Redrawing J&K’s Political Map: Panel Begins Two-Day Public Interaction

Srinagar- The Jammu & Kashmir Delimitation Commission which had earlier tweaked its schedule to hold public sittings in J&K, arrived in Jammu on a two day visit on Monday to hear suggestions and objections from the local populace on its draft proposal which has redrawn assembly constituencies in the erstwhile state.

Pertinently, in its first sitting in J&K, the commission heard people from all districts of Jammu region on Monday at the Convention Centre, Jammu, while a similar public sitting for Kashmir region will be held at SKICC in Srinagar on April 5, 2022.

The commission began meetings at the Convention Centre here with members of the public, civil society and political parties from all districts of the Jammu region.

It has met 20 such delegations and members of the public from Ramban, Rajouri, Poonch, Kishtwar, Kathua and Doda districts and heard them and received their representations, the officials said.

The members of the public and elected representatives raised various demands in terms of carving out new segments of assemblies and also raised objections about the draft in which various areas have been merged with other areas of assembly and parliamentary constituencies.

The people from Kathua, Udhampur, Doda, Ramban, Kishtwar, Rajouri and Poonch districts participated in the public sittings from 10.00 am while the people from Reasi, Samba and Jammu participated in the second half-sittings at the Convention Centre from 2.00 pm, they said.

As per sources privy to the matter, the commission has already talked to the people from these districts and has noted their suggestions and objections for further developments.

Subsequently, as per sources, after wrapping up their public program in Jammu, the Commission is expected to leave for Srinagar. On April 5, as per the commission’s notification, the people from Srinagar, Budgam, Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian will be part of the public sitting at SKICC from 10.00 am to 12.00 noon to share their objections or suggestions on the draft proposal.

Similarly, as per the notification, the people from Ganderbal, Bandipora, Kupwara and Baramulla will participate in the public sitting from 12.30 pm to 2.30 pm on the same day at SKICC in Srinagar.

Notably, the Commission had earlier issued an order and notification on March 14, “inviting suggestions and objections to its draft proposals on the delimitation of assembly and parliamentary constituencies of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir by March 21, 2022.”

As per the commission, it had received 409 suggestions and objections on the stipulated date on the draft proposal of the delimitation exercise that was carried throughout J&K.

As per data available with Kashmir Observer, the J&K Delimitation Commission has received 18 general suggestions, 3 Parliamentary Suggestion & Objections, 45 suggestions and objections from Kupwara district, 6 from Bandipora, 8 from doda including suggestions and objections from former CM Ghulam Nabi Azad, 62 from Jammu including former Dy CM Tara Chand and Davinder Rana’s suggestions and Objections, 6 from Kishtwar, 14 from Rajouri, 2 from Reasi, 22 from Udhampur and 19 from Samba.

The data has further noted that 43 petitioners have submitted their suggestions and objections from district Anantnag, 10 from Budgam, 5 from Ganderbal, 15 from Kathua, 1 from Poonch, 21 from Ramban, 12 from Srinagar, 20 from Kulgam and 26 from Baramulla.
Besides these suggestions, the commission has already received suggestions and Objections from its five associate members on March 4, 2022. Earlier, they had submitted their objections to the Commission’s initial draft on December 31, 2021 and then again to the commission’s revised draft on February 14, 2022.
Besides these proposals, the suggestions and objections submitted by the five associate members: three National Conference Lok Sabha members (Farooq Abdullah, Hasnain Masoodi and Mohammad Akbar Lone), BJP MP Jugal Kishore and Union Minister Jitendra Singh were also put in public domain.
As per officials, the security arrangement in and around the Srinagar avenue of the public sitting has been fortified to maintain law and order and to wrap up things peacefully.

“All the necessary security arrangements are in place to maintain peace in Srinagar. Speculation should be avoided. Security forces have taken all the necessary steps to avoid any attempt to disrupt peace in wake of the commission's stay in Srinagar. No one has to worry about it.” A police official told Kashmir Observer.

It is pertinent to mention here that the J&K Delimitation Commission is headed by former Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai, it has Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and the state election commissioner of Jammu and Kashmir as its ex-officio members. It was set up on March 6, 2020, with a one year term, however, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, its term was extended on March 6, 2021, by one year. The Commission on February 22 was granted a two-month extension upto May 6 to complete its work.

If the Delimitation Commission’s proposal is cleared, the total number of poll constituencies will raise from 83 to 90, with 43 in the Jammu region and 47 in Kashmir, 24 seats will be kept aside for Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. In the current state House, Jammu has 37 members and Kashmir has 46.

Cong Stages Protest Against Commission

Jammu and Kashmir unit of Congress on Monday staged a protest against the delimitation commission here, urging the visiting team to provide sufficient time to the party so that it can highlight the irregularities in its draft report in a proper way.

The protest led by J&K Pradesh Congress Committee president G A Mir coincided with the start of the public sitting of the delimitation commission on its report which was made public last month after nearly a two-year-long exercise.

The commission headed by Justice (Retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai reached here on a three-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday. The delegation started interaction with delegations from across Jammu region on Monday morning and they are scheduled to visit Srinagar later in the day for a similar exercise on Tuesday.

