Delimitation III: The Area Angle

In the second part of this series, it was shown that there is no evidence of any anomaly in the number of assembly constituencies between the Jammu Province and the Kashmir Province. On the basis of population, Jammu with population share of 42.68 per cent, had 37 out of 87 seats, a share of 42.52 per cent of representation in the legislative assembly.

However, the case of discrimination and a demand for a greater representation for Jammu made by Jammu-centric political parties is based on the ground that it has a bigger area than Kashmir. Also, it has been argued that the number of people per constituency in Jammu is higher than in Kashmir. This is seen as going against the “one person, one vote” objective. Before we examine these in terms of the rationale, the past practice and precedent, and its implications, a quick factual recap.

For administrative, demographic and suffrage purpose, the area of the pre UT J&K was 1,01,387 sq kms ( out of the total area of  22,236 sq. kms, 1,20,849 sq kms is under the control of Pakistan and China). Of this the largest part of the State was Ladakh with an area of about 59,000 sq. km. The second largest being the Jammu Province with 27,000 sq. km.  The Kashmir province, with 16,000 sq kms is the smallest.

First, using area as a criteria violates the basic concept of representation since MLAs represent people even as they are from a particular place. It is common sense that the legislative assembly is a house of representatives of the people who live in different part of the state and not land per se. The basic idea of delimitation is to ensure equal “representation of people”.

Second, by way of precedents, area as a basis of delimitation flies in the face of all established national and international practices. All over the country, indeed, the world over delimitation or a reapportionment of the seats in the legislatures is only based on the population census.

Technically speaking, area is a cartographic consideration but not the criteria for allocation and apportionment of people’s representatives. This can be even inferred from the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019 as we argue below.

But more than these matters of principle and policy, it is worthwhile to look at the implication of using area as a criteria on the existing and future representative structure in J&K. Let us take the extreme case of area as the sole criteria. How would the constituencies have been distributed across the three provinces? The number of constituencies in Kashmir province would reduce from 46 to 14! The number for Jammu Province would have declined from 37 to 22 seats, while Ladakh would have had 51 instead of 4 seats.

How will area as a criterion play out in the current situation? As a Union Territory, the area of J&K has now shrunk to 42,241 sq kilometres. Of this, 62 per cent is Jammu province and 38 per cent is Kashmir province. Out of the 90 seats now allocated to the legislative assembly, if area is the sole criteria, then 56 seats will go to Jammu and 34 seat will go to Kashmir Province. So be it! But, it will not end there.

It is instructive to go further down this “area-based-allocation” line of reasoning. If the area criteria is applied to the whole of the UT, then it has to be applied to the regions within Jammu Province also. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

The geography of Jammu, unlike that of Kashmir which is one large valley, is a mix of the Ravi-Tawi Kandi plains, Sivalik and Pir-Panchal mountains, and the Chenab valley. These distinctive terrains of topography, also overlap with the religious, ethnic and linguistic affiliations of their inhabitants.

Using area as a criteria for apportioning seats, 56 seats within Jammu Province will result in the existing 21 out of 37 seats for Jammu plains being reduced to 18 out of 56. Chenab, which had 9 assembly segments out of 37, will now get 29 out of 56 while Pir Panchal will gain 2 seats.

What this means in terms of “equalisation of votes across constituencies” – the “one person, one vote” objective — need not be even calculated! The cure turns out to be worse than the disease that this area based criteria seeks to address. It is akin to risking malignancy while curing a common cold.

Finally, if area is used as a criteria, the implication on the single most important and cardinal non-negotiable principle of “one man one vote”. Here, look at how this principle gets mauled if area criteria is used.

In the last assembly elections, an average of about 1,45,000 people would elect their representative from Jammu plains and a lower number of 1,02,000 people from Chenab would elect their representative. Now, only 32,000 people will elect their MLA in Chenab while in Jammu plains 1,85,000 people will get to choose one MLA! What this means is that the one person of Chenab is electorally equal to six people from the Jammu plains!

Equally populous constituencies are important for voters to have an equally weighted voice in the election of representatives. In this case, for example, a representative is elected from a constituency in Jammu Plains will have four times as many voters as the elected representative of the people of Chenab!  Jammu voters will have one sixth the influence than his Chenab counterpart. Not even 1 per cent of this anomaly has existed in J&K so far!

Much has been made about the fact that Jammu constituencies have a higher average of people whereas Kashmir has less. Even though the difference is not only marginal, it is well within the stipulated global tolerance levels.  In any case, even if the voter per constituency is higher in Jammu than in Kashmir, is this situation unique to Jammu Province?  Let us do an inter-state comparison.

Jodhpur, which is the largest administrative division by area in Rajasthan accounting for 34 per cent of the state area, it has only 16 per cent share in the legislative assembly; 32 MLAs out of 200.

Another example is Kutch in Gujarat. It accounts for 21 per cent of the total area of state, but has just 3 per cent representation in the Gujarat Assembly. On the other hand, Central Gujarat which accounts for 17 per cent of the area of the state has 31 per cent share in MLAs.

Compared to the distribution of seats across all states in India – we have given just two examples – Jammu having 26 per cent of J&K’s area had 42.5 per cent of the seats in the legislative assembly of the state. And that is presented as discrimination!

Nationally too, on the basis of the projections made by the Technical Group on Population, the Gangetic MP, what will represent close to 3 million people even as other MPs represent 2.3 million people. In puritan terms of ‘one person, one vote’, this presents a dichotomy far more serious than the situation in J&K.

As such, the criteria that will be adopted by the delimitation commission for J&K will have repercussions all over the country.

Be that as it may, the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019 has literally laid down the Terms of Reference of the delimitation commission. Section 62, Clause 1, sub clause (b) of the Act stipulates that “for the purpose of delimitation of Assembly and Parliamentary Constituencies” the “census held in the year 2011” will be used.

Indeed, Section 14, clause 7 of the Act explicitly stipulates in the case of number of seats to be reserved for the SC and ST that it  shall bear, ”the same proportion to the total number of seats in the Assembly as the population of the SC and ST in J&K.

Section 60, clause 2, sub-clause (b) of the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019 suggests that  “all constituencies shall, as far as practicable, be geographically compact areas, and in delimiting them, regard shall be had to physical features, boundaries of administrative units, facilities of communication and conveniences to the public”. The word area is not mentioned.

Following this framework, the delimitation commission will do well to deliberate seriously the geography of these regions, like common physical features of mountains and rivers. This in addition to their common ethnicity, religion, and language. For it is this that makes people living in these three areas within Jammu Province, what in delimitation parlance is known as “communities of interest”.

In the concluding part of this series next week, a proposed methodology for doing so will be suggested.

(To be concluded next week.)