Delimitation process in J&K: A step in the right direction
by Jaibans Singh on 17 Jul 2021 1 Comment

Security forces in Jammu and Kashmir led by the Indian army have, on many occasions, created a security environment conducive to revival of the political process. Sadly, many such opportunities have been lost by previous governments at the centre, mostly due to lack of political resolve and disconnect with the people leading to failure of initiatives taken and ending in frustration and a return of the threshold of violence.


In the last few years, security forces have launched sustained and relentless operations against terrorist forces while also capping the infiltration routes. Significant in this direction has been the success of Operation All-out launched by the Indian army. The end result has been a decline in violence to the extent of making initiation of the political process feasible once again.


The NDA government has put in tremendous effort to ensure that the window of stability now available is leveraged to bring about permanent peace and a strong democratic dispensation in the region.


The first step in this direction was taken on 5 August 2019 when the State was bifurcated into two Union Territories and the draconian Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution of India were abrogated by a constitutional process. Violence and rejection of the move was predicted by inimical forces with a vested interest in keeping the state subjugated. However, nothing happened; the state accepted the new dispensation with relief as it opened windows to lasting peace and prosperity. 


On August 5, 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah gave an assurance that the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir will ultimately be given the status of a State with its own legislative institutions as available in other states. This, he said, would be done by paving the way for elections post a process of delimitation for both parliamentary and state constituencies.


The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, added seven seats to the legislative assembly in Jammu region (37 to 44); the number of seats in Kashmir remained 46. This matter was left to be implemented by the Delimitation Commission. The move was necessitated to support groups such as the West Pakistan refugees and the Valmiki Samaj who had been leading a stateless existence for decades and qualified as domiciles of the state under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019. Delimitation would also facilitate reservation of seats for Scheduled Tribes, mainly benefitting the Muslim Gujjars.


Delimitation in the state is long overdue since the last such exercise was conducted under President’s Rule in 1995. The next delimitation exercise was due in 2005, but 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. This was done with a vested interest of keeping intact the dominance of Kashmir region over Jammu.


In 1995, J&K had only 12 districts, now there are 20; the number of Tehsils has gone up from 58 to 270. Constituency boundaries in as many as 12 districts are extended beyond the district’s limit. All such issues need to be resolved.

A Delimitation Commission has been constituted under the chairmanship of former Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai. It was given time till March, 2021, to complete the process, now a one year extension has been given due to delay imposed by the COVID situation. The government has, thus, shown absolute seriousness in the process.


Delimitation was the main agenda in the meeting of J&K leaders held in New Delhi on March 24, 2021, under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The central government made it clear that elections will be held only after delimitation is done. Most parties have accepted this, barring the Mehbooba Mufti-led People’s Democratic Party.


The Delimitation Commission panel visited J&K on July 6 and met with various stakeholders. All regional and national parties except PDP and Awami National Conference formally presented memorandums to the panel. The Commission will consider all demands and recommendations and put up a final draft in the public domain for debate. During this visit, it met 290 groups in Srinagar, Pahalgam, Kishtwar and Jammu for first-hand inputs.


Delimitation will be on the basis of the 2011 Census as per Section 62 of J&K Reorganisation Act 2019 and the 24 seats reserved for Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) will stay vacant. This decision overrules a demand by the BJP of de-freezing one third of the 24 seats reserved for POJK. This reflects the apolitical posture of the panel.


The Delimitation process in J&K is bound to be complex in nature; while population will form the main criteria, geography, terrain and topography, population density, ethnic composition etc., will also be considered. Hence, the Commission is holding detailed meetings and briefings with deputy commissioners and other civil servants.


Given the imperative of Delimitation of constituencies in J&K, the improved security situation makes this the best time for this exercise. This will facilitate the holding of elections as early as possible, and voting without fear or intimidation. The PDP and some other elements are trying to derail the process by calling it a pre-planned exercise. The commission, however, is sticking to its mandate to pave the way for elections with maximum participation of all communities and stakeholders. 


(Jaibans Singh is a columnist and author)

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