Carrying placards and shouting slogans, the Congress activists led by Mir and other senior party leaders including former ministers and legislators assembled outside their party headquarters at Shaheedi Chowk in the heart of Jammu and staged a sit-in against the delimitation commission.

We are holding this peaceful protest against the delimitation commission over its draft report which is against settled norms, ground situations and containing large scale irregularities, Mir told reporters.

The Commission had invited claims and suggestions from all political parties, organizations and individuals from March 14-21 after putting draft report in public domain.

The Commission had received over 400 suggestions and objections which were in addition to those already received from five Associate Members including Union Minister Jitendra Singh and Jugal Kishore Sharma, both BJP MPs from Jammu division and Farooq Abdullah, Mohammad Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi, all three National Conference MPs from Kashmir.

We have submitted a detailed objections to the commission and want the commission to hear us for the benefit of the aggrieved population. We have not been given any time that shows they are on a picnic and fulfilling the formalities to put a public stamp on their report made at the behest of BJP, Mir said.

Suggesting the commission to extend their stay in Jammu and Kashmir by one more day to give sufficient time to all parties especially Congress to explain its objections before it, Mir claimed that the report had given tension to the public as it was prepared in violation of the set parameters and rules like population, terrain and means of communication.

After downgrading J&K to a union territory, the report has now completely bulldozed the local units...What are they going to understand in a short time and by clubbing delegations? People are angry and there is nobody to listen to them neither the commission nor the administration, he said.

Terming the report as highly objectionable , Mir said several constituencies have less than 50,000 voters while others more than 1.50 lakh. He said Congress was hoping for one more Lok Sabha seat for Jammu region but the commission's readjustment of Anantnag Lok Sabha seat and inclusion of Rajouri and Poonch districts in it is most unreasonable and against the public interests and convenience.

There are several irregularities and violations which need to be fully reviewed and reconsidered but the Commission is merely doing an eye wash to complete the formality, he said.

Congress Unleashing Propaganda: BJP

Expressing satisfaction over the functioning of Delimitation Commission, Jammu and Kashmir BJP president Ravinder Raina on Monday accused Congress of unleashing a "propaganda" against the independent body after losing credibility among the people.

Raina made the remarks shortly after meeting the members of the Delimitation Commission headed by Justice (Retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai at the convention centre here.

The delimitation commission assigned the task to redraw boundaries of assembly and parliament constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir started interaction with various delegations including political leaders and panchayati members from across Jammu region on its interim report which was made public last month.

Congress staged a protest here against the delimitation commission and later some of its leaders boycotted the meeting with the commission claiming that there was no mention of Congress as a party in the list of invitees and they were only invited in their individual capacity.

Talking to reporters after meeting the commission, Raina said Justice Desai led the commission with chief election commissioner Sushil Chandra and state election commissioner K K Sharma as its members have done a tremendous job and came out with its draft proposal after over two years of hard work.

"They are available to hear the grievances and are meeting various delegations including elected panchayat members, representatives of public and former legislators. People put forth their concerns and grievances and the commission heard them. We are hopeful that the commission will seriously look into the representations for redressal before preparing its final report, the BJP leader said.

Asked about Congress terming the exercise as an eyewash to put a stamp on the report allegedly made at the behest of BJP, Raina said the commission is an autonomous body and headed by former chief justice of Supreme Court.

Some political parties have lost their credibility in Jammu and Kashmir and are involved in such type of propaganda and Congress is one among them, he said.

The BJP leader said the commission is expected to submit its final report by its timeline of May 6 and we are hopeful that it will be followed by assembly elections which will take place within six to eight months as announced by the Prime Minister and Home minister.

Earlier, a three-member delegation of Congress -- chief spokesperson and former MLC Ravinder Sharma, former minister and general secretary Yogesh Sawhney and former MLA Ashok Dogra -- walked out of the venue and said we are boycotting the meeting with the delimitation commission as Congress as a party has not been invited.

The name of the Congress party is missing in the list of the invitees ... Congress honoured the invitation extended to them as the Pradesh Congress Committee has filed a detailed objection to the draft report, he said.

Sharma said the party, however, allowed individual leaders from different assembly segments or districts to meet the commission and point out glaring irregularities in the report as the party believes that the report required drastic review in the interest and convenience of the general public.

The Congress leader also questioned the meeting of the commission with over 300 delegations in a couple of hours and said it is injustice with the people.

We expect no justice from the commission but want to meet it and give positive suggestions about all parts of Jammu and Kashmir, he said.

Meanwhile, former minister and chairman National Panthers Party (NPP) Harsh Dev Singh also demanded that there are some discrepancies in the draft report which needs to be done away for the benefit of the public.

There are some anomalies with regard to redrawing of constituencies like Rajouri and Poonch districts were included in Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency and likewise there was change in some assembly seats and the people are not happy over it, he said.

Singh said the NPP delegation also raised the issue of reservation of constituencies and favoured rotational concept rather than reserving a constituency for years together. (with PTI inputs)

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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