Borders of the Legislative Assembly constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir will be redrawn under a delimitation exercise. The exercise will begin once the Election Commission of India (EC) receives a formal approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
Reports suggest that the approval could come after October when the state of Jammu and Kashmir is formally bifurcated into two Union Territories -- J&K and Ladakh.
What is delimitation?
According to EC, delimitation is defined as “the act or process of fixing limits or boundaries of territorial constituencies in a country or a province having a legislative body.”
Basically, boundaries of either Assembly or Lok Sabha constituencies can be redrawn.
Who carries out the exercise?
Delimitation is undertaken by a highly powerful commission. They are formally known as Delimitation Commission or Boundary Commission.
These bodies are so powerful that its orders have the force of law and they cannot be challenged before any court.
Such commissions have been constituted at least four times in India -- in 1952 under the Delimitation Commission Act, 1952; in 1963 under Delimitation Commission Act, 1962; in 1973 under Delimitation Act, 1972 and last in 2002 under Delimitation Act, 2002.
The commissions’ orders are enforced as per the date specified by the President of India. Copies of these orders are laid before the Lok Sabha or the concerned Legislative Assembly. No modifications are permitted.
However, before an order is passed, the commission holds public sittings for consultation on the basis of the draft proposal.
The commission comprises a retired Supreme Court judge, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and election commissioners of the concerned state.
How is it done?
The key reasons for this exercise to be undertaken is either a bifurcation of a state, or providing of adequate Assembly or parliamentary seats depending on population growth. Population figures from the last available Census are used.
Process currently frozen
Delimitation did not happen between 1973 and 2002, and after 2002.
1973-2002 freeze: In 1976, the 42nd Constitutional Amendment was used to stop the process from being undertaken until at least 2001.
2002 onwards: In 2002, the 84th Constitutional Amendment was used to freeze the process till at least 2026. This means, delimitation of Lok Sabha seats cannot happen till 2026.
The reason given for such a freeze in 1976 was that the Centre had implemented family planning programmes in various parts of the country. This would have led to anomalies in the number of constituencies in different states as the exercise was being carried out on the basis of the population.
In 2002, the National Population Policy strategy was cited to extend the current freeze to 2026 as a motivational measure to enable the states to pursue the agenda for population stabilisation.
At the state level, Assembly elections held starting May 2008 have used the new boundaries laid down by the 2002 Delimitation Commission.
When is the next delimitation?
According to the 84th Amendment, delimitation cannot happen until the first Census after 2026 is not published. That means, the exercise will only take place once the 2031 census data is published.
Currently, the Lok Sabha has a maximum sanctioned strength of 552. However, its current strength is 545 members.
India’s demography would have significantly changed between the last delimitation exercise (2002) and the next expected exercise (after 2026).
Delimitation in J&K
Bifurcation of J&K into two UTs has led to redrawing of Assembly constituency boundaries. While, the UT of Ladakh will not have its own legislature, J&K will. This would be similar to Puducherry or Delhi.
Such delimitation was also necessitated in 2014 when Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were bifurcated.
As a result of this bifurcation, the maximum strength of the J&K Assembly will be 114, up from 107.
The commission in 2002 was empowered to tweak the boundaries and not increase or decrease the number of seats. The commission in 2002 did not cover J&K, which then enjoyed special status under Article 370. As a result, the last time constituencies in J&K were redrawn was in 1995, when the state was under President’s Rule.
The current effective strength of the state’s Legislative Assembly is 87, including four seats falling in the Ladakh region. As many as 24 Assembly seats continue to remain vacant as they fall under Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Of the 87 seats in the current setup, 46 fall in the Kashmir region where the ruling BJP has been traditionally weaker. The Jammu region, where the BJP has done well, has 36 seats.
The delimitation process in the state is now expected to begin after a formal nod from the MHA. This exercise will also reserve Assembly seats for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in accordance with the Constitution.