Delimitation Exercise: NC Files Objection Against Panel Proposals

New Delhi- Contending that the Reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir Act is "Constitutionally suspect", the National Conference (NC) on Monday questioned the recommendations of the Delimitation Commission especially its rationale behind increasing six seats in the Jammu division as against one in the Kashmir region and claimed that they are in violation of laid down norms.

In its 14-page reply to the Commission, the NC maintained that there were question marks over the Constitutional propriety of the panel especially when the party along with several others had approached the Supreme Court challenging the Centre's August 5, 2019 action of revoking the special status and bifurcating the erstwhile state in two Union territories - Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.

The three NC Lok Sabha members - Farooq Abdullah, Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi and Akbar Lone - had participated in the second meeting of the Delimitation Commission, headed by Justice (retd) Ranjana Desai, held in December last year.

Masoodi handed over the party's reply at the Commission's secretariat located in a hotel on Monday. The party said the formation of the Commission is linked to the Reorganisation Act of Jammu and Kashmir 2019 which was under judicial scrutiny and the Supreme Court is yet to deliver its order.

The panel's recommendations are borne out of an Act that is a "Constitutionally suspect" law. In legal parlance, if any Act is under judicial custody and the apex court is seized of the matter, it can be termed as a Constitutionally suspect law.

The party said the principle of Constitution propriety demands that such a law should not be implemented and all the limbs of the state and their institutions should, out of deference to the top constitutional court, desist from implementing such law till its constitutionality is determined.

The party also accused the Delimitation Commission of "departing from its laid down norms and practices".

The party said the population criteria, which is being followed across the country, has "taken a back seat" while finalising the share of seats in Jammu and Kashmir.

Citing Article 81 of the Constitution which states "each State shall be divided into territorial constituencies in such manner that the ratio between the population of each constituency and the number of seats allotted to it is, so far as practicable, the same throughout the State...", the National Conference said even this basic principle stands violated by the Delimitation Commission.

The party pointed out that as per the census of 2011, the average population criteria was placed at 1.36 lakh but the reorganisation and distribution of seats presents a different picture altogether.

Seven seats in the Jammu region which included newly carved out Paddar, Mata Vaishodevi and Bani have less than one lakh population as against three in Kashmir that include a newly carved out Kunzer assembly seat.

The Delimitation Commission, after receiving representations from Associate members, had handed over a draft report in which an overhaul of assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir had been proposed.

The voluminous report has proposed redrawing of Anantnag Parliamentary seats by including Rajouri and Poonch from Jammu region with it besides carrying out massive changes in Kashmir division, they said.

Many of the assembly seats in erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state vanished including Habba Kadal, a seat which was seen as a traditional bastion of migrant Kashmiri pandits.

Barring Khanyar, Sonwar and Hazratbal assembly seats of Srinagar district, all other seats have been redrawn and merged with new assembly seats being carved out like Channapora and Srinagar South, the officials said.

Besides Justice (retd) Desai, Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and state election commission K K Sharma are the members of the Commission that was set up on March 6, 2020 and was granted an extension of a year on March 6, 2021. The term is coming to an end next month in case the government does not give it another extension.

The NC had vociferously opposed the draft proposals which will increase the number of Assembly seats in the Jammu division from 37 to 43 and in Kashmir from 46 to 47.

The National Conference also challenged the contention of the Commission that the seats had to be extended in Jammu region because of difficult terrains and geographically remote areas and highlighted that several areas in Kashmir remain cut-off for months and are equally arduous when it comes to the remoteness of an area.

These included Anantnag, Kupwara, Baramulla, Kulgam and Uri in the Kashmir division.

The Kashmir division currently has 46 seats and Jammu 37 seats. The population of the Jammu region is 53.72 lakh while it was 68.83 lakh for the Kashmir division, according to the census of 2011.

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