Population is only one criteria, among many, for delimitation

By Sant Kumar Sharma

Population is not the only criteria but one of several criterias for delimitation as mentioned in Section 60 of J&K Reorganization Act of August 2019. This is something being said based on apprehensions that if this is taken as the only criteria, a fresh delimitation will not be able to give due representation to far-off areas, both in Jammu and the Kashmir regions.
That seems like jumping the gun because, besides population, there are other criteria for carving out assembly and Lok Sabha segments in J&K. Earlier, a very peculiar situation prevailed as apparently, assembly segments were governed by Representation of People’s Act, 1957. The Lok Sabha segments were governed by the RPA, 1951.
We discuss hereunder some of these criteria.
1. Geographical Compactness: Jammu region is much less compact than Kashmir region.
2. Nature of terrain: The terrain of areas in Doda, Kishtwar, Udhampur, Reasi, Kishtwar, Ramban, Kathua, Rajouri and Poonch. Even some parts of Samba district is difficult, as compared to most areas in Kashmir region.
3. Facilities of Communication: The surface transport infrastructure in Jammu region is at much lower level as compared to Kashmir region. Hence, it is more difficult for a MLA of these areas in the areas to visit his people or for the people (his voters) to visit him. Surely, more MLAs are needed.
Some basic facts need to be kept in mind while discussing delimitation de novo that the three-member Delimitation Commission has been entrusted with. First and foremost is Jammu region is 26,293 sq. km but in kashmir region, the total area is 15,948 sq.km.
One point becomes clear here that the Jammu region is over 10,000 square kilometres bigger than the Kashmir region.
We can now discuss means of communication, another criteria for delimitation, which is road network. Now, the total road network in Jammu region is estimated to be 10,469 km but road network in Kashmir region is 13,367 km.
That means the Jammu region has far lesser roads than Kashmir. Despite it being larger in area by 10,000 sq km, it has about 3,000 km lesser roads.
By comparison of the two data sets, we can find out the total road length per square kilometres for Jammu and Kashmir regions. For Kashmir region, this figure can be found out by dividing the total area with total road length. That will mean 15,948/13,367=1.19
For Jammu region, this road length per square km can be found out by dividing total area with total road length again. That means 26,293/10,469= 2.51.
This means that in the Kashmir region, there is 01 km of road in a square kilometre of area. On the other hand, there is 01 km of road in 2.51 square kilometre of area in Jammu region.
The comparative figures of 1.19 for Kashmir and 2.51 for Jammu show clearly that travelling in the Jammu region is far difficult as compared to the Kashmir valley. This means the means of communication are far more developed in Kashmir as compared to Jammu region.
On the other hand, total area of plains in Jammu region is 4,293 sq. km and in Kashmir region, it stands at 7,526 sq. km. Hilly area in Jammu region is 17,992 sq.km but in Kashmir region it is 4,948 sq.km. Then there are vast forest areas in the two regions.
Given all this, it is likely that in urbanised areas, the segments will be larger in terms of voters etc. In difficult areas, the segments may be smaller after the fresh delimitation.
In Srinagar district, the largest assembly constituency is that of Batmalloo with over 1,20,000 voters (in 2014) and the smallest is Khanyar having only 51,000 (in 2014) voters. After fresh delimitation, the wide gulf between the number of voters in the two segments is likely to vanish. They will become more homogeneous in terms of voter distribution.
Within Kashmir region, how does one make sense of Khanyar segment in highly urbanised Srinagar city of only 51,000 voters when the far-off Kupwara and Lolab both have over 1,00,000 voters? Obviously, there is uneven voter distribution and that needs to change.
In Jammu district, within Jammu city, Gandhi Nagar segment, Jammu West and Jammu East had 1,68,000 voters, 1,45,000 voters and only 53,000 voters respectively during 2015 assembly elections. In a fresh delimitation, more homogeneous segments (in terms of voter distribution) are likely to emerge.
How do you reconcile with Jammu East segment