Supreme Court to examine J&K delimitation process

Updated on May 14, 2022 01:54 AM IST

A bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh admitted a writ petition by a J&K resident seeking a detailed hearing on the points of legality of the delimitation exercise conducted in terms of the notifications issued in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

On May 5, the three-member delimitation commission finalised the UT’s new electoral map, marking the first step for elections in the region since its special status was scrapped in August 2019 (PTI)
On May 5, the three-member delimitation commission finalised the UT’s new electoral map, marking the first step for elections in the region since its special status was scrapped in August 2019 (PTI)

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to examine the validity of the delimitation commission’s proposed move of redrawing poll constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir, and increasing the tally of assembly seats from 83 to 90, and sought responses from the Centre, the Jammu and Kashmir administration and the Election Commission of India.

A bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh admitted a writ petition by a J&K resident seeking a detailed hearing on the points of legality of the delimitation exercise conducted in terms of the notifications issued in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

“To examine the issue, it is necessary to have the stand of the respondents filed on affidavit,” said the bench giving six weeks to the Centre, the J&K administration and ECI to submit their written replies to the petition by Haji Abdul Gani Khan.

In its brief order, the court clarified that although Khan’s petition mentions abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, the petitioner wants a limited scrutiny of his averments pertaining to the validity of the delimitation exercise and the proposed recommendation of increasing the assembly seats. The challenge to Article 370’s abrogation is pending before a constitution bench in the top court.

“On our specific query, the learned counsel for the petitioner submits that he is not assailing abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of Constitution of India. Thus, the allegations in that behalf are irrelevant and to be ignored,” recorded the bench in the order, fixing August 30 as the next date of hearing.

On May 5, the three-member delimitation commission finalised the UT’s new electoral map, marking the first step for elections in the region since its special status was scrapped in August 2019. In its final order, the commission earmarked 43 seats to the Hindu-majority Jammu region and 47 to Muslim-majority Kashmir – making up a total of 90 seats for the Union territory’s assembly, up from the current strength of 83.

Out of the seven new seats added, six were allotted to Jammu and one to Kashmir. Earlier Jammu had 37 seats and Kashmir 46. This brings the Kashmir representation down to 52.2% from 55.4% of the total seats, and takes the Jammu representation up to 47.8% from 44.6%. The exercise was carried out on the basis of 2011 Census, which put the population of J&K at 12.5 million, with 56.2% in Kashmir and 43.8% in Jammu.

During the hearing on Friday, senior advocate Ravi Shankar Jandhyala, appearing for Khan, submitted that a constitutional provision required that the Centre and ECI await till 2026 to conduct any delimitation or re-adjustment of assembly seats in a state or UT. He pointed out that any delimitation on the basis of the 2011 population census is unconstitutional as no population census was carried out for J&K in that year. Under Article 170 (3), the senior counsel argued, a redrawing of constituency can be done only upon the completion of the census, which is now proposed to be conducted in 2026.

At this, the bench asked Jandhyala why the petitioner came to the court so late when the delimitation commission was constituted way back in 2020. The senior counsel responded that he is not disputing the constitution of the commission but is challenging the exercise undertaken by them.

Jandhyala replied that the delimitation commission was wound up in 2007 after which the Delimitation of Parliamentary and Assembly Constituencies Order was issued in 2008. “Since the delimitation has been completed and the delimitation commission has become inappropriate, they cannot carry out the exercise now,” he added.

On his part, solicitor general Tushar Mehta, representing the Union government, intervened to provide answers to the issues raised by Khan.

“As I have understood his prayer. It is two-fold. His first prayer is that the Election Commission can carry out delimitation but not the delimitation commission. Then, he says that the present census cannot be the census for the delimitation exercise. I want to clarify that there are two kinds of delimitation. One is geographical delimitation. And then another one is undertaken by the Election Commission for reservation of seats. I will show two provisions from the State Reorganisation Act,” argued the SG.

To this, the bench said that it is better for the Union government and other parties to bring their stand on record through counter affidavits in six weeks.

As the court was adjourning the matter to August 30, Jandhyala pointed out that delay in hearing the matter could complicate things since the delimitation draft would also be placed before the parliament.

The bench, however, did not entertain the argument. “So, what can we do? Can we stop a report from being tabled in parliament? Why did you sleep for so long to challenge the notification?”, it asked the lawyer.

The delimitation commission, which comprises former Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai, chief election commissioner Sushil Chandra and chief electoral officer of J&K KK Sharma, was set up in March 2020 with five parliamentarians from the UT as associate members.

J&K lost its special status and statehood on August 5, 2019, when the Centre moved to void Article 370 of the Constitution. At a landmark all-party meeting in June last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told leaders of political parties that statehood will be restored after fresh elections are held in the region, on the basis of the delimitation process.

But parties from the region, which remained bitterly opposed to the scrapping of its special status, want statehood to be restored before delimitation and elections – a demand rejected by the Centre.

The panel held deliberations with 242 delegations, received hundreds of representations and met approximately 1,600 stakeholders over a period of more than two years.

Assembly seats in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir were last redrawn in 1995, based on the 1981 Census.

Reacting to the petition, People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration spokesperson, Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, said that there are number of petitions pending for hearing in Supreme Court challenging Reorganization Act under which delimitation commission has been constituted. “So far there is no date fixed for their hearing.However this petition has been filed recently.Let’ s wait and see how the government responds,” he said.

Member parliament and senior NC leader, Hasnain Masoodi, said that only after reading the contents of petition and order he will be in a position to react on this.

“It will take a day or two to read the petition about the delimitation and the order issued by SC.”

PDP chief spokesman Suhail Bukhari said that after Article 370 was removed everything has been stolen from us. “Be it land, jobs and even our self esteem has been taken away. Let us see how government responds to notice of SC.”

Peoples Conference spokesman Adnan Ashraf said that it will be interesting to see what will be out come of this petition. “We also believe that constitution of delimitation process has been devoid of any principles or norm followed across the country. So we would just wait and watch it keenly to see how court proceeds in this.”

Get Latest India Newsalong with Latest Newsand Top Headlinesfrom India and around the world.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
My Offers
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Thursday, February 02, 2023
Start 15 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Register Free and get Exciting Deals