Almost two weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s historic meet with leaders from Jammu and Kashmir, a Delimitation Commission led by Justice (Retd) Ranjana Prakash Desai arrived in Srinagar today on a four-day visit. The commission has been tasked with meeting political leaders and civil society groups, among others, to gather first-hand inputs to carve out new constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir. The three-member commission comprises Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and Deputy Election Commissioner Chandra Bhushan.
During the June 24 meeting with 14 J&K leaders, PM Modi had said the delimitation exercise has to happen quickly so that polls can be held as early as possible. The delimitation, therefore, has attained an urgency amid indications that the Centre is keen to hold early assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
The delimitation exercise is key to holding polls in the Union Territory, which will be the first assembly elections since the abrogation of Article 370 and the formation of two UTs – J&K and Ladakh. Once the delimitation exercise is completed, the number of assembly seats in Jammu and Kashmir is expected to go up from 83 to 90. Twenty-four seats of the assembly continue to remain vacant as they fall under Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Once the commission submits its report and the same is approved, it will pave the way for holding polls in the Union Territory.
The commission has said that it will hold a separate meeting with each political party. While Congress, BJP and the National Conference (NC) have agreed to meet the commission, Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP has opted out. It said that the body lacks “constitutional and legal mandate” and is part of the overall process of political disempowerment of people of Jammu and Kashmir. The National Conference (NC) has said that it will send a five-member delegation to meet the Delimitation Commission.
The Delimitation Commission had said that it will not only interact with political parties but also with public representatives, UT’s administration officials including district election officers/deputy commissioners of 20 districts to gather information concerning the delimitation process as mandated under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019.
The Commission was formed in March last year and its term was extended by a year in March this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The central government had passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill on 5 August 2019 which revoked Article 370 and stripped Jammu and Kashmir off its statehood.