K B Jandial
It is interesting to see that many of 300 delegations that met the visiting Delimitation Commission recently have flagged the issues that are beyond its mandate but these do reflect people’s political aspirations that needed to be addressed at Govt level. Very few representations actually put forth the real issue of carving out new seven constituencies and re-demarcating the boundaries of the existing 83 constituencies including reserved constituencies as the ground situation has undergone changes.
The earlier constituencies were based on 40 years old population data (1981 census) and obviously its relevance is questionable today. The administrative units have undergone changes with 12 districts to 20 districts and 58 tehsils to 270. Thus, the Commission has to readjust the constituencies’ boundaries within the limits of the modified revenue units besides some adjustments as per the norms. The Commission, after its wide range interaction, is in a better position to appreciate the political aspirations of the people and is expected to do justice to them and the regions with reference to 2011 population, geographical compatibility, topography, physical features, means of communication and convenience. But some issues raised by the delegations are beyond these norms and perhaps, beyond its mandate too.
One such issue is the old and unattended demand of the Displaced Persons of POJK for getting political representation. The Constitution of J&K too had earmarked 24 seats for the people of POJK, not to be counted in the effective strength of the Assembly, till the area was liberated. Similar provision has been incorporated in J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019 in Section 14 (4). It also provides that 24 seats “shall remain vacant” until the area under illegal occupation of Pakistan “ceases to be occupied and the people residing in that area elect their representatives”. It also mandated that “the said area and seats shall be excluded in delimiting the territorial constituencies”.
With this provision, the Delimitation Commission is left with no leverage to consider the forceful demand of the POJK DPs and others. This provision, in fact, will contribute another spell of Jammu disempowerment. The continuous freeze has created inequity for the Jammu region vis-a-vis Kashmir as most of these seats would fall in Jammu region. But then, there is a constitutional road block. The delimitation of constituencies is always done by fixing territorial boundaries of each constituency and all those living in that compact area get the right of vote. In this case, the area, even though constitutionally is of J&K and India, is not under its effective control. Section 14 (4) of Act of 2019 says that this right to elect representatives is given to those who are “residing in that area”. The POJK DPs are not currently residing in that area (POJK) and thus technically don’t qualify to elect representatives for these seats.
But their grouse is genuine and recognised by all Central Govts but not acted constitutionally. They had fled from their homes In horrifying circumstances in 1947 mayhem and took shelter in Jammu. Later the Govt settled them. According to a J&K Govt proposal to the Central Govt for grant of a package for them, their original number was indicated at 31619 families, of them about 5300 families had moved out of J&K. Besides, 10065 families from 47 villages in Chhamb area of Jammu too migrated in 1965 & 1971 wars. So, there were 36384 families of POJK DPS. While elders of these families along with some others have since passed away, the families’ number kept on increasing with marriages, birth of children, their marriages and division of families during 74 years. While no survey was made to enumerate them, their leaders put their population at 10 lakh.
The Govt has erred while drafting the J&K Reorganisation Act 2019 by omitting to keep a provision for POJK DPs in the Act even without compromising India’s constitutional rights over POJK. While territorial constituencies cannot be delimited for them as their territory is under illegal occupation of Pakistan but a provision of nomination of two or three members from these DPs should have been kept. A provision for nomination of two women members is available in Section 15 of the Act and a similar provision for DPs can be considered. Provision for Women already existed in the dissolved State Assembly. This too would tilt the balance of political power towards Jammu and solved another point of irritation since 1951. On the flip side, it can help India internationally as DPs’ MLAs would raise PoK’s issues to the discomfort of Pakistan.
While the BJP delegation had pleaded with Delimitation Commission to “unfreeze” one third of these 24 “freeze” seats earmarked for the people of POJK, this plea should have taken up with PM Modi or MHA (missed the opportunity in recent APM on J&K) so that this provision was incorporated in J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019. But still, it can still be done. If the BJP is really serious about giving the DPs representation in the Assembly, then they should persuade the Home Minister to amend the 2019 Act otherwise it is playing politics.
The Delimitation Commission is not a political forum and is not expected to make any recommendations to the Govt. After considering objections to the published preliminary report, it issues the final signed notification and the entire record is sent to the Election Commission of India. Its award is not questionable in the court of law.
