Friday, August 6, 2021
 News Details
Will Delimitation Panel End Jammu’s Political Disempowerment?
Straight Talk

K B Jandial

The Delimitation Commission is the core of the current major public debate in Jammu on ending its political disempowerment amidst speculation of year end election to UT Assembly and restoration of democracy. Though constituted in March 2020 under Central Act of 2002, six months after “abrogation” of Article 370, for one year to delimit the new seven Assembly constituencies and readjust others including carving out reserved seats, it remained dormant in the first year. Now the 3-member Delimitation Panel is at the last leg of its interaction with representatives of political parties to decide the boundaries of assembly constituencies. Much before its first visit to J&K after constitution, Jammu has upped the ante for increased number of seats to end its political disempowerment. Aspirations apart, not only the pro-Jammu parties, even the non-political organisations and groups have marshaled the facts to lay claim on a dozen seats.

The J&K Reorganisation Act 2019 has fixed the total seats of the J&K UT Assembly at 90 against 87 in the last dissolved State Assembly - 46 in Kashmir, 37 in Jammu & 4 in Ladakh. After Ladakh becoming a separate UT, the seats in J&K UT had come down to 83. The Act provided seven new seats. Election to UT Assembly could not be held without delimiting the new constituencies besides carving out reserved constituencies for ST and SC proportionate to their population. This could only be done by the mandatory Delimitation Commission which the Central Govt constituted on 6th March 2020 with a retired Judge of Supreme Court of India, Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai as its Chairman and one Election Commissioner and the State Election Authority as members. Since it remained inactive with only one meeting at Delhi boycotted by the Associate Members from NC (three MPs), its tenure has been extended by another year. With “successful” APM at Delhi, the Commission too has become active and held meetings with political parties’ delegations in UT. The Associate Members too are participating.

With speculation of early election in J&K, various civil society organisations, chamber of commerce and almost all political parties in Jammu are geared up to present to the Commission memoranda conveying the common public concern of “ political injustice” caused to Jammu region right from the election to the J&K Constituent Assembly in 1951 under “anti-Jammu manipulation” of Sheikh Abdullah which continued till date under different Govts and ‘independent’ Delimitation Commissions constituted between 1952 and 1991. The most common narrative created in Jammu on this issue is that the data of census 2011 was “fudged” and delimitation on this data would not dispense political justice to Jammu, strongly demanding to wait for 2021 census data.

The Commission is required to take into consideration some important legal issues for delimiting constituencies: earlier under Section 4 of J&K People’s Representation Act, 1957, and now under Section 9 of the Central Delimitation Act of 2002. These are, by and large, identical. The assembly constituencies have to be delimited with regards to the census figures of 2001, in instant case it is 2011 census, geographical compactness, physical features like terrain, facilities of communication & public convenience, existing boundaries of administrative units and limiting wholly within one parliamentary constituency. The reserved constituencies shall be distributed in different parts of the UT, where the proportion of their population is comparatively large.

With popular perception of “fudged data” and perpetual “injustice”, the task of the Commission has become a bit more challenging. Earlier Panels didn’t face such a challenge, mainly due to lack of public awareness even though records showed that the Associate Members from Jammu and BJP representatives like Rishi Kumar Koushal, Th. Baldev Singh, Prof Chaman Lal Gupta & Radha Krishan Sharma had forcefully argued with the Jt. Janaki Nath Wazir & Jt. Mian Jalal-ul-Din Panels for allocating 39 to 41 seats for Jammu region but no report was ever submitted by them.

While the organisations and leaders are free to dismiss any official data as “fudged” and claim that Jammu Population is more than that of Kashmir, all Census reports from 1951 onward revealed that the population of Kashmir had always been more than Jammu. (See Box) While in 1951 Jammu population was 14,58, 548 and of Kashmir 17,12,964 which had increased to 53,78,538 and 68,88,475 respectively in 2011. But the difference of increased population between two regions is quite intriguing. This increase of 2, 54,416 in 1951 has gone up to 15, 09,937 in 2011, registering a nearly 600 % jump even when over four lakh KPs had migrated to Jammu in early nineties due to selective killings by terrorists. If one analyses this census data more closely, one would find that the difference in 20 years between 1981 & 2001 was 10.46 lakh but in next ten years it was 15.10 lakh. This spike in population does cause suspicion but there is no evidence to contest veracity of census data. To put this ‘regional suspicion’ at rest, the Commission should consider summoning the Director Census operations J&K or any other knowledgeable officers of the Deptt to justify the correctness of the data.

