Jammu: Chairperson, Delimitation Commission, Justice (retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai on Friday sought to allay apprehensions about the functioning of the Commission saying that the entire exercise would be “transparent by the letter of law and nobody should have any fears.”
She was responding to media queries at the press conference organised here as the 3-member Commission wound up its four-day maiden visit to J&K today. The media persons from Srinagar participated in the interaction virtually.
Justice Desai was accompanied by the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sushil Chandra and State Election Commissioner K K Sharma.
With regard to demands for de-freezing one-third seats reserved for PaK, the Commission made it absolutely clear that the issue was not under its purview.
In response to a question about concerns aired by the political parties in Kashmir casting aspersions on the functioning of the Delimitation Commission and accusing it of working at the behest of some political leader and functioning in a partisan manner, Justice Desai came out with a precise reply: “I can only assure you on behalf of myself and my colleagues here that the exercise is going to be transparent by the letter of law and I don’t think anybody should have any fears. We’re very confident that we’ll finish this exercise as per the letter of law and in the most transparent manner. Otherwise we would not be coming and spending three to four days here and talking to so many people here.”
The CEC, responding to a similar question about the opinions linking the delimitation exercise to the political initiative of the Prime Minister, said, “Let me assure you, it is absolutely as per the constitutional mandate. The entire exercise is absolutely as per the Act. It’s because of the Covid pandemic that we could not come early to J&K. We did have a meeting with the associate members. We’ve collected all the data required under the Act. As the chairperson has also reiterated that it is and will be a transparent exercise as mandated by the Act. That’s why we came here to meet all the stakeholders. We have a task cut out by the constitution and we’re working strictly accordingly, that can I assure.”
With regard to de-freezing one-third seats reserved for Pakistan administered Kashmir refugees, CEC Sushil Chandra clarified, “We’re working under the Delimitation Commission Act. Even earlier I clarified that as per Section 44 of the Jammu and Kashmir (Reorganisation) Act, 2019, it is very clear that 24 seats in the Legislative Assembly of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir shall remain vacant and shall not be taken into account for reckoning the total numbers of seats in the J&K assembly and the said area and the seats shall be excluded in delimiting the territorial constituencies as provided under part-V of this Act. So this issue remains out of the purview of the Delimitation Commission. Our exercise will remain restricted to the 90 seats.”
On the Peoples Democratic Party’s decision to stay away from this entire exercise, Desai said, “We can interact with only those who want to participate in the delimitation process. To those who don’t want to participate, what we can say. We wish they all come. That is only thing I have to say.”
Interjecting at this point of time, the CEC responded to the second part of the query with regard to the support of all other political parties to the Commission and thus availing an opportunity to air their grievances as well.
“. . . the political parties which participated and came to us to meet, we welcome them. We have come with an open mind. We’ve come to listen to the concerns of each and every one. So we welcome all the persons who have come with their representations and views. This is a historic exercise. We expected everyone should come and give suggestions,” the CEC said.
In a related query pertaining to PDP president’s charges dubbing Delimitation exercise as a “pre-planned move”, the CEC said, “If something was decided earlier then the Commission would not have come. Nothing has been pre-planned. These apprehensions in the mind of any person, if at all, should go away.
Will the Jammu people, who nurse a grouse against the previous Delimitation Commission exercise which they presumed to be “Kashmir centric” in terms of seats, finally get justice? The CEC, answering to this poser, said, “For us, Jammu and Kashmir is one UT and as I’ve already told you that the delimitation will be done on the basis of Census 2011 but also considering the various features like geographical compactness, public convenience, accessibility, the communication facilities and the topography of various areas. All these issues will be considered by the Commission. As Commission, we see it as one UT, we don’t bifurcate it to as to say how many seats will go to Kashmir and how many will go to Jammu. All such things are done in a transparent manner following the laid down criterion.”
Why the Commission could not wait for yet another year to base its entire exercise, which involved increase in seats, on census 2021, responding to this query the CEC maintained that the last delimitation of J&K in 1995 was based on the Census 1981 while 2001 was the basis of delimitation in rest of the country.
