An exercise that fixes or limits boundaries of territorial constituencies in a country to represent changes in the population is called the Delimitation process. As a result of this process, the number of seats allocated to different states and union territories in the Lok Sabha and the total number of seats in a Legislative Assembly can change as per the need of the situation. Generally, the redrawing of boundaries is based on a recent census. The body that is directly entrusted with the responsibility to do the delimitation exercise is called the Delimitation Commission.
Delimitation is conducted mainly for the reasons to have equal representation for equal segments of a population and to have a fair division of geographical areas so that no political party has an undue advantage over the others. The Delimitation Commission is a high-level body set up by an act of the Parliament. It works in tandem with the Election Commission of India and is appointed by the President of India. Its orders cannot be questioned in a court of law and the copies of the orders of the Commission are finally laid on the table of the Lok Sabha and the Legislative Assemblies concerned, but no change is permitted in them. The Delimitation Commission has to determine the number and boundaries of constituencies in addition to identifying the seats to be reserved for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes communities.
The Commission releases draft proposals to the public through the Gazette of India and the official gazettes of states, and also in regional language newspapers. It also conducts public sittings wherein the public’s opinion is heard through written or oral representations. If found appropriate, changes are made to the draft proposal. The final order is published in the Gazettes and comes into effect by a date specified by the President of India.
Delimitation Commission for Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Manipur, Arunachal, Manipur and Nagaland was formed last year in March with a former Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai as its Chairperson, to redraw Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland.
According to section 60 of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, “…the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir shall be increased from 107 to 114….” Out of these, 24 seats are in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir. So effectively, the seats will go up from 83 to 90. The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir came into being on October 31, 2019 after the state was reorganised and bifurcated into two union territories, Ladakh being the other consequent upon the parliamentary action on 5-6 August 2019.
Ahead of Delimitation Commission meeting on 18th February 2021, the Kashmiri Pandits pushed for reservation in Legislative Assembly post abrogation of Article 370. The Kashmiri Pandits have asked the government to reserve/nominate five seats for the minority community in the Legislative Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory.
This author submitted a memorandum to the Delimitation Commission and also endorsed its copy to one of its ex-officio members and the MoS, PMO Dr. Jitendra Singh. The missive raised some very pertinent and important concerns regarding the subject matter which among others include the following.
There has to be a forward march towards ending discrimination with the people of the UT through the intervention of the Delimitation Commission now. There can’t be two opinions about the facts of discrimination and bias against the region of Jammu in respect of delimitation earlier which allotted three seats to the Kashmir valley and two seats only to the Jammu region for the Parliament in addition to giving 46 Assembly seats to Kashmir valley and 37 seats to Jammu division. This was and remains a violation of fundamental rights in terms of equality and equal opportunities.
The issue of the representation of the Kashmiri Pandits, through Delimitation of constituencies, is an important part of the road ahead in Jammu and Kashmir and there are expectations that the discrimination with a large portion of the population in the UT will come to an end by a judicious Delimitation process and report in the near future.
Kashmiri Pandit community, which is living as refugees in its own country for the last more than three decades now has remained unrepresented all along due to the gerrymandering of constituencies in the valley. A fervent appeal is made to the Delimitation Commission to exercise its powers to send such a recommendation to the President and the government of India that settles the unsettled issue of politically important concern of the Kashmiri Pandit community. It will also help in paving way for the resettlement of the community in the valley, eventually, as per their geopolitical aspirations in the days to come.
There should be a clear cut reservation/nomination for the minority community in the valley (comprising Kashmiri Pandits, Kashmiri Sikhs & non-Kashmiri speaking Hindus in the valley) in the Legislative Assembly, and also one seat each should be reserved/nominated in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha for them. Pudducherry Assembly, which has an arrangement for three nominated seats, in this context, is a guiding and leading example.
The forced mass exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits was an unimaginable situation for the founding fathers of the constitution, thus there was no provision in the constitution for ensuring their representation in exile. Having experienced such a scenario over the last three decades, the Indian state is directly confronted with the question to ensure suitable representation of the exiled community, which is also the indigenous community of the valley of Kashmir, in both the parliament as well as the assembly of the UT.
Earlier, in absence of an opportunity and the constitutional mechanism, the government shied away from taking any concrete step in this connection. But now with the golden opportunity available, the precedence and the constitutional way out in front of us, the State of India will be answerable so far as its intent in this context is concerned.
The intent can be well translated into action and the dream can be converted into a reality by invoking the doctrine of reservation or nomination in favour of the minority and exiled communities of the valley of Kashmir. The oft-repeated phrase that ‘Kashmir is incomplete without Kashmiri Pandits’ used by all the political parties and politicians is on the actual test.
The Delimitation Commission will confront the test of its intent on behalf of the Indian state viz a viz the people who were forced to live in exile in their own country due to the failure of the state to protect them. The instrumentalities of the state, the Election Commission of India, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Delimitation Commission along with the elected representative MPs from the state have the best opportunity available to take concrete measures for confidence building among the minorities of the valley. We pray they pass the real test of intent to the satisfaction of all and in particular the indigenous people of the Kashmir valley, the Kashmiri Pandits..!