The invitation of 14 political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir for a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Thursday, 24 June, has renewed speculation on when the Assembly elections can be held in the Union Territory, with a discussion on the delimitation exercise expected to come up during the meeting.
Among those invited for the meeting are political heavyweights of the region, including National Conference leaders Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, and the Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad.
So what exactly is this delimitation exercise for Jammu and Kashmir? How much progress has the Delimitation Commission made since the announcement of bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories in August 2019, and what have been the concerns raised? Here’s all you need to know:
What is Delimitation? What Will it Mean for Jammu & Kashmir?
Firstly, let’s understand what delimitation means. The Election Commission of India describes it as the “act or process of fixing limits or boundaries of territorial constituencies in a country or a province (state or Union Territory) having a legislative body.” The process may also entail a change in the number of Lok Sabha seats allotted to different states, as well as in the number of Legislative Assembly seats for each state.
To carry out the exercise in Jammu and Kashmir in the aftermath of its special status revocation, a Delimitation Commission was set up on 6 March 2020. The commission is headed by Justice (retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai, and includes an election commissioner along with the state election commissioner, as well as five associate members for J&K.
The commission is mandated to delimit the constituencies of the Union Territory “in accordance with the provisions of part V of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 (34 of 2019) and the provisions of the Delimitation Act, 2002 (33 of 2002).”
Under the Jammu and Kashmir Reogranisation Act, 2019, the number of constituencies in the Union Territory are to be raised from 107 to 114. But this also takes into account the 24 seats falling under Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Excluding these 24, the effective strength of the Assembly would become 90 as compared to 83 earlier.
What's Been Happening Till Now?
A year after being constituted, the Delimitation Commission got an extension for one year this March.
It held a meeting in February this year, which three of its associate members – National Conference MPs Farooq Abdullah, Mohammad Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi – skipped. The other two who attended were Union Minister Jitendra Singh and Jugal Kishore Sharma – both BJP leaders and MPs from J&K.
At the meeting, the two BJP leaders reportedly conveyed to the body to not just consider population as a factor for the delimitation process, but also the geographical considerations for Jammu.
Fast forward to June, according to source-based reports, the Delimitation Commission wrote to 20 district commissioners earlier this month seeking details on various aspects including intra-district demographic distribution, population density distribution, topography and the “political aspirations of people in the district vis-a-vis constituencies”, among other things.
While on one hand, concerns have also been expressed over how the delimitation process may end up favouring the Jammu region over Kashmir in terms of the seats, on the other, arguments have also made about how the Jammu region has been underrepresented, with demands made for increasing its share.
Meanwhile, former J&K finance minister Haseeeb Drabu had called for distribution of Assembly constituencies in the Union Territory “on the basis of share of population”.
“With population as the base, the allocation can be tempered by giving some weightage to the density of population. If the inverse of population density is used, it will work as relevant surrogate for area, since low population density will get a higher weightage,” he wrote in Hindustan Times back in March.
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