Undoing the fraud by delimiting J&K

Ranbir Singh Pathania
Change is as natural as life. Perpetuating status quo means allowing bias to flourish. This is what precisely Delimitation Commission has done while delimiting new parliamentary and assembly seats for J&K. A jinx has been broken. Rather a fraud, enacted some seven decades ago and brazenly justified and continued till now, has been undone.
First reaction came from Pakistan accusing India of ‘disempowering Muslims’ and ‘gerrymandering’.
A cross-section of political parties in J & K too have tried to sell stories of all sorts. But the boot is on the other leg. Neither the cacophony of voices and reactions are able to make out a point which stands good litmus test of law and logic. Nor ‘we the people of J&K’ are impressed. Let me pose some simple questions to those crying hoarse:
* If they are for discrimination with segments having larger area and terrain to continue as such. Let us have a cursory look at some statistics. As per 2011 census, population of Jammu division is 53, 78, 538 and total area is spread over 26,293 sq km. While population of Kashmir division is 68,88,475, and area is 15, 948 sq km. Therefore, in Kashmir region an MLA is elected per 349 square kilometer while in Jammu region an MLA represents the area of 710 square kilometer. The average constituency size in Jammu is 212 square kilometers as compared to 37 square kilometers for Srinagar district. If we compare Srinagar and Udhampur parliamentary constituencies. Udhampur has an area of about 20,000 square kilometers and 14,90,244 voters whereas Srinagar has an area about 5000 square kilometers and 12,05,233 voters.
* If they want to overreach the parameters of ‘nature of terrain’ and ‘geographical compactness’ and ‘the like considerations’, stipulated by J & K Reorganization Act and Delimitation Act?
* If they are against dispensation of long-awaited justice to POJK Refugees whose voice is also supposed to be heard, this time, in the Legislative Assembly of J & K. These are those people whose ancestors rejected the ‘two nation theory’ and left everything on other side of LOC to live in a secular, plural and democratic India. They were born, bred in J & K. And directly affected with the facilities of drinking water, electricity, roads, health, education and other development indicators. But were not able to vote for and elect a candidate of their own choice.
* If they are against political reservation to STs. It is for the first time since independence – in line with the arrangement in place in rest of the country -nine assembly seats to and probably one Lok Sabha seat shall be reserved for STs in J & K.
* If they are against representation to Kashmiri Pandits who have been driven out of their motherland in their own country? The entire world and international organizations including United Nations were concerned over this worst Hindu holocaust.
* Or if they are against allocation of additional seats to far flung and under-developed districts of Doda, Kishtwar, Rajouri, Udhampur, Kathua, Kupwara and Samba?
* Either they have not gone through or knowingly want to put under carpet the reports of Gajender Gadkar Committee, Sikri Commission, Wazir Commission. And, more importantly, the recommendations of Finance Commission recommendations (Commission constituted in pursuance to Finance Commission Act, 2006) made by Swami Raj Sharma and Sonam Dawa. Kashmir region with lesser area, population and contribution to State revenue collection has always got lion’s share on funds allotted to the State. And specters of discrimination and disparity have percolated in spheres of public employment, selection in professional courses, creation of infrastructure and promotion of tourism too.
My viewpoint: –
I would like to recollect my interaction with Dilip Padgaonkar and Radha Kumar, Centre’s interlocutors on J&K in November, 2010, at Hotel Ashok, Jammu, while being part of a lawyers’ delegation led by J&K High Court Bar Association. And the concluding remarks of Dileep Padgaonkar, “This is the most fruitful interaction I have ever had regarding this job of finding a permanent political settlement in J& K.”
My viewpoint revolved around the argument that Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are three distinct areas with people in these regions speaking different languages, wearing different attires, having different cultures, feeding habbits, climates, topographies, developmental needs and political aspirations too. For purposes of study, analysis and making recommendations, the entire state needs to be taken as one cohesive unit. Fact remains that despite having bigger area and more electorate, Jammu has lesser seats in the Parliament, State Assembly and Panchayats. With facts and figures at my back,
I had put forth a novel idea of ‘rationalization of the Lok Sabha, Vidhan Sabha and Panchayat seats’ in J&K by adopting a fair/uniform criterion in delimitation of constituencies in the State proportionate to the electorate so that inequities and injustice could be plugged out. And a platform for a more strong and cohesive J & K is laid out. There need to be separate, intelligibly differentiated parameters in urban, hilly, semi-urban, areas with references to geographical compactness, accessibility, terrain and means of communication.
Uttarakhand model: – It was in the same vein that during my interaction with Delimitation Commission at Hotel Radison Blu, Jammu, in July, 2021, I had canvassed for ‘Uttarakhand model of delimitation’ which is more or less in line with my earlier standpoint. In Uttarakhand too, the state was divided into three zones- ‘plain’, ‘semi plain and semi hilly’ and ‘totally hilly’. The number of points to be allocated to population were lesser in category – 02 (semi plain and semi hilly) and much lesser in category – 03 (totally hilly). The said model has also successfully stood the test of judicial scrutiny.
Fact remains that giving voice to the people includes echoing issues pertaining to drinking water, power, road connectivity, infrastructural requirements, etc on the floor of Assembly. To put it the simpler way, people should have an easy access to elected representative. Conversely, elected representatives should also be in a position to better reach out to their electorate.
What Commission did: – If we go by the version of Delimitation Commission, it has categorized all 20 districts of J & K into three broad categories –
A- Districts having predominantly hilly and difficult areas,
B- Districts with Hill & Flat areas, and,
C- Districts with predominantly Flat areas,
Giving a margin of +/- 10 percent of the average population per Assembly Constituency, while proposing allocation of the constituencies to the district.
In order to appropriately balance the representation for geographical areas having inadequate communication and lack of public conveniences due to their excessive remoteness or inhospitable conditions on the International Border, Commission has proposed carving out an additional constituency therein over.
And with a view to balancing the area and population of parliamentary constituencies, and allocating eighteen assembly constituencies to one parliamentary constituency, in a path-breaking initiative, a parliamentary constituency has been carved out while merging Anantnag region in the Valley and Rajouri & Poonch of Jammu region. And both the parts of parliamentary constituency shall have roads connectivity through Mughal road.
Political justice for all: The basic object of process of delimitation was ‘political justice for all’. And I am happy that without allowing itself to be pigeon-holed into a narrow, otiose and unworkable construction of rules, it has relied on principles of equity, justice and good conscience.
Conclusion: – All said and done, I am of the considered view that the final report of Delimitation Commission led by Ranjana Desai, has marked a final milestone on the road for securing political justice for hitherto neglected regions/communities/ethnic groups of J & K.
It has tried to set at rest the ever increasing gulf between two regions as well as cries of discrimination and neglect from various quarters.
We need to be more open, consultative and outward looking. Let specters of past do not haunt and obsess us, any more. Let us sit and sort out.
Let us give space to a healthy political discourse and a vibrant, balanced political set up in J&K with least friction between regions or religions.
An era ends. At the same time, it marks start of a new journey.
Let me say a famous quote,
“No matter how hard the past is, you can always begin again.”
(The columnist practices law at the J&K, High Court of Judicature.)