The Delimitation Commission on Jammu and Kashmir has proposed six additional assembly seats for Jammu region and one for Kashmir while reserving 16 constituencies for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, triggering strong protests from parties such as the National Conference which accused the commission of allowing the "political agenda of the BJP to dictate its recommendations".
The PDP, JK Apni Party and the People's Conference (PC), which is regarded as being friendly towards the BJP, also protested strongly against the commission's draft recommendations which will alter the electoral map of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Kashmir division currently has 46 seats and Jammu 37 seats.
The commission headed by former Supreme Court judge Ranjana Desai held its second meeting here on Monday. It has five Lok Sabha members from Jammu and Kashmir as associate members and Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra as ex-officio member.
Three Lok Sabha members of the NC, including party president and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, attended the commission meeting for the first time. Two BJP MPs, including Minister of State in the PMO Jitendra Singh, were also present.
Sources said that the parties have been asked to submit their views on the proposed increase of seats by December 31.
Abdullah, who is also the chairman of the five-party People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), said after the meeting that he would brief the grouping as well as his party colleagues of the deliberations of the commission.
"We attended the meeting for the first time because we wanted the voice of people of Jammu and Kashmir to be heard. The meeting took place in cordial manner and we all were explained the method adopted for coming to the conclusion," Abdullah said.
"I will discuss with my senior party leaders before sending our views to the commission. We have also not been told about the seats that they are reserving for Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes," he said.
In a strong reaction, NC vice president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted that it was deeply disappointing that the commission appears to have allowed the political agenda of the BJP to dictate its recommendations rather than data which should have been its only consideration.
"Contrary to the promised 'scientific approach', it's a political approach," he said.
He said the draft recommendation of the Delimitation Commission "is unacceptable. The distribution of newly created assembly constituencies with six going to Jammu and only one to Kashmir is not justified by the data of the 2011 census."
The Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party, headed by former minister Altaf Bukahri, also rejected the proposal of the commission.
"This is outright unacceptable to us. Apni Party demands a fair delimitation exercise without any bias, taking population and districts as the base. We strongly demand the Government of India to intervene," it said.
PDP president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said the commission has been "created simply to serve BJP's political interests by dividing people along religious and regional lines. The real game plan is to install a government in JK which will legitimise the illegal and unconstitutional decisions of August 2019".
She was referring to the government's decisions of abrogating Jammu and Kashmir's special status under Article 370 and bifurcating the erstwhile state into union territories.
"My apprehensions about the Delimitation Commission weren't misplaced. They want to pitch people against each other by ignoring the population census and proposing six seats for one region and only one for Kashmir," she said.
People's Conference chief Sajjad Lone said the recommendations of the commission were totally unacceptable. "They reek of bias. What a shock for those who believe in democracy," he tweeted.
The commission has proposed nine seats for STs and seven for SCs in Jammu and Kashmir, sources said.
The Delimitation Commission was set up in February 2020 after the passage of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill in Parliament in August 2019.
Initially, it was asked to complete its work within a year but had to be given an extension of one year in March this year as the work could not be completed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The commission is tasked with redrawing parliamentary and assembly constituencies in the union territory.
Prime minister Narendra Modi, during a meeting with Jammu and Kashmir leaders on June 24, had said the ongoing delimitation exercise has to happen quickly so that polls can be held to install an elected government that gives strength to its development trajectory.
In a series of tweets after a three-and-a-half-hour-long meeting with 14 political leaders of Jammu and Kashmir, the prime minister said, "Our priority is to strengthen grassroots democracy in JK. Delimitation has to happen at a quick pace so that polls can happen and JK gets an elected Government that gives strength to JK's development trajectory."
On June 23 this year, the commission had held a meeting that was attended by all the 20 deputy commissioners of Jammu and Kashmir where inputs were gathered on how to make the assembly seats more geographically compact.
Twenty-four seats of the assembly continue to remain vacant as they fall under Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.