No to de-freezing POJK seats

S S Jamwal
Recently Delimitation Commission visited Srinagar and Jammu and met with the Deputy Commissioners of all the twenty Districts of JKUT to take their view point, data and other information required for delimitation of Assembly seats. Commission also met with different Political Parties and delegations of other Organizations to get their feedback. While addressing a press conference ,the panel had dropped enough hints like this is their first and not last visit and will meet many other stakeholders before arriving at any conclusion. Panel said that the report would be put in public domain inviting objections before finalizing. It transpired from the panel that it will take its time before giving recommendations to the Central Government as the term of the Commission has been extended up to March 5, 2022.It is believed that the Assembly elections would be held along with the election of five other Assemblies scheduled to be held in next year.
It appeared from the interaction of many political parties and other delegations of Jammu Division that the majority of people of Jammu division are of the view that the delimitation of Assembly constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir should be held according to the latest Census which is due in the year 2021.As per the reports emanating from different social media most of the political parties and other organizations have also suggested to defreeze some seats (one third)of POJK reserved seats so that Jammu Division may also get equal number of seats as per the latest population, geographical compactness ,public conveniences, accessibility, communication facilities and topography of the areas. It is also a fact that earlier numbers of Assembly seats were worked out in such a manner that there is wide gap between both the Divisions of Jammu and Kashmir. Since the number of Assembly seats for Kashmir Division is more than Jammu Division, thus except once, what may be the reason, Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir has always been elected from Kashmir Division. Although for few years there was a practice of allocating the portfolio of Finance Minister from the MLA of Jammu Division to assure the public of Jammu Division that there would be no discrimination with Jammu Division so far as the allocation of Funds is concerned. But that practice has also been discontinued for the last four decades or so. The reasons for discontinuation of this practice may be well known to the then popular governments of the Centre as well as the state Government.
As far as the demand regarding delimitation of Assembly constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir is concerned it should be according to the latest Census which is due in the year 2021. However, it has categorically been stated by the commission that the Delimitation of Assembly seats/ Parliamentary seats is always carried out as per the latest census. Since the latest census was conducted in the 2011 as such delimitation has to be done on the basis of 2011 census report. But then question arises that why the Govt of India is in a hurry to delimit the assembly seats now when the next Census is due in 2021 and it will be completed by the end of 2021 in any manner. Governor rule in erstwhile J&K State was imposed in June 2018.And it was not imposed for the first time .Our erstwhile J&K state has remained under Governor/ President rule for so many times for long period since independence. Since Governor rule in erstwhile J&K State was imposed in June 2018 and only more than two years have elapsed now since its imposition and yet If the Central Govt is sincere to address the grievances of the People of Jammu Division there would be no harm if the elections are held in 2022 in our UT after conducting Census.
So far as the matter regarding de-freezing, one third of assembly seats of 24 reserved for POJK is concerned, it has been clarified by the Delimitation Commission that this is out of the purview of the Delimitation Commission mandate. It is true that the Delimitation Commission cannot go beyond the mandate given by the Govt of India. As per Sub Section(3) of Section 14 of the J&K Re-Organization Act the total number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of the UT of J&K to be filled by persons chosen by direct election shall be 107.Further Sub Section (4) (a) of the ibid Act says that 24 seats in the Legislative Assembly of UT J&K shall remain vacant and shall not be taken into account for reckoning the total membership of the Assembly and (b) the said area and seats shall be excluded in delimiting the territorial constituencies as provided under Part V of this Act. It is pertinent to mention that almost all the POJK refugees have been settled in Jammu Division since partition and they are to be given voting rights to elect their MLAs. Since Independence they have been granted voting rights to elect Member of Parliament but had no right to elect their MLA. If erstwhile state of J&K can be bifurcated in two Union Territories namely Union Territory of Ladakh and Union Territory of Jammu And Kashmir by the Central Government by creating a history, so if the Govt of India really wants to address the grievance of the people of Jammu Division in general and POJK refugees in particular, the mandate given to Delimitation Commission can also be amended. For this purpose if amendment to Jammu & Kashmir Reorganization Act can also be amended for the betterment of the people of this region. However, it may be stipulated in the amendment that “if the area of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir under the occupation of Pakistan ceases to be so occupied and the people residing in that area elect their representatives, defreezed Assembly seats shall be merged with 24 seats in the Legislative Assembly in Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir as referred in Sub Section (4) (a) of Section 14 0f the Jammu and Kashmir Re-organization Act.
Before expecting any big from the report of the Delimitation Commission it is important to refer Part VI of the J&K Re-organization Act wherein under Section 65 of the Act it is mentioned that “on and from the appointed day, the Constitution Jammu & Kashmir (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1956 shall stand applied to the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir and Union Territory of Ladakh. “Similarly Section 66 of the Act says “on and from the appointed day, the constitution Jammu & Kashmir (Scheduled Tribes) Order 1989, shall be applied to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Union Territory of Ladakh.”Now attention is also invited to Section 60 of the Jammu and Kashmir Re-organization Act. Sub Section (1) of Section 60 says “Without prejudice to sub- sections (3) of Section 14 of this Act, the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir shall be increased from 107 to 114, and delimitation of the constituencies may be determined by the Election Commission in the manner hereinafter provided—
(a) The number of seats to be reserved for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in the Legislative Assembly, having regard to the relevant provisions of the Constitution;
(b) The Assembly constituencies into which the Union Territory shall be divided, the extent of each of such constituencies and in which of them seats shall be reserved for the scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes; and
(c) The adjustments in the boundaries and description of the extent of the Parliamentary constituencies in each Union Territory that may be necessary or expedient.
Sub Section (2) of Section 60 says “In determining the matters referred to in clauses (b) and (c) of Sub Section (1), the election Commission shall have regard to the following provisions, namely:-
(a) All the constituencies shall be single-member constituencies;
(b) All constituencies shall, as far as practicable, be geographically compact areas, and in delimiting them. Regard shall be had to physical features, existing boundaries of administrative units, facilities of communication and conveniences to the public; and
(c) Constituencies in which seats are reserved for Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes shall, as far as practicable, be located in areas where proportion of their population to the total population is the largest.
Thus from the above it appears that perhaps the present Delimitation Commission was constituted by Government of India with the intention to give reservation to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Legislative Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory before holding Assembly elections in Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and does not want to wait 2021 Census. However, till the first draft is not prepared on the demands of the people and political parties and put in the public domain for their comments no one can guess the intention of formation of Delimitation Commission for delimitation of Assembly seats of Jammu and Kashmir.