The central government on Thursday extended the term of the Delimitation Commission by one year and excluded the north-eastern states from its mandate.
The Union ministry of law and justice issued a notification on Wednesday night to extend the tenure of the commission headed by Justice (retd) Ranjana Desai by one year. The commission’s term was coming to end on March 5, 2021.
The Delimitation Commission is a panel that was set up last year to redraw the electoral constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir and four northeastern states— Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. However, the one-year extension has only been ordered for Jammu and Kashmir.
The move has led to speculations that the government has decided to delay the election process in Jammu and Kashmir for another year. Jammu and Kashmir Assembly was dissolved in 2018 and since then, Jammu and Kashmir is under the governor’s rule.
“When the government announced the constitution of the Delimitation Commission in March last year, it said it is not only about Jammu and Kashmir but also about Assam and other North-Eastern states. It is only in the case of Jammu and Kashmir the government increased its duration for a period of another year. Why don’t they delink the delimitation process with the elections here,” says CPI (M) leader Mohammad Yousuf Taragami.
He says Jammu and Kashmir are being singled out and it gives credence to apprehensions that they are out to play with the demography of Jammu and Kashmir.
“They have increased seven seats for Jammu and Kashmir Assembly under Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, which is under challenge before the Apex Court. At the time of the first notification about the Delimitation Commission, they said we are not doing it for Jammu and Kashmir alone, now it is proved that it is aimed at Jammu and Kashmir alone,” Taragami said.
Senior BJP leader and former speaker of Jammu and Kashmir Assembly Kavinder Gupta told Outlook that the Commission would complete the process within a few months and elections might be held within this year.
“It is true that the duration of the Delimitation Commission has been increased for another year. But it doesn’t mean they have to complete the process in a year. Maybe it completes its exercise in a month or two,” he says.
However, Zafar Choudhary, a Jammu-based political analyst, said the extension of the Delimitation Commission for another one year means that there no elections will be held for another year and a half.
On February 18, the Delimitation Commission on Jammu & Kashmir held the first meeting. However, the National Conference (NC) MPs from Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah, Hasnain Masoodi, and Akbar Lone, who are also associate members of the Commission, did not attend the meeting saying the exercise is “unconstitutional”.
In the absence of the Legislative Assembly, the NC and BJP Lok Sabha members were nominated as associate members of the Delimitation Commission without having any voting rights. The law provides that four persons- MLAs of Jammu and Kashmir or four Lok Sabha members representing the newly carved-out Union Territory would assist the election commission in the delimitation process.
Since the Delimitation Commission has been constituted under Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, the NC has described the exercise as unconstitutional.
“In our view the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019 is palpably unconstitutional and has been enacted in disregard and violation of the mandate and spirit of the Constitution of India. We have thrown a challenge to the constitutional validity of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019, before Supreme Court,” NC president Farooq Abdullah wrote to the Commission in a letter last month.
He said since the Supreme Court has referred the petitions to the Constitutional Bench of the Court for consideration and to examine the Constitutional validity of the Act, implementation of such an act may amount to pre-empting the judicial verdict.
Dr Farooq had asked the head of the Commission that being a renowned legal luminary of the country he shouldn’t go ahead with the proceedings as it may amount to exercising of powers under an Act whose constitutional validity is being examined by the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court.
However, Jitendra Singh, minister of state in the Prime Minister’s office and MP from Udhampur, and Jugal Kishore Sharma, MP from Jammu had attended the February 18 meeting.
They told the Commission that delimitation of constituencies should consider existing boundaries of administrative units, communications, public convenience, with special attention to the local terrain. As per the 2011 Census, the population in Kashmir region is 68, 88, 475 and Jammu has a population of 53, 78, 538.
Since the population of Kashmir Valley is higher than Jammu, Jammu politicians have been long insisting that instead of population, geography should be made criteria.
Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act says that the number of seats in the Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir would be increased from 107 to 114 including 24 seats which are reserved for Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) while the election will be held for 90 seats.
Before August 5, the State of Jammu and Kashmir had 111 seats including 24 reserved for PoK and elections were held for 87 seats. With the creation of Ladakh as Union Territory, four seats of the region were reduced and the Assembly was left with 83 seats. In the previous Assembly, Kashmir had 46 seats, Jammu 37, and Ladakh four.
Delimitation of the Assembly constituencies was last held in 1994-95 during the president’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir. At that time seats of the erstwhile State Assembly were raised from 76 to 87. Jammu region’s seats were increased from 32 to 37, Kashmir’s from 42 to 46 and Ladakh’s seats increased from two to four.
However, the then National Conference government had frozen delimitation in 2002 in accordance with the decision taken by the then NDA government.
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