Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2 and a half district call for delimitation in JK

Seeks Equal Number Of Seats For Jammu, Valley

Srinagar, Feb 18: The Panthers Party MLA and former minister Harsh Dev Singh has sen

t a Private Member’s bill to the Assembly for constitution of Delimitation Commission and for holding fresh delimitation of Assembly constituencies.  
 In the bill Singh has sought amendments in Sections 47 and 48 of the Constitution of J&K so as to undertake fresh delimitation on the basis of criteria laid down in the Representation of People’s Act (RPA). Singh claims that “present composition of Assembly comprising of 111 members with 24 seats reserved for POK (AJK), was highly biased against Jammu region, which was allocated only 37 seats as against 46 seats for Kashmir region.”
 He argues that the parameters laid down in the Section 4 of RPA for allocation of seats included population, geographical compactness, nature of terrain, facilities of communication and like considerations.  He said that prescribed parameters weighted heavily in favour of Jammu region except the population factor which too was debatable in view of 2001 census figures for Kashmir having been fudged and manipulated. Singh has however proposed in the Bill that even if concession for higher population is given to Kashmir region, the other factors weigh heavily for increase of seats for Jammu region.

 Constitutionally, the delimitation can’t be taken up in the state without an amendment in the state constitution. In April 2002, the National Conference government had brought a bill to halt the delimitation process till 2026. The amendment says that the delimitation can be undertaken only after 2026.
 Interestingly, the bill was passed unanimously and the governor gave his assent on April 23, 2002. The BJP had five members in the assembly and Panthers Party one at that time. “They didn’t raise any voice against the bill and allowed it to pass unanimously. That means they were supporting the bill,” said a senior NC leader. The amendment was brought in section 47, sub-section 3 with its proviso saying explicitly it shall not be necessary to readjust the seats till 2026. The amendment has been brought into the RPA as well which governs the election process in the state.
 Constitutional experts say if any government wanted delimitation, it has to bring in a constitution amendment bill and in case it was not passed, the government has to resign.
 In 2007, the then chief minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, had convened a meeting of all parties to seek consensus for delimitation. He had reportedly said that his government could go for delimitation by an executive order. However, he was reminded that he had to bring in a constitution amendment bill for the purpose and if the bill fails to get through with 2/3 majority he has to resign.  
 Analysts argue that delimitation is not done on the basis of voter population but on various factors, including the overall population of the area. Section 47 (1) of the state constitution says, “The legislative assembly shall consist of one hundred and eleven members chosen by direct election from territorial constituencies in the state.” And its section (2) says, “For the purpose of sub-section (i) the state shall be divided into single member territorial constituencies by such authority and in such manner as the legislature may by law determine.”
 They argue that if the criterion of larger area were taken into consideration, then the erstwhile Doda district has larger area than that of rest of Jammu region. On that plea, the erstwhile Doda district should get more seats. Moreover, the delimitation has taken place in the state in accordance with the delimitation commission report constituted during president’s rule. It has not taken place in several other states of India since 1950, when the constitution of India came into force.

 In the proposed bill, Singh has not mentioned the voter population this time. Earlier both the BJP and Panthers Party would call for delimitation citing the voter population as reason. This time Kashmiris came forward to register themselves as voters, though not in large numbers. It brought substantial change and punctured the voter argument of Jammu.
 The recent revision of electoral rolls in Jammu and Kashmir revealed that Kashmir valley has more voter population than the other regions. As per the recent revision carried out by the Election Commission of India in January-February last year, voter population of the Valley is 32,60,663. The total electoral population of the Valley as per 2006 revision was 31,55,890. 
 Sources said if the Valley shows interest in completing the formalities its voter population would be far higher than what it is presently. In Leh and Kargil districts of Ladakh the number of electors as per 2008 revision is 1,52,513 with Leh having 74,396 electors and Kargil 78,117. 
 In Jammu division, electors as per 2008 revision are 30,84,417. According to 2006 revision the total electors in Jammu division were 29,88,876. 
 A senior leader said the day Kashmiris start participating in the Census and register themselves as voters, Jammu politicians would lose all arguments.

 Harsh Dev Singh has proposed in the bill an increase in the Assembly seats from existing 111 to 140. The 140 seats are proposed to be equally allocated between Jammu and Kashmir regions, with 52 seats for Jammu region, 52 seats for Kashmir region, 6 seats for Ladakh region and 30 seats for AJK.  
 He says out of 30 seats for AJK 8 seats could be assigned to AJK migrants who are already domiciled in this part of state.

 Politicians of Jammu and Kashmir argue these demands are coming from areas and districts already enjoying the “administrative empowerment” and giving them more seats in the assembly would “dis-empower Kashmiris in particular, and Muslims in general, from a little political empowerment they have in the Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir.” 
 The veracity of the population figures reflected in the censuses in the past has also been questioned. “Even as the population of Kashmir valley is decidedly higher, the figures reflected in various censuses are far less than what these actually are,” said a PDP leader. First of all delimitation is not possible at all this time, a top government official said. Besides, he said, migration didn’t take place only in Jammu. “Enlisting migrants from across as voters is dangerous. It didn’t happen in Bengal, it didn’t happen in Assam and it did happen even in Punjab, the state that was directly hit by partition. And it shouldn’t happen in the state,” he said.

 The delimitation demand comes from politicians of Jammu, Kathua and Udhampur districts who already enjoy substantial clout in the State. The MLAs from other four districts of Jammu have different demands. 
 PDP leader Chowdhary Zulfikar Ali calls for creation of Hill Development Council for Rajouri-Poonch region. He said the region has a distinguished cultural, linguistic and socio-economic condition as compared to other regions of the state. The people of this region have the same problems which the people of Leh and Kargil are facing. About 70% of the area is still un-electrified, 50% is without proper drinking water facility, medicare is negligible, the educational system is worse and most of the area is without road connectivity. 
 MLA Doda Abdul Majid had brought private member’s bill in the Assembly for the Hill Development Council for Doda.  
 Senior politicians of both Peoples Democratic Party and National Conference said Kashmir had more population than Jammu and, in case of geographical areas, Pir Panchal region has three times more area than Jammu, Kathua and Samba districts put together. “If area and backwardness is the criterion for more seats, then why don’t politicians of these two and a half districts (erstwhile) support the Chenab Valley Hill Development Council for Pir Panchal region,” said a senior NC leader adding, “the communalists of Jammu have raised such unconstitutional demands in the past as a blackmailing tactics to suppress the genuine demands of the people of the state.”

 The PDP president Mehbooba Mufti told Greater Kashmir that her party has firm stand on the issue and whenever the bill would be brought ‘we will stick to our stand.’ 
 Elaborating, she said first of all the delimitation of the constituencies wouldn’t take place till 2026. She however said that coalition government had decided that if ever the need arises the seats should be increased on the existing position by 20 percent. “Our stand is clear on it and everyone knows that,” she said.  
 The PDP general secretary Nizamudin Bhat said, “If the objective of bill is to maintain demographic, regional balance, we will debate it. In no way we will allow a debate if the design is to overawe the majority community or create impression that there is a regional imbalance.”

 The National Conference is keeping its cards closed. “Let us see when the bill would be tabled in the House,” said senior leader and minister Ali Muhammad Sagar. He however said it was NC that brought the bill to halt delimitation till 2026.

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