Jammu & Kashmir: assembly constituencies/ delimitation
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The Delimitation Commission’s final order: 2022
Jammu and Kashmir has not had an assembly election since 2014. Due for three years now, the electoral exercise had to wait for the constituency boundaries to be redrawn. The Delimitation Commission has signed its final order and the new structure has been notified. What does it say and why is it stoking a controversy?
The last time Jammu and Kashmir’s constituency borders were redrawn was in 1995. That had come after a gap of 20 years, at a time the state was under President’s Rule.
In 2002, an amendment to the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act, 1957 and to Section 47(3) of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir froze it again, till 2026. The NDA government, in power at the Centre then, had agreed to keep Jammu and Kashmir out of the nationwide delimitation exercise.
This was challenged by a local body in the Supreme Court, which said the freeze would deprive Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes of fair representation. In 2010, the Supreme Court upheld the freeze saying that courts cannot interfere in matters of delimitation.
By this time, BJP had started a campaign demanding fresh delimitation in the state saying that the “existing electoral map did not do justice to the aspirations of the people of the Jammu region.” On this, Congress was on the same page — then chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad demanded redrawing of boundaries but its ally People’s Democratic Party resisted. The plan was dropped.
Now, nearly 30 years since the last delimitation, the state is a Union Territory and under circumstances strikingly similar to the last time it was undertaken, Jammu and Kashmir has a new constituency map.
What does the new delimitation order say?
The number of seats in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly to which elections will be held has gone up from 83 to 90 — of which 43 will be in Jammu and 47 in Kashmir. Six new seats have been added in the Jammu division, and two added and one reduced in the Kashmir division. (There are 24 seats reserved for Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir regions. That number remains unchanged.)
Names of 13 constituencies have been changed — Gool Arnas, for instance, has become Mata Vaishno Devi — and boundaries of 21 constituencies have been moved to split tehsils within them. For instance, part of North Srinagar tehsil will be within the Hazratbal assembly constituency and another part under the Zadibal assembly seat. Or one part of Pulwama tehsil each will be across the Pulwama, Pampore and Rajpora seats.
The number of assembly seats reserved for Scheduled Caste representatives remains the same, seven. And, for the first time, nine seats will be reserved for Scheduled Tribe representatives — three in Kashmir division and six in Jammu division.
How did the panel do this?
The three-member commission was set up in March 2020 for delimitation of assembly and parliamentary constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland. (Delimitation in the northeastern states had not been done during the last exercise because of a dispute over the use of the 2001 Census as the basis. An amendment deferring delimitation in these states was repealed in 2020.)
The Delimitation Commission categorised the 20 districts into three groups after visiting Jammu and Kashmir between July 6 and July 9 in 2021:
A: districts with hilly and difficult areas
B: those with hilly and flat areas
C: districts with predominantly plain areas
Constituencies were then carved out on the basis of districts, tehsils and patwar circles in existence on June 15, 2020. The Jammu and Kashmir administration was asked to freeze these administrative units until delimitation was over. While tehsils were split, patwar circles were not.
On April 4 and 5 this year, the panel held public hearings in Jammu and Kashmir with its final draft. On the basis of these discussions, the final report was compiled with some changes to names and boundaries.
Why was it not done with the rest of the country?
After every Census, India is supposed to have a fresh delimitation exercise, Article 82 of the Indian Constitution says. The Parliament passes a Delimitation Act and the government sets up a Delimitation Commission. Census has been conducted in India seven times since it became an independent country. But the readjustment of constituency boundaries has only happened four times — 1952, 1963, 1973 and 2002.
Why? Because in 1976, the government realised that high population numbers would give some states a big advantage over others. So, the 42nd Constitutional Amendment froze the number of seats as it stood in 1976. There was no delimitation after the next two Census surveys. In 2001, the freeze on seats was extended to the first Census after 2026. That would be the one in 2031. But a year later, the Delimitation Act lifted the freeze. Seat boundaries would be redrawn on the basis of the 2001 Census. So, the last time the country got new voter maps was in 2002. But the total number of seats remained frozen till 2026.
But the case of Jammu and Kashmir was different. The state was turned into a Union Territory and Ladakh carved out as a separate Union Territory under The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act in 2019. With that, two districts — Kargil and Leh — were out of Jammu and Kashmir. These districts had four assembly seats — Nubra, Leh, Kargil and Zanskar. So, for an election to be conducted in Jammu and Kashmir, the boundaries would have to be redrawn.
Part V of the Act laid that out. It said that the number of seats in the assembly would be increased from 107 to 114, seats would be reserved for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities and the 2011 Census would be used for the new map.
Why is there a controversy?
The Delimitation Act of 2002 lays down the rules to be followed while redrawing constituency boundaries.
All constituencies will be geographically compact areas while considering physical features (like hills, mountains or rivers), existing administrative unit boundaries (like tehsils), communication facilities and public convenience Every assembly constituency has to be entirely under one Lok Sabha seat Constituencies reserved for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe representatives should be distributed across different parts of a state and, as far as possible, in areas with larger proportion of their population
But underlying these provisions is the central guideline that constituencies will be drawn so that “population of each parliamentary and assembly constituency in a state shall, so far as practicable, be the same throughout the state.”
Why? Because every constituency should have comparable voting power. Assume that constituency X has 100 people and constituency Y has 500 people. If a candidate gets 51 votes in constituency X, they are comfortably the winner. But a candidate who gets the same number of votes in constituency Y is unlikely to be the winner (unless the contest is so widely split that other candidates get even fewer votes). Also, if constituency X has voted for a party consistently and is split into three, for instance, the party would end up getting an advantage in two additional seats. It could also work the other way round — if a region within constituency X that has been loyal to one party is splintered, it would dilute the party’s support base.
So, there has to be parity. This parity, opposition parties are saying, is what is missing in Jammu and Kashmir’s new constituency map.
With this new plan, Jammu will have 9.1 seats for every 10 that Kashmir does while it has 7.8 people for every 10 that Kashmir has. Jammu is larger in area (26,000 sq km, against Kashmir's 16,000 sq km) but Kashmir’s population density is higher. While three districts in Kashmir have more than 10 lakh people, only one in Jammu does. And the Muslim-majority Kashmir division already has more voters.