The story so far: After multiple objections and extensions, the J&K Delimitation Commission submitted its final report on May 5, 2022, two years after it was appointed to redraw the electoral boundaries in Jammu and Kashmir as per the mandate set by the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019. In its order, a notification of which was published in the Gazette of India, the three-member panel carved out additional six Assembly seats for the Jammu region and one for the Kashmir valley as per the Act. The final order of the Commission has set the stage for elections in the erstwhile State that last held Assembly polls in 2014.
Delimitation is the process of redrawing boundaries of the Lok Sabha or Assembly constituencies, the Election Commission of India states. The process is carried out in accordance with changes in the demographic status of a State or Union Territory. Delimitation is done by a Delimitation Commission or Boundary Commission. The orders of the independent body cannot be questioned before any court. In the past, Delimitation Commissions were set up in 1952, 1963, 1973, and 2002. Before the abrogation of Article 370 that accorded a special status to J&K, delimitation of its Assembly seats was carried out by the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution and the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act, 1957. The delimitation of Lok Sabha constituencies, meanwhile, was governed by the Constitution.
The last time a delimitation exercise was carried out in Jammu and Kashmir was in 1995, based on the 1981 Census. Jammu and Kashmir was under President’s rule at that time. There was no Census in 1991 in J&K due to the tense situation in the valley. In 2001, the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly passed a law to put the delimitation process on hold till 2026. The Centre set up a Delimitation Commission in March 2020, six months after the State of Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated and reorganised as the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. The Commission, headed by retired Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai, was tasked with delimiting the Assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies in the UT of J&K based on the 2011 Census and in accordance with the provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 and the Delimitation Act, 2002.
The panel was given a year to complete the delimitation plan but was given two extensions. After considering submissions and considering factors like “geographical features, communication means, public convenience and contiguity of areas”, the Delimitation Commission released its final report on May 5.
First, J&K is split into two divisions, with Jammu having 37 Assembly seats and Kashmir 46. After the Commission's final draft, six additional Assembly seats are earmarked for Jammu (revised to 43) and one for Kashmir (revised to 47). The total number of Assembly seats in the UT will increase from 83 to 90.
Second, the Commission has recommended the Centre to nominate at least two Kashmiri Pandits to the Legislative Assembly.
Third, the panel has proposed nine seats for the Scheduled Tribes (STs). These will include six in Jammu (Budhal, Gulabgarh, Surankote, Rajouri, Mendhar, Thanamandi) and three in the valley (Gurez, Kangan, Kokernag). Seven seats have been reserved for the Scheduled Castes (SCs) in the Jammu region.
Fourth, the Commission has also recommended that the government consider giving displaced persons from Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir representation in the Assembly through nomination.
Fifth, in its final order, the Commission has noted that it has considered the “Jammu & Kashmir region as one single Union Territory”, and merged Rajouri and Poonch (from Jammu division) with the Anantnag constituency in the Kashmir region. The new constituency has been renamed as Kishtwar-Rajouri.
Sixth, the Commission has said it renamed 13 constituencies considering public sentiment in the region. The order shows that in Kashmir, the names of Gulmarg (from Tangmarg), Hazratbal, Zadibal, Lal Chowk, Eidgah have been restored. In the Jammu region, the name of the Gulabgarh constituency has been restored.
The final order of the Delimitation Commission for Jammu and Kashmir holds a lot of political significance. The completion of the delimitation exercise will pave the way for Assembly elections — a crucial step in the possible restoration of statehood for Jammu and Kashmir. Union Home Minister Amit Shah had stated earlier this year that the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir will be restored “once the situation becomes normal”.
The Commission has added seven more Assembly seats, keeping the 2011 census as the basis. With this, Jammu with a population of 53 lakh (43% of the total population of 122 crore) will have 47% seats, while Kashmir which has a population of 68 lakh (56%) will have 52% of the seats.
The new constituency has five ST Assembly segments from the Jammu region. In J&K, Gujjar and Bakarwals form the ST community which is 11.9% of the total population, as per the 2011 census. This restructuring is likely to have an electoral impact.
Regional political parties in Jammu and Kashmir, barring the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have slammed the Commission for acting as an “extension of the BJP”. Rejecting the recommendations, former J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti termed the proposal as another means to disempower the people of J&K. Ms. Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party had boycotted both visits of the Commission to the UT. Her party colleague, Naeem Akhtar, alleged that elections have been rigged even before voting. “It’s another sad chapter of history written by the rulers sitting in New Delhi,” he told The Hindu.
The National Conference (NC) claimed that the final order was an attempt to help the BJP get an advantage in elections. The NC has been critical of the Commission and had boycotted it before the intervention of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Peoples Conference and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) have also expressed their disappointment. The Congress said the proposal of six additional seats to Jammu and one to Kashmir “smacks of pre-determined erroneous assessment”. The BJP, meanwhile, has said it is happy with the panel for “doing a great job”.
The Delimitation Commission for Jammu and Kashmir has issued a notification of its final order in the Gazette of India. As per rules, the report has been published in newspapers.
The Centre will now fix a date from which the delimitation order will come into effect. Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra told The Hindu that the EC will then rationalise the polling stations and revise the electoral rolls. This will pave the way for the much-awaited first Assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir after being stripped of its special status in 2019.
With inputs from Peerzada Ashiq