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Delimitation Commission reaches Srinagar; interacts with various political parties

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NC, Cong, PC, CPI(M) urge Commission to carry out delimitation exercise in free, fair and transparent manner

Srinagar: The National Conference, Congress, Peoples Conference and other parties Tuesday met the visiting Delimitation Commission and urged it to carry out the exercise of redrawing the electoral constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir in a free, fair and transparent manner so that the unity and integrity of the union territory is safeguarded.

The NC and Congress submitted separate memoranda to the Commission headed by Justice (retd.) Ranjana Prakash Desai outlining their concerns and demands related to the exercise, and saying it be carried out only after J&K is granted statehood again.

The CPI(M) also submitted a memorandum which highlighted the constitutional aspects of delimitation and the legal challenge to the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019.

The National Conference in its memorandum said the delimitation exercise should not have been conducted till the Supreme Court decided on the pleas challenging the constitutional validity of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019 and other related orders.

It said the hearing in the cases got delayed due to the pandemic and all the petitions are expected to be taken up once the physical hearing commences.

The party said in its memorandum that the implementation of any Act which is under the scrutiny of the court may amount to preempting the judicial verdict.

The party said that under the constitutional scheme, the delimitation of Assembly constituencies fell within the powers of the state of J&K and under the second proviso to sec 47 of the Constitution of J&K, it is to be undertaken once the figures of the first census after 2026 are published.

The party said the delimitation exercise would be a credible effort in strengthening democracy only after full statehood is restored to J&K.

“Despite our basic reservations on the issue, the commission has decided to go ahead with the delimitation process. While reiterating our stand and without prejudice to the submissions made above, we request you and other members of the Commission to carry out the delimitation exercise in a free, fair and transparent manner so that the unity and integrity of the state is safeguarded. Population has to be the only norm as has been the practice here in the past in J&K and elsewhere in the country,” it said.

Talking to reporters after meeting the commission, NC leader Nasir Aslam Wani said the party impressed upon the panel that people have “lost faith” in institutions and it was for the Commission to try and restore this confidence.

“If they are undertaking the exercise now, will it be repeated when delimitation has to be done across the country after 2026?” he asked.

Congress delegation in its memorandum said the delimitation process will be rendered “nugatory” if held before the restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir.

“May we at the INC point out that until the restoration of statehood for J&K, as demanded in the CWC Resolution of 6th August 2019, is completed; the delimitation process commencement will be rendered nugatory,” the memorandum reads.

The party said it told the Commission that the initiation of political and democratic dialogue in Jammu & Kashmir must begin with restoration of civil liberties of political parties and people.

The party also suggested that the draft proposal prepared by the Delimitation Commission be circulated among all the political parties for giving suggestions and submitting objections, if any.

“People of Jammu and Kashmir have grave apprehensions of preconceived political prejudice governing the Commission’s final recommendations with a view to give unfair and undue advantage to a particular political party and to the exclusion of democratic rights of the people for a just and amicable delimitation process and particularly to put the mainstream political parties in a disadvantageous position on account of innate unfairness,” it added.

The People’s Conference in its memorandum said the Delimitation Commission has an onerous task given the context of August 05, 2019. “The commission is visiting a population which has been targeted by truths, half-truths, rumors and is extremely apprehensive and insecure. This is true for the people of J&K in general, and specifically for the people of the Kashmir region, the feeling is more intense.

“The narrative being peddled is that while in the whole country delimitation exercises have been put on hold until the latest census exercises are carried out, J&K has been singled out and a delimitation process has been started on the basis of 2011 census figures. The rumor mills are in fact in a heightened state of frenzy suggesting that the whole exercise is being carried out to disempower people of a particular region,” the PC said.

“Though the Jammu & Kashmir Peoples’ Conference does not believe in such unsubstantiated and hypothetical narratives and has full faith in this Constitutional body, yet the party feels that there should be abundant transparency, noticeable impartiality and perceptible fairness on the part of the Delimitation Commission as regards the processes, methodology and principles employed in delimiting the Assembly constituencies so that the exercise receives due appreciation and approval from all and sundry.

“It is an unenvious exercise. The commission has not only to conduct the delimitation exercise in a fair and unbiased manner but more importantly be seen as being fair and unbiased. While the current set of rumors is based on the present context J&K Peoples Conference wants to put on record previous instances of delimitation which cannot be held up as exercises in good faith. Blatant cut and paste has been the rule in the past not the exception,” the PC pointed out.

Dwelling on the history of past such exercises, the memorandum then goes on to talk about the mode and methodology as adopted by the Delimitation Commissions so far all over the country while urging that the party believes that the Delimitation Commission would adopt the time tested procedure and principles for determining 90 seats for the J&K Assembly and the exercise is just, fair and transparent so that there is no possibility of any sort of discrimination or injustice or perception thereof among different regions of J&K or with a particular region.

