The issues of increasing seats in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and granting permanent resident status to the Pakistani refugees of 1947 have stirred a hornet'snet, dividing the state on regional and communal lines. Battle lines have drawn between the mainstream political parties with the NC, PDP and other Valley-based parties on one side and the Congress, BJP and National Panthers Party on the other side.
However, a committee has been constituted to examine the possibilities of implementing the delimitation of the existing Assembly constituencies and rotation of reserved constituencies. The committee has to give its interim recommendation within 10 days from the date it is constituted. The committee will also address the civic, social and development-related problems of the refugees of 1947, 1965 and 1971.
The question remains unanswered as to why Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad called an all-party meeting in Srinagar on May 12 to discuss the proposed increase in the assembly seats. According to Prof Hari Om, spokesman of state unit of BJP, an amendment in the Representation of People'sAct provides the appointment of any delimitation commission only after the census and this process has to wait till 2026. ?The Chief Minister and his government cannot be ignorant of this legal and constitutional position?, he said .
Supporting his arguments, Prof. Bhim Singh, patron of National Panthers Party said the major coalition partners?Congress and People'sDemocratic Party (PDP)?failed to constitute a delimitation commission. He, however, stressed that entire exercise of increasing the number of Assembly seats should be carried out by framing a delimitation commission as promised in the Common Minimum Programme (CMP). ?It'sfor the commission to distribute the seats and not for the political parties or their legislators?, he made it clear.
Meanwhile, both the People'sDemocratic Party and the main Opposition National Conference have opposed any move to give citizenship rights to the refugees under the permanent residents? rules of the state saying that the issue can be taken after a final settlement of Kashmir issue. Opposing the arguments of these parties, the chairman of Social Republican Volunteers Association PoK Displaced Persons Aspiring for South Asia V. K. Seghal told ANI, ?They have been demanding citizens? right within Constitution of India, not refugees? status. Secondly the 24 seats kept vacant in J&K assembly for PoK be filled by displaced people from Muzaffarabad who are about 12000 and reservation of Parliament seat.? They have opposition from Valley-based leaders. CPM leader M.Y. Tarigami said that CPI(M) and PDF would jointly oppose any move which can amend the existing law regarding permanent state subject. He says the issue of permanent state subject had already been solved during the Maharaja Hari Singh'srule as a non-resident of the state cannot become a permanent state subject holder.
The decision of increasing the effective membership of the Assembly by 25 per cent over the existing 111 seats was taken in Cabinet last year. Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had a suggestion from his party and ministerial colleagues, Mangat Ram Sharma and Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed, of creating the new Assembly segments proportionately in all the four regions of the state over their existing representation of 46 in Kashmir, 37 in Jammu, four in Ladakh and 24 in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Azad has accordingly proposed the increase of 12 seats in Kashmir, nine in Jammu, one in Ladakh and six in PoK. But Jammu has a different voice against this proposal. Panthers Party and BJP proposed a total of 52 seats in Kashmir, 52 in Jammu, six in Ladakh and 30 in PoK. They argue that parameters envisaged in the Constitution?population, geographical area, nature of terrain, facility of communication and the like?should be held as the real benchmark in all new creations and delimitation of segments.
Presently, Jammu and Kashmir Assembly has the strength of 87 Members elected by elections every six years from Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh regions of the state while 24 seats stand reserved for representatives from PoK. Elections in the occupied territories, according to J&K Constitution, would be held only after the end of Pakistani aggression across the LoC. On Chief Minister'srecommendations, Governor has been nominating two female members, raising the total number of MLAs to 89.