At Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first meeting with 14 top political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir since the government scrapped its special status and downgraded it into two Union Territories, big focus was on delimitation or redrawing of constituencies.
PM Modi urged the leaders to participate in the delimitation process or the redrawing of boundaries of a Lok Sabha or assembly seat.
“Our priority is to strengthen grassroots democracy in J&K. Delimitation has to happen at a quick pace so that polls can happen and J&K gets an elected Government that gives strength to J&K’s development trajectory,” he said.
However, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, after the meeting, protested the centre’s moves to redraw constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir saying it was not needed.
“Why has Jammu and Kashmir been singled out for delimitation? We said delimitation was not needed. In other states, delimitation will be taken up in 2026, why has Jammu and Kashmir been singled out? If August 5 (2019) was to unite the state with India, then delimitation process defeats the purpose as we are being singled out,” Omar Abdullah told reporters.
Mr Abdullah was among scores of politicians detained as the Centre on August 5 announced the abrogation of Article 370 that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
After the state was turned into two Union Territories, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, the government said Jammu and Kashmir would have an elected legislature and elections would be held soon after delimitation.
Elections are due in Jammu and Kashmir since 2018, when the BJP withdrew support from the then Mehbooba Mufti-led government.
According to Mr Abdullah, most parties in Jammu and Kashmir are against delimitation. But he added that elections were a matter of time as “both the PM and Home Minister Amit Shah talked about their desire to see elections in J&K at the earliest.”
What Is Delimitation?
Delimitation is the redrawing of boundaries of an assembly or Lok Sabha constituency to reflect changes to the population of a region.
The Delimitation Commission is an independent body and the executive and political parties cannot interfere in its functioning.
The Commission is headed by a retired Supreme Court judge and includes the Chief Election Commissioner or Election Commissioner and state election commissioners. Five MPs from Jammu and Kashmir are associate members, but their recommendations are not binding on the Commission.
Three National Conference MPs, including Farooq Abdullah, had boycotted meetings of the Delimitation Commission. They have indicated that they will join the meetings if the chairman of the Commission addresses their concerns, since a case is pending before the Supreme Court.
The National Conference and other parties have challenged the August 5 decision and the delimitation exercise before the Supreme Court.
Delimitation In J&K
Until it lost its special status, the delimitation of Jammu and Kashmir’s Lok Sabha seats was governed by the Constitution of India and that of assembly seats, by the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution and Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act, 1957.
The last redrawing was in 1995 and based on the 1981 census. There was no census in the state in 1991. And after the 2001 census, the J&K assembly passed a law putting on hold delimitation till 2026.
What It Means For Jammu And Kashmir
After the loss of special status, both Lok Sabha and assembly seats are to be demarcated under the Constitution of India. A fresh Delimitation Commission was set up last year. It got an extension because of the Covid crisis.
According to the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act of 2019, the new legislature in J&K will have 90 seats, seven more than the previous assembly, after the constituencies are demarcated afresh.
The strength of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly was 87 before 2019, including four seats in Ladakh. 24 Assembly seats are vacant as they fall under Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Why Is It Controversial?
Of 87 seats, 46 are in Kashmir and 37 in Jammu.
Since the delimitation is based on the census, several groups in Jammu have been strongly opposing delimitation based on the 2011 census. Per the 2011 census, Kashmir’s population is over 68 lakh against 53 lakh in Jammu. This means Kashmir will get more seats in terms of the population ratio.
What About Other States?
The last delimitation was held in 1994-1995 when the former state was under President’s Rule; the number of seats in the J&K assembly was increased from 76 to 87. Seats in Jammu went up from 32 to 37 and in Kashmir, from 42 to 46 seats.
In 2002, the process was put on freeze till 2026 by the National Conference government, on the heels of the NDA government at the Centre. It was decided by parliament that a Delimitation Commission will be set up after 2026 to decide on the redrawing of Lok Sabha constituencies across the country.
When the boundaries are redrawn again, the Lok Sabha are expected to go up from 543 to 888 seats. Rajya Sabha seats are expected to increase from 245 to 384.