Decoding Delimitation and Delimitation Commission’s challenge to address the complaint of people living in Jammu that the Kashmir region was given undue advantage by successive delimitation panels.
Days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir and assured them of elections in the UT, the Delimitation Commission is set to make its maiden trip to J&K. The three-day visit was slated for 6th-9th July.
In a significant move, all J&K-based political parties, with the sole exception of the PDP, indicated that they are likely to join the Delimitation Commission for deliberations. The Delimitation Commission is to see that the Union Territory has freshly marked boundaries for all its constituencies before an assembly election can be announced. The reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 requires delimitation process to complete.
So, what is delimitation?
Delimitation is redrawing of boundaries of an assembly or Lok Sabha constituency. It is done to reflect the demographic changes in a state, Union Territory or at the national level.
Delimitation is also responsible for reserving of a designated number of seats in a state assembly or the Lok Sabha for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities.
What is Delimitation Commission?
The Delimitation Commission is a panel set up with legislative back up and is independent of the government and political parties in its functioning.
A retired judge of the Supreme Court heads the Delimitation Commission, which draws its members from the Election Commission of India and state election commissions.
At the national level, four Delimitation Commissions have been constituted till date for delineating fresh boundaries of the constituencies and suggest the number of constituencies.
Delimitation exercises in the past
The Delimitation Commissions were set up in 1952, 1963, 1972 and 2002. The number of Lok Sabha constituencies has not been revised since 1972. In 2002, it was frozen at 543 till 2026.
The last delimitation exercise was finished in 2008 when the 2001 Census was taken as the basis for readjusting the boundaries of existing Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies.
Tell me about Delimitation Commission for J&K
In March 2020, six months after the reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir, the Delimitation Commission was constituted to the Union Territory.
It is headed by Justice (retired) Ranjana Desai. It was given an extension of one year in March this year.
The commission has five MPs from Jammu and Kashmir as associate members.
Their recommendations are, however, not binding on the commission, which is in Jammu and Kashmir to gather ground-level information about the ongoing process.
Why J&K needed delimitation?
Before the enactment of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, which birfucated the erstwhile state, its assembly had 107 MLAs.
The law increased the strength of the assembly in the newly carved Union Territory to 114. This also includes 24 seats falling under Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
In practice, the effective strength of Jammu and Kashmir Assembly when elected will increase to 90. Earlier, it was 83.
Since the number of constituencies has altered, the boundaries of the existing constituencies need to be redrawn before assembly election could be held in Jammu and Kashmir, which does not have an elected government after the Mehbooba Mufti government fell in June 2018.
How is delimitation done?
It is a bureaucratic process. According to Article 82 of the Constitution, Parliament enacts a Delimitation Act after Census that is held every 10 years.
The Union government then constitutes a Delimitation Commission headed by a retired Supreme Court judge.
The commission examines population data, existing constituencies, the number of seats to be analysed, holds meetings with all the stakeholders and submits its recommendation to the government.
The draft report of the Delimitation Commission is published in the Gazette of India, the official gazettes of the states concerned and at least two vernacular publications seeking feedback from the general public.
Feedback has been received is studied and if needed changes are made in the final report that is published in the Gazette of India and the state gazettes.
From the date notified the President, the Delimitation Commission’s final order is implemented. This becomes the basis for all future elections until the next delimitation.
How has delimitation been done in J&K in the past?
Before the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was not abrogated in 2019, its delimitation was government not by the Indian Constitution and Parliament-legislated delimitation laws but by the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution and Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act, 1957.
However, the processes for both were the same. In fact, in effect, the same Delimitation Commission that was constituted for rest of India was adopted by Jammu and Kashmir in 1963 and 1973.
So, has Jammu and Kashmir been singled out?
Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said so while questioning the central government’s push for delimitation. But there is another view.
The delimitation process that was undertaken in 2002-08 across the country was not done in Jammu and Kashmir.
The last time the boundaries of constituencies were redrawn in Jammu and Kashmir was in 1995.
It was based on the 1981 Census. Due to insurgency and terrorism situation, Census could not be held in 1991 in Jammu and Kashmir.
Following the 2001 Census, the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly passed a law putting delimitation on hold till 2026.
The new law overrides this one and is based on the logic that Jammu and Kashmir can have true representation in the third decade of the 21st century based on population data of 1981.
What about Jammu versus Kashmir in number of constituencies?
Jammu and Kashmir held last delimitation when it was under President’s Rule and saw the number of seats in its assembly increase from 76 to 87.
Number of seats in Kashmir region increased from 42 to 46 and that from Jammu rose from 32 to 37. Ladakh got four MLAs and 24 seats were reserved for PoK.
According to the latest 2011 Census data, Kashmir has a population of over 68 lakh and Jammu 53 lakh.
The Delimitation Commission has the challenge to address the complaint of people living in Jammu that the Kashmir region was given undue advantage by successive delimitation panels.
What if fresh delimitation is conducted for parliamentary polls?
That question will come during the tenure of next Lok Sabha in 2026. It is estimated – based on 2011 Census data – that when boundaries are redrawn for parliamentary constituencies, the strength of the Lok Sabha would go up from 543 to 888. That of the Rajya Sabha may climb to 384 from existing 245.