It must be kept in mind that the size of the electorate has a linkage with the population. Election Commission’s tools are applied if Election Authority finds exceptional increase in voters’ number in any particular constituency. The thumb rule is about 60 % of the population in the constituency should be the electors. In case of doubt, these prescribed tools are applied including house to house verification. Moreover, the census data also reveals the population of people above 18 years that can also be verified for the number of voters.

The other factor is the vastness of area, (here it means region). Jammu has 26,206 sq kms of area against 15,948 sq kms of Kashmir, which means Jammu has 10, 348 sq km more area and that too difficult hilly terrain. One assessment is that 87 % area of Jammu is hard terrain while Kashmir being a valley, has an overwhelmingly plain area with hardly about 20 % hard terrain. That makes Jammu’s case for more constituencies strong.

Injustice to Jammu on this count is not new but goes back to 1951 election to J&K Constituent Assembly. On the basis of J&K population in 1951, the criteria of population of 40,000 for each constituency was thrown out of the window by the Sheikh administration and arbitrarily allotted 30 seats to Jammu against its actual share of 37 seats with reference the criteria of population and Kashmir was given a lion share of 43 seats. This initial gap of six seats increased to nine in 1995.

Three enterprising advocates Khajuria- Sumer, Anil & Sunil, in their recent book: ‘Delimitation of Seats in J&K’ have analyzed census data to substantiate this charge of manipulation of delimitation of seats against Jammu and came up with a solution based on the available data. Going by population factor alone and taking Jammu population at 1,22,67,013 with 90 seats, the average population per constituency comes to 1.30 lakh souls, By this norm, Jammu gets 39.46 seats against 50.54 seats by Kashmir. But going by the norm of geographical area the area per seat taking total UT area as 42,244 sq Km, comes to 469.38 sq km. Jammu with area of 26, 296 sq km should get 56.03 seats and 33.97 seats go to Kashmir with area of 15, 948. The third norm applied is the electorate. Taking registered votes of 2014 elections as 70,16,366, the average electors per constituency comes to 77,960. Jammu with 33,17,227 votes qualifies for 42.55 seats and Kashmir with an electorate of 36, 99,139 can get 47.45 seats. By adding the seat share under these three different norms and their mean gives 46 seats to Jammu and 44 seats Kashmir. Would the Delimitation Commission consider this criteria evolved by these Advocates to resolve this tricky situation?

Another very important norm is the difficult terrain of the constituency. Jammu has too many far flung areas of Jammu region and the Panel has to apply the criteria of geographical compact areas which do not have dependable communication facilities. Very creditably, Dogra Sadar Sabha has in consultation with intellectuals, members of civil society and some political leaders, prepared a memorandum for the Commission which inter alia project separate constituencies for far flung areas of Jammu on the analogy of similar treatment given to assembly segments of Gurez (17555 votes), Karnah (32794 votes) in Kashmir and Nubra ( 13054 votes) and Zanskar (21143 votes). There are many such pockets that qualify for giving representation to these hilly pockets like Lohi-Malhar, Paddar, Lander Panchari, Barnoti, , Dudu Basantgarh, Bhamag in Udhampur District, Pogal Paristan, Neel etc in Ramban District, Purmanal, Surinsar, Pargwal etc in Jammu District, Pouni Parkh etc. in Reasi District. Going by the old adage that “taste of pudding is in eating” the best thing would be that the Commission cares to visit these pockets and see for themselves the genuineness of the claims of these areas for delimiting separate constituencies for each of these pockets. People of these areas too are entitled to taste the fruit of democracy and participate in policy formulation at the highest democratic forum

(The Author is a retired IAS officer, feedback: [email protected])

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