Prof Suresh Chander
The picture was taken on the eve of a meeting of 14 leaders with the Prime Minister on 24 June 2021. A picture is said to be worth a thousand words. That sometimes multiple ideas can be conveyed by a single still image, which conveys its meaning or essence more effectively than a mere verbal description. Mercifully readers were spared the interpretation by knowledgeable watchers of happenings in Jammu and Kashmir. The picture did not reveal anything and didn’t even convey the remarks of the participants after the conclusion of the meeting. At the meeting everyone retreated to their stated position without change of comma or full stop.The common opinion was early elections with or without restoration of full statehood. Omar Abdullah, was unhappy with delimitation only in Jammu and Kashmir. “In other states, delimitation will be taken up in 2026, why has Jammu and Kashmir been singled out? We told the Prime Minister delimitation is not needed,” said the former Chief Minister, adding that ‘trust has broken between the Centre and Kashmir’. Omar didn’t spell out the reasons except hiding behind technical grounds. Perhaps he didn’t like the idea of the addition of about 90,000 West Pakistan Refugee voters in Jammu Division. These voters were denied participation in elections for the Legislative Assembly. In the 2008 elections, there were 63,45,085 registered voters. This increase in the number of voters can be of advantage to Jammu.
At present, Jammu has 37 seats as compared to 46 from Kashmir Division. Average number of voters per seat, based on 2008 figures, in Jammu Division is 83,263 whereas it is 70,824 in the Kashmir Division. Further, Jammu is mostly hilly. The hill people have been clamoring for better representation due to its difficult terrain. Gujjars and Bakkarwals, mostly in Jammu, also hope for a better representation. Now they have been brought under ST status and some seats are likely to be reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST) across the state. One such seat is likely to be in Kashmir Division. Gujjars have fair representation at present but they are not in their own right but at the mercy of Kashmiri leaders.Delimitation Exercise never satisfies all the stakeholders. However, certain broad parameters have to be laid down for redrawing the existing constituencies. In Jammu and Kashmir, it was done arbitrarily in 1952. It was heavily in favour of the Kashmir Division. The same template continued in subsequent exercises including the last in 1998. A delimitation commission was first constituted for J&K in 1952. Delimitation in J&K has followed a slightly different trajectory than in the rest of the country, due to the special status it was accorded under Article 370.While delimitation of Lok Sabha seats in J&K is governed by the Constitution of India, that of the erstwhile state’s Assembly seats was governed by the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution and specifically, the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act, 1957.The last time a delimitation exercise was conducted in J&K was under President’s Rule in 1995 by retired Justice K.K. Gupta’s Commission. The next exercise was due in 2005, but in 2002, 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.Present status: A delimitation commission, headed by retired Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai, was set up by the government in 2020. The commission has a difficult job to satisfy different sections:a. Jammu asking for increased representation,b. Greater say by Gujjars and Bakarwals.c. Consideration of hilly areas vs plains.d. Demand or reservation for PoJK displaced persons against 24 reserved seats.e. Demand of Kashmiri Pandits for reservation of constituencies exclusively for them.f. Demand of Sikhs as they are scattered all over and cannot elect their representative.The demands of various groups may be genuine but these have to be within the constitutional provisions. There is no constitutional provision for d, e and f above as of now. Demands of Gujjars and Bakarwals (b above) will be met by reserving seats for ST category. A seat may be reserved for a small community of Gaddis as well under ST category. The tricky question for the Commission will be for (a) and (c) above.On the basis of registered voters 31,74,417 (30,84,417 + 90,000) in Jammu and 32,60,668 in Kashmir, the share comes to approx. 46 for Kashmir and 44 for Jammu. However, Geography must also be taken into account. A formula will have to be devised to take population and areas of the respective regions into account. For such cases weightage to various parameters is generally assigned based on heuristics in some cases. It is proposed that one third of 90 seats be distributed on the basis of area of the two regions and rest according to population. So, 30 seats are proposed to be distributed according to area and 60 according to population.The area of Jammu is 26,293 sq km while that of Kashmir is 15,948 sq km. According to the area, the respective share of 30 seats for Kashmir and Jammu works out to 11.335 and 18.664.In Jammu, the number of voters are 31,74,417 while there are 32,60,668 voters in Kashmir. According to number of voters, the respective share of 60 seats for Kashmir and Jammu works out to 30.402 and 29.598.Proposed Distribution according to area and number of voters in each division. Kashmir 11.335 + 30.402 or 41.735 rounded to 42 seats out of 90 seats and Jammu 18.664 + 29.598 or 48.262 rounded to 48 seats out of 90 seats.The calculations have been based on available data. The above has been suggested at macro level.The exercise at micro level will be based on various factors of a district and constituencies under it. Hope some similar formula will be used by the commission for fair distribution of seats among various diverse areas of the state. No demographic analysis has been done but majority of the constituencies will be from Muslim majority areas.(The author is former Head of Computer Engineering Department in G B Pant University of Agriculture & Technology)
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