On Delimitation in J&K: Beyond the boundary

Context: Political considerations instead of constitutional proprieties appear to have influenced the delimitation of the Assembly and parliamentary constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) by the fifth Delimitation Commission. The commission submitted its recommendations recently.

Under what provisions the fifth Delimitation Commission was set up?

In setting up the fifth Delimitation Commission, the govt invoked a section of the J&K Reorganisation Act of 2019, which raised the number of seats in Jammu and Kashmir from 83 to 90 (to account for the fact that Ladakh was carved out as a separate Union Territory under this legislation) and sanctioned delimitation under the 2011 census.

It is worth noting that the commission’s original mandate covered five states, including those in the Northeast, but these were dropped in early 2020, leaving J&K as the sole unit within its purview.

What are the issues associated with the decision?

Objective not clear: It is unclear why the exercise was undertaken when there was a freeze on the readjustment of parliamentary and Assembly seats in India until 2026.

The Act, which granted J&K’s special status, has been pending in appeal before the Supreme Court for well over a year. Given the multiple constitutional questions that arose during the rapid passage of the law through Parliament, there is a risk that the Act may be overturned.

Why the commission’s recommendations have met with criticism?

The commission’s recommendations have been rejected by almost everyone in the Valley, primarily because of the seat distribution both in the Assembly and Lok Sabha.

For one, it has retained the old, politically troublesome communal binaries between Jammu and Kashmir by allocating them 43 and 47 seats, respectively. In the Assembly, this new set-up tilts the vote shares significantly. Now, Jammu with 44% of the population will vote for 48% of the seats, whereas the Kashmir division with 56% of the population will vote for 52% of the seats.

The earlier configuration was better aligned to population share, with Jammu having 44.5% of the seats, and Kashmir 55.4%.

– The realignments of the parliamentary seats, too, have been problematic, with critics viewing the restructuring of the Jammu and Anantnag seats as reducing the influence of the Kashmiri-speaking Muslim voters.
Source: This post is based on the article “Beyond the boundary” published in Business Standard on 8th May 22.

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