The Jammu and Kashmir Delimitation Commission on Thursday notified the new boundaries, names and number of Assembly constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir, paving the way for the first-ever Assembly elections in the Union Territory that was carved out of the erstwhile State of J&K in 2019.
While not mentioned in its order, the Delimitation Commission said in a statement that it had recommended to the Centre to nominate at least two “Kashmiri migrants” to the Legislature who would have the same powers as nominated members of the Puducherry Assembly and to “consider” giving “some representation” to persons displaced from Pakistan-occupied J&K. A source said this was a “proposal” that the Centre would take a call on.
A day before its term was to end, the Commission, chaired by Justice (retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai and including Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and J&K State Election Commissioner K.K. Sharma as ex-officio members, met to finalise its order and later issued a gazette notification. The delimitation was carried out based on the 2011 Census and other considerations like geographical features and access.
The new Assembly would have 90 seats, 47 in Kashmir and 43 in Jammu, which was an increase from the earlier 83, with six of the additional seats being in Jammu and one in Kashmir. The commission said in its statement that for the first time in J&K, nine seats have been reserved for Scheduled Tribes. Six of the ST reserved seats were in Jammu region and three in the Kashmir Valley. Seven seats had been reserved for Scheduled Castes.
“There are five Parliamentary Constituencies in the region. The Delimitation Commission has seen Jammu & Kashmir as a single entity for purposes of the delimitation. Therefore, one of the parliamentary constituencies has been carved out combining Anantnag region in the Valley and Rajouri and Poonch of Jammu region. By this reorganisation, each Parliamentary constituency will have equal number of 18 Assembly Constituencies each,” the commission said in its statement.
The move to the merge the two regions in one Lok Sabha constituency had been criticised by regional parties, including the National Conference, given the two areas remain cut off in winter and have no direct access.
The commission said it had accepted many of the suggestions regarding names of constituencies that came up during consultations. It restored restored old names and reworked a few Assembly segments in the Kashmir division, which had been renamed in the previous draft and had evoked criticism from local parties.
In north Kashmir, Gulmarg and Wagoora-Kreeri Assembly segments were restored on traditional geographical limits. Similarly, the constituency names like Hazratbal, Zadibal, Lal Chowk, Eidgah have been restored in Srinagar. In Jammu division, the name of Gulabgarh constituency has been restored. In Reasi district, a constituency was named after the famed Shri Mata Vaishno Devi shrine.
Noting the challenges of carrying out the delimitation, the commission said unique issues arose due to factors like “competing political aspirations of the geographically and culturally distinctive Jammu and the Kashmir regions”, the wide range of population density from 3,436/square km to 29 sg/km, geographical barriers affecting connectivity and inadequate conveniences along the International Border.
The commission, which was appointed on March 6, 2020, had visited J&K twice, meeting 242 delegations during the first visit and around 1,600 people during the second that was in April, the statement said.
In addition, the commission received inputs from its associate members – the five Lok Sabha MPs from J&K. The three National Conference MPs who were associate members had raised concerns over the entire exercise, since the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019, which had mandated the delimitation, is under judicial scrutiny.