SRINAGAR—Four years after scrapping Article 370 and downgrading Jammu and Kashmir to Union Territory, the Modi government is set to amend the J&K Reorganization Act to reserve two seats in the Legislative Assembly for ‘Kashmiri Migrants’ and one for displaced persons from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization (Amendment) Bill, 2023 will be introduced most possibly in the Lok Sabha during the monsoon session.
This comes at a time when the Supreme Court is all set to take up the batch of petitions challenging the abrogation of Article 370 and dividing the state into two union territories.
The government’s move also comes five months after the Supreme Court dismissed a petition challenging the delimitation in Jammu and Kashmir. A bench of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice A.S. Oka said the petitioners did not challenge the constitutional validity of a specific provision in the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act.
On March 6, 2020, the Centre constituted a three-member panel headed by former Supreme Court Judge, Justice Ranjana Desai. Its two other members were the Chief Election Commissioner and J&K’s State Election Commissioner.
The number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir has gone up from 107 to 114, with nine seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes. Add to it three proposed seats for migrants and POK displaced persons, the BJP’s political math is complete.
For the first time, nine Assembly Constituencies (ACs) have been reserved for the Scheduled Tribes, six of which are in the Jammu region and three in Kashmir. The constitution of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state had no provision for the reservation of seats for Scheduled Tribes in the Legislative Assembly.
The six new Assembly constituencies in the Jammu region are expected to be carved out from Rajouri, Doda, Udhampur, Kishtwar, Kathua, and Samba districts. The one new seat for the Kashmir Valley would reportedly be carved out from the Kupwara district.
Delimitation exercises in J&K in the past have been slightly different from the rest of India because of J&K’s special status. Earlier, the delimitation of Lok Sabha seats in J&K was governed by the Constitution of India, but the delimitation of the state’s assembly seats was governed by the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution and Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act, 1957.
J&K Assembly had frozen the delimitation from 2001 to 2026. The decision was upheld by the Supreme Court. However, after scraping Article 370, the BJP ordered the formation of the Delimitation Commission and linked the restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir with the completion of the exercise followed by elections. Delimitation in the past in J&K was done in 1963, 1973 and 1995 when the state was under President’s Rule.
The Commission has recommended increasing the number of assembly seats from 83 to 90. Six seats were increased in Jammu and only one in Kashmir. The Commission has also reserved nine seats for Schedule Tribes (ST) and seven for Scheduled Castes (SC).
Before Jammu and Kashmir were stripped of statehood, it had 87 seats in the assembly: 46 in Kashmir, 37 in Jammu, and four in Ladakh. J&K assembly also had 24 seats vacant for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) on which elections were not held.
According to the Census of 2011, Muslims in the former state constitute a majority with 68 percent. Kashmir accounts for 56.2 percent of the total population of 1.25 crores and Jammu 43.8 percent.
The seat share of Kashmir was 55.4 percent and Jammu’s 44.6 percent. When the draft proposal is implemented, Kashmir’s seat share will decrease to 52.2 percent while Jammu’s will rise to 47.8 percent.
A delimitation based on the last Census would have increased the seats in Kashmir to 51 and in Jammu to 39. The Commission proposal leaves an average population of 145 lakh per constituency in Kashmir and 1.25 lakh in Jammu.
To overcome this imbalance, the Commission has adopted criteria rarely applied before. It has accorded primacy to hardships faced by the people in the Jammu border area due to treacherous terrain, remoteness, and shelling from Pakistan.
After1981 census, a delimitation commission was set up in J&K under the chairmanship of Justice J N Wazir. The Commission gave its final order in 1992, delimiting the total number of constituencies to 87 by increasing 11 seats. In 1995, the report was implemented and five seats were increased in Jammu, four to Kashmir, and two to Ladakh. Nearly all SCs in Jammu and Kashmir are non-Muslims.
There are 15 Muslim majority seats in Jammu and their boundaries have been redrawn in a manner that they cease to be Muslim majority constituencies. It will reduce the representation of Muslims from Jammu in the assembly from districts like Doda, Kishtwar, Rajouri, Poonch, and parts of Banihal and Reasi.
Delimitation has been undertaken in Jammu and Kashmir when it doesn’t have an assembly to represent the people and the five associate members of the Commission do not have any voting rights.
Kashmir has a larger population than Jammu. But a large chunk of the area in Jammu falls in Muslim majority Pir Panjal and Chenab valley hill districts. In Jammu province, 15 of these constituencies are Muslim. Although Jammu province has a 62.5 percent Hindu population, they are concentrated around the Jammu-Samba-Kathua belt and parts of the Udhampur district.
With the new amendment, the BJP will be able to nominate its three members. Since LG is the Centre’s man, BJP will get three members without even a vote. Plus the reservation and redrawing of assemblies have been made in such a way that BJP could win a majority.
As one analyst pointed out, Muslims despite being majority have been reduced to political minority in the assembly. Likewise, minorities in J&K will become the political majority in the assembly.