Paving the way for conducting the first assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir since it was made a Union territory, the Centre said the orders of the Delimitation Commission which redrew electoral constituencies and provided six additional assembly seats to Jammu division and one to Kashmir would come into effect from Friday.
According to the orders of the commission, set up under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act of 2019, the Union territory will have 90 assembly constituencies — 43 in Jammu Division and 47 in Kashmir — with nine of them being reserved for the Scheduled Tribes.
It also brought areas of Rajouri and Poonch under the Anantnag parliamentary seat.
The erstwhile assembly had 87 seats — 46 in Kashmir, 37 in Jammu and four in Ladakh. In the reorganisation of the erstwhile state, Ladakh was declared as a union territory without an assembly.
In a gazette notification, the Law Ministry said the panel’s two orders — one of March 14 dealing with the number of constituencies reserved for various categories and the second of May 5 dealing with the size of each constituency — will come into effect together from May 20.
With the recommendations having been accepted by the Centre, decks are now cleared for holding of the first assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir after it was downgraded to a Union territory on August 5, 2019.
The three-member delimitation panel was headed by Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, a retired judge of the Supreme Court. Then Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra (now retired) and Jammu and Kashmir Election Commissioner K K Sharma were its two ex-officio members.
Five Jammu and Kashmir Lok Sabha members — three from the National Conference and two from the BJP — were associate members to the commission.
The panel submitted its final report on May 5, just a day before its two-year tenure was to end.
In its report, the commission did not reserve any seat for either Kashmiri migrants or refugees from West Pakistan.
The Delimitation Commission had said in its 240-page report that while they found substance in the grievances of Kashmiri migrants as their plight was unparalleled but it was not possible for the panel to reserve or direct the government to nominate their members to the legislature or Parliament as “such legal provisions are absent here”.
“However, we feel it appropriate to recommend to the government for sympathetic consideration” for providing at least two seats, including one for a woman, for the community of Kashmiri migrants in the Legislative Assembly at par with the power of nominated members of the Puducherry Assembly under which a member has a right to vote.
The commission, which was entrusted with the work of delimiting the assembly and parliamentary constituencies in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir on the basis of the 2011 Census, also recommended to the government to consider giving the displaced persons from Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir some representation in the assembly through nomination.
The population of Jammu region is 53.72 lakh and Kashmir division 68.83 lakh, according to the Census of 2011.
Out of the 90 assembly constituencies, nine have been reserved for Scheduled Tribe — six in Jammu and three in the Valley.
While there was no immediate reaction from the political parties on Friday’s development, the National Conference, the PDP and other Kashmir Valley-based parties had opposed it earlier saying that the delimitation panel was “illegal”.
The National Conference had said, “No amount of gerrymandering will change the ground reality which is that whenever elections are held the voter will punish the BJP and its proxies for what they have done to JK over the last 4 years.” PDP president Mehbooba Mufti had said that there was nothing more to add as “we have always maintained that the Delimitation Commission was meant only to execute the political game plan of BJP in Jammu and Kashmir and divide people on communal lines”.
Names of some assembly seats have been changed keeping in view the demand of local representatives and public sentiment.
The commission was set up in March 2020 after the passage of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill in Parliament in August 2019 and was asked to complete its work within a year which was extended by a year due to COVID-19.
It was granted another extension of two months and its term was to end on May 6.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during a meeting with Jammu and Kashmir leaders on June 24 last, had said the ongoing delimitation exercise has to happen quickly so that polls can be held to install an elected government that gives strength to its development trajectory.