NEW DELHI: While the scrapping of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution of India which provide special status to Jammu and Kashmir may be distant for now, the delimitation of Assembly seats in the restive state is said to be on the agenda of Home Minister Amit Shah.
Shah, who is reportedly mulling to appoint a new Delimitation Commission in Jammu and Kashmir, is busy with series of meetings with Governor Satyapal Malik, Intelligence Bureau Director Rajiv Jain and Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba.
The Jammu and Kashmir Division in the Home Ministry is also slated to be overhauled.
Jammu and Kashmir has been under President’s Rule since December 18, 2018. This is likely to be extended beyond July 3.
Among the many plans on the drawing board is believed to be the boilerplate for fresh delimitation of constituencies and appointment of a Delimitation Commission.
The idea is to effect a change in the composition of the Assembly through reservation to Gujjars, Bakerwals, Gaddis and Sippis — were given Scheduled Tribe status in 1991 and form 11 per cent of the population.
At the moment there are seven seats reserved for SC in the Assembly, all in the Jammu Division which haven’t been rotated since 1996 – Chamb, Domana, Ranbir Singh Pura, Samba, Hiranagar, Chenani and Ramban (separate) in Jammu, Kathua and Udhampur district, respectively.
After accession to India, the State Constituent Assembly was constituted under the 1939 Constitution of the Maharaja. The Sheikh Abdullah administration carved out 30 seats for Jammu region, 43 seats for Kashmir region and two seats for Ladakh region. At present, the Assembly has 87 elected seats with Kashmir having 46 seats, Jammu 37 and Ladakh four.
In December, 2016, a Cabinet Sub-Committee on implementation of agenda of alliance of PDP-BJP govenment had referred the issue to a high level bureaucratic panel. But this did not fructify.
During Ghulam Nabi Azad’s term as Chief Minister, he had recommended a proposal of 25 per cent all round increase in the number of Assembly seats of all three geographical regions in the state which would have resulted in an additional 22 constituencies in the Assembly. But PDP-Congress did not have the two-thirds heft in the Assembly and in any case the National Conference had opposed it.
According to the 2011 census, the total population of Jammu Division was 5,378,538 of which Dogras were the dominant group comprising 62.55 per cent of the population. Jammu has 25.93 per cent of the area and 42.89 per cent of the population.
Against this Kashmir Division or the Valley population in 2011 was 6,888,475 with 96.40 per cent Muslims. Though it has 15.73 per cent of the state’s area, it holds 54.93 per cent of the population.
Ladakh has 58.33 per cent of the area accounting for 2.18 per cent of the population, a mere 2,74,289 people reside there of which 46.40 per cent are Muslims, 12.11 per cent Hindus and 39.67 per cent Buddhist.
The last time a delimitation exercise took place in the state was also under President’s Rule, in 1995 by the Justice (retd) K.K. Gupta Commission.
The Constitution of India provides for delimitation every 10 years, unless otherwise decided by Parliament. However, in 2002, the Farooq Abdullah government froze the delimitation until 2026 by amending the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of People Act 1957 and Section 47(3) of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir.
The amended Section 47(3) provided “that until the relevant figures for the first census taken after the year 2026 have been published, it shall not be necessary to readjust the total number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of the state and the division of the state into territorial constituencies under this sub-section”.
This put the contentious matter in abeyance.
This is where the Governor comes in. On his intervention, this can be changed. For during President’s Rule, the legislative authority is vested in the Governor. The last delimitation on provisional basis was done in 1993 by Governor Jagmohan when Jammu and Kashmir was divided into 87 Assembly constituencies.
The Governor can amend Section 47 of the Constitution to delete the proviso that barred the setting up of a Delimitation Commission.
If the Governor sets up a Delimitation Commission, then the ball will start rolling. By fast tracking it before the Assembly elections, the BJP perhaps hopes to gain greater representation in the state legislature that could be done by increasing the number of seats in the Jammu region, and also partly by effecting some changes in the demographies of each seat.
(With inputs from IANS)