“Previous delimitation in J&K was based on the census which was conducted 41 years ago. So when this Delimitation Commission was constituted in 2020, the last census available for us was the 2011 census. So as per this Act the latest Census available should be taken into account and that’s the mandate of Delimitation Commission,” he elucidated.
The CEC said that the Commission would try its level best to complete its task by its deadline i.e., March.
With regard to charges of “fudged census”, he said that anybody having such complaints should go to the Registrar General of India.
Earlier Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra, while briefing the media about the process of delimitation, stated, “The delimitation is a complex exercise but an electoral democracy must perform periodically to fulfill the requirement of territorial (electoral) representation and our constitution envisages that. Jammu and Kashmir has a long history of delimitation.”
He said that in 1951, the then State was having hundred seats as delimited by the Delimitation Committee, 25 of these seats were for PaK. “However the first full-fledged Delimitation Commission was formed in 1981 which could submit its recommendations after 14 years in 1995 and it was based on the 1981 census. Thereafter (no census had taken place.) No delimitation had taken place. In 2020, this Delimitation Commission was constituted to carry out this exercise on the basis of census 2011 as per Section 62 of the Jammu and Kashmir Act, 2019 that is the last available census with the mandate to add seven more seats in the UT and the SC seats were also to be provided.”
“The Delimitation Act 2002 provides the manner of this process. The Supreme Court in its judgement held that the delimitation is not a mere mathematical exercise. We cannot do just the table talk. It must reflect the political aspirations of the society bound by geography and different topography,” he added
He informed that the Section 16(1) of Jammu & Kashmir Act, 2019 also specifies the number of seats to be reserved for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in the Legislative Assembly having regard to the relevant provisions of the Constitution. “This is the first time that under this Act that the seats will have to be provided to the Scheduled Tribes also. In determining these matters, the Commission shall have regard to the following provisions namely, all the constituencies shall be the single member constituencies. All constituencies shall, as far as practical, be (practicability) geographically compact areas. And in delimiting them, the regard shall have to be made to the physical features existing in the administrative units, facilities of communication and convenience to the public, meaning thereby, the delimitation will have to be done on the (basis of) census 2011 and having regard to the census the four factors will also have to be considered which I have mentioned just now,” CEC said.
He stated while the current Commission was constituted on March 6, 2020, the third member i.e. S K Sharma, the State Election Commissioner could join only in December, 2020. And also Covid situation delayed some work of the Commission. During this period, however, the Commission started data collection and map collection related to districts, tehsils, Patwar Halqas. The Chief Electoral Officer of Jammu and Kashmir provided all the details of census 2011, which has also been collected from the Registrar General of India.
“The Commission also invited the Associate members because this Commission, besides our Chairperson and two members, also has five Associate members. The Commission also invited the Associate members for the meeting which was participated by two members only. Meanwhile a series of interactions happened with the Deputy Commissioners, DEOs for collection of inputs, concerning data, map and specific concerns related to the delimitation. The Commission had two virtual meetings with all the DEOs and the Deputy Commissioners of the Jammu and Kashmir regarding the concerns and the data verification.
“After going through the date and inputs provided by the DEOs, DCs some important issues related to the existing administrative matters have been noticed. During this visit, the Commission has been provided more feedback,” he said.
Some of the interesting facts he enlisted were that in 1995 there were 12 districts which have gone up to 20 now. That time when the last delimitation was done, there were only 12 districts which have gone up to 20 now and the number of tehsils has gone up from 58 to 270. In 12 districts, the constituency boundaries are extended beyond the district limits.
“88 tehsils are distributed in more than one Assembly Constituency. So there is overlapping of districts as well as tehsils in the constituencies. Even some patwari circles are distributed in more than one Assembly Constituency. Even one revenue village has been divided into more than one Assembly Constituencies. All such facts indicate that the public face inconvenience on ground due to such anomalies. Thereafter the Commission was asked to visit Jammu and Kashmir for first-hand ascertaining a precision of data and the concerns of all the stakeholders,” the CEC said.