“As per 2011 census, the total population of Jammu and Kashmir is 1, 22, 67, 013, out of which 68, 88, 475 are in Kashmir division comprising of 10 districts while as 53, 78, 538 are in Jammu sivision comprising of another 10 districts. By dividing the total population of J&K by the total number of 90 seats, the State average per Assembly constituency would be 1, 36, 300 people.

“The J&K Peoples’ Conference demands that the Assembly constituencies should be delimited and extent of all 90 constituencies determined in such a way that the population of all constituencies is, so far as practicable, the same throughout J&K. This purpose can be achieved only by adhering to the Average Population principle for each and every constituency, i.e, 1,36,300 people.”

The memorandum also says that various areas in J&K are hilly with difficult terrain and topography, insufficient means of communication, public convenience and lack of contiguity which demand deviation from average population up to the permissibility limit. “However, since such areas spread across J&K, the deviation has to be permitted at district average level so that the representation of other districts is not affected.”

Though delimitation is conducted on the basis of population, the memorandum adds that voter strength is a reliable indicator of population. “In the current Assembly there are glaring deviations from the average figure worked out by dividing the total population or electors by 87 seats. Ironically these deviations are seen more in urban areas where there is no justification or scope to have smaller constituencies even when one applies the non-population criteria.

“So you have a situation where you have a constituency in the heart of urban centers in both the regions with fifty odd thousand electors. While in rural based geographically marooned, hilly areas, scattered over kilometers, constituencies are based on electors in excess of 1,00,000 votes. That is a difference of 50 percent and the other way out.

“Rural settings could provide some justification for smaller constituencies. What justification can one possibly have for a tiny constituency in city settings. This “fief problem” is what we believe the commission should rectify. Electorally expedient fiefs should be done away with.

“May we make a humble plea that the commission could be doing historical work in restoring the trust of the people of the J&K if it remedies mismatches as shown above. Population will have to be the main reference point. We once again reiterate our faith in the commission that it will remove mismatches, it will not create mismatches.

“We hope the commission will identify and carve out constituencies based on parameters approximately 90 percent of which shall be determined by the population. In a break from the past we hope and sincerely hope the commission will identify constituencies and not try to invent them,” the PC said.

The CPI(M) in its memorandum said “we are not against delimitation, but wanted it to be carried along with rest of the country. In 2002, J&K Assembly had amended the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act, 1957 and Section 47(3) of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir and put a freeze on delimitation till 2026. The decision was in line with the pan-India freeze on delimitation till the first census after 2026. Both Jammu and Kashmir High Court and the Supreme Court had upheld the decision of freeze on delimitation.”

It said there is a lot of mistrust among people and rumour mongering has engulfed the region. “Unfortunately, since last several years, vested interests are trying to create a wedge between communities and regions in J&K. Under these circumstances, we are of considered opinion that 2011 census provides guiding frame for delimitation exercise.”

It also said that neglected sections of population living in remote areas of J&K also must be given due representation. And the “sensitivities of J&K” must be kept in mind while conducting the exercise so that it helps in bridging the gaps between communities and regions instead of further widening it.

“For that the perceived apprehension that the exercise is aimed at benefiting some sections of the population should be removed,” it said.

A delegation of Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party also submitted a memorandum, which said the process of completion of delimitation needs to be expedited at a faster pace so that a political process is restored and eventually elections are held “for which the people of J&K have been aspiring”.

It said with population being the criteria for delimiting the Assembly constituencies, the districts on the basis of laid down criteria need to be identified which qualify for additional Assembly segments. The Assembly seats for those of districts may remain intact which do not qualify for any additional Assembly constituency.

“The administrative units i.e  districts, are to be considered as basic units for redrawing the Assembly constituencies; except where there are certain compulsions and constraints within the district in local administrative units, the rule can be relaxed,” the JKAP said.

It also said there is a population of about two lakh Kashmiri Pandits who actually belong to Kashmir Valley but presently are residing outside, mostly in Jammu. This population has been covered under Census 2011 for Jammu province but are using their right to vote in Kashmir Valley. “This chunk of population needs to be accounted for in the valley while redrawing the assembly constituencies.”

It also said there are two Lok Sabha constituencies in Jammu Province and three in Kashmir Province. “The number of seats for each of the Provinces may remain intact.”

Earlier in the day, the Delimitation Commission for the UT of Jammu and Kashmir comprising Chairperson Justice (retd.) Ranjana Prakash Desai and Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra Srinagar on a four-day tour of the UT.

The Commission later interacted with various political parties including BSP, BJP, CPI, CPI(M), INC, NC, Panthers Party, People’s Conference,  Apni Party, and 17 district units of various political parties.

Tomorrow Commission will be visiting Anantnag district and will interact with the political parties and members of public of four districts — Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian, Pulwama.

On 8th and 9th July, the Commission will visit Kishtwar and Jammu and interact with the political parties, civil societies and the DCs.

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