Even Kashmiri Pandits and Sikh community have represented for carving out separate constituencies for them. But there is no provision in the constitution for reservation of seats except for SC & ST. Their representation can otherwise be ensured without reservation.
Representation to Sikh can come through POJK DPs mode as the overwhelming majority of these DPs belong to Sikh community. Otherwise also, the Constitution does not allow religion based reservation except in Sikkim. If a provision of nomination to these DPs is incorporated, their aspirations would automatically be met.
The migrant KPs are the bonafide voters of their native constituencies and have been given the facility of casting their votes at Jammu, Udhampur and Delhi where they have greater concentration. But the problem is that while they fill the forms regularly, only a handful of them actually cast votes. Instead of asking separate constituencies, if they decide to cast votes, their KP representatives could have returned to the Assembly. In 2014 Assembly elections, Habbakadal constituency had 16710 KP migrant votes but only 5176 voters got themselves registered but only 2817 of them voted at special booths set at Jammu, Udhampur and Delhi. In all, 11689 votes were polled in the constituency and the winning NC candidate got 4955. Had the majority of migrants exercised their right of franchise, the KP candidate could have won. While the KP friends need to introspect it, their charge of converting Habbakadal and Rainawari constituencies from KP majority to Muslim majority seats required to be examined by the Election Commission. Moreover, unlike POJK DPs, Kashmir is not in adverse occupation and their votes exist in their native constituencies and they are in position to get their representatives elected if they decide to vote.
Sikkim Assembly is the only exception where one seat (Sangha) has been reserved for the registered Buddhist monks and nuns from the state’s monasteries. It is protected by Article 371 F (f) of the Constitution. In fact, Sikkim’s case is altogether different. It joined the Union of India in 1975 as 22nd State and a seat was already reserved for Sangha in the previous dispensation. The Supreme Court in a case in 1993 upheld this exceptional reservation saying that Sangha has been historically a political and social institution in Sikkim and the provisions in regard to the seat reserved admit to being construed as a nomination. The provision can be sustained on this construction.
Meanwhile, anti -Jammu empowerment lobby is jittery over growing demand for equity of seats in the both regions is trying to divide the people of Jammu region. They write that on the criteria of area, Muslim majority belts of Jammu would qualify for more seats rather than Hindu belt. They forget that unlike Kashmir where there is hardly any minority left in the region, Jammu is truly a secular region where 33.5 % Muslims live in total harmony. Even Pakistan & its sponsored terrorists failed to engineer communal divide in the region during the peak of militancy.
Before discussing the criteria of population, there is a need to rationalize the size of the electorate of constituencies of Kashmir and Jammu regions. Both Jammu and Srinagar districts have plain terrain but the size of the electorate vary in such a way that Srinagar’s three districts’ electorate put together is still less than electorate of just one seat of Jammu i.e. Gandhinagar constituency. Electorate of these three seats- Eidgah (58822), Khanyar (51010) & Habbakadal (54852) is 1,64,684 against 1,68,643 of Gandhinagar constituency. While Kashmir’s Gurez constituency has the lowest electorate of 17,554 followed by Karnah seat with 32794 electors no constituency in Jammu was carved out for less than 40000 electorate. There are so many hilly and landlocked pockets existing in Jammu region but none was ever considered because Kashmir was to be given political supremacy.
Now let’s examine the criteria of population alone (along with the area), one finds gross irrationality between some districts of Kashmir and Jammu regions. In Kashmir, Bandipore and Kulgam districts got 4 seats each with population of 3,92,232 and 4,24,483 against 4 seats in Rajouri with much higher population of 6,42,415 and three seats each in Udhampur with population of 5, 54,985 and Poonch with a population of 4,76,835 and only two seats in Doda district with a population of 4,76,835. All these four districts of Jammu had more population than these two districts of Kashmir. Coming to comparison of area of these districts, Kulgam has area of 410 sq km & Bandipore 259 sq km while Doda has 8,912 sq km, Udhampur 2634 sq km, Rajouri 2630sq km and Poonch 1674 sq km. Don’t these mistakes need to be rectified and justice done to the Jammu region. Jammu has woken up today and perhaps may not accept being cheated this time.
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