At the moment there are seven seats reserved for SC in the assembly, all in the Jammu division which haven’t been rotated since 1996 — Chamb, Domana, Ranbir Singh Pura, Samba, Hiranagar, Chenani and Ramban (separate) in Jammu, Kathua and Udhampur district, respectively.
Convention says that the next delimitation can only take place after Census 2031, unless the Governor intervenes and rectifies this irregularity. In another peculiarity, the state Constitution, under Section 48, reserves 24 seats in the 111-member assembly for the area under Pakistani occupation (since 1947-48).