SRINAGAR/New Delhi: The Union government on Thursday got the ball rolling for the Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir after it published the gazette notification of the final delimitation order hours after the three-member Delimitation Commission submitted its report to the government. As per the order, which comes into effect from May 5, Jammu division will now have 43 assembly constituencies and Kashmir 47 in the 90-member house.
The commission, which was entrusted with the work of delimiting the assembly and parliamentary constituencies in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir on the basis of the 2011 census, recommended additional seats in the Assembly for Kashmiri migrants and displaced persons from the Pakistan occupied Jammu-Kashmir. Besides, there are five parliamentary constituencies in the UT, all with equal number of Assembly constituencies for the first time.
The Election Commission of India (ECI) sources said that it may take the poll panel three to four months to prepare the new J&K electoral roll as per the newly-delimited constituencies. The decision to hold Assembly elections in the state will be taken only after that.
It is speculated that the Assembly elections in J&K will be held along with those in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh later this year. Though decision to this effect will be taken by the ECI “at an appropriate time”, keeping in view all pros and cons including the maintenance of law and order, weather and agricultural calendar, particularly the apple-growing season and in consultation with the Union home ministry and J&K administration.
The Delimitation Commission headed by the retired judge of the Supreme Court justice Ranjana Prakash Desai and comprising of chief election commissioner Sushil Chandra and J&K state election commissioner K.K. Sharma said, after consultation with associate members, representatives of political parties, citizens and civil society groups, it has been decided to reserve nine Assembly constituencies for scheduled tribes, out of which six will be in Jammu region and 3 in the valley. This is the first time in J&K’s legislative history that seats have been reserved for the STs.
After the increase in the number of Assembly constituencies in the UT from 83 to 90, all five parliamentary constituencies will have an equal number of Assembly seats for the first time.
Jammu and Kashmir has been treated as a single entity for the purpose of delimitation. “One of the parliamentary constituencies has been carved out by combining the Anantnag region in the valley and the Rajouri and Poonch of the Jammu region. By this reorganisation, each parliamentary constituency will have an equal number of 18 Assembly constituencies each. Names of some ACs have also been changed keeping in view the demand of local representatives,” a statement from ECI said.
The Delimitation Commission has also asked the government to nominate at least two members of Kashmiri migrants for the union territory’s Legislative Assembly, one of which should be a woman. “Provision of at least two members, one of them must be a female, from the community of Kashmiri migrants in the Legislative Assembly and such members may be given power at par with the power of nominated members of the Legislative Assembly of union territory of Puducherry. The Central government may consider giving the displaced persons from Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir some representation in the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly by way of nomination of representatives of the displaced persons from Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir,” the order said.
The Delimitation Commission set up on March 6, 2020 by a law ministry notification was initially asked to examine the issue of redrawing the Lok Sabha and Assembly constitutions simultaneously in J&K, Assam and some other northeastern states.
However, when the commission had already laid the groundwork to start the delimitation exercise, the government excluded Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland from its purview for the time being. The exclusion raised many eyebrows in J&K and beyond. The Union government also extended its term by one-year in March last year and on the completion of it for another two months.
Earlier this year, after putting the draft report in the public domain, the commission invited claims and suggestions between March 14 and 2 from all political parties, organizations and individuals.
The commission received a total of 408 suggestions and objections which were in addition to those submitted by five of its associate members including Union minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh and Jugal Kishore Sharma, both BJP MPs from Jammu division, and their counterparts from the Kashmir valley Farooq Abdullah, Mohammad Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi of the National Conference (NC).
Various Kashmir-centric political parties including the NC had termed the commission’s proposal of six additional Assembly seats for Jammu region and one for the Kashmir valley while reserving nine constituencies for Scheduled Castes and seven for Scheduled Tribes and making changes in the Lok Sabha constituencies “totally unacceptable”. They accused the commission of allowing the “political agenda of the BJP to dictate its recommendations” by seeking to disempower the Muslim voters particularly of Kashmir valley and Pir Panjal region of the UT.
In February, Mr Abdullahs had rejected the draft report of the commission saying it "defies any and all logic" and no political, social and administrative reason can justify the recommendations.
The BJP, on their part, called the commission's proposal a “path-breaking initiative and a defining moment for the political empowerment of marginalised segments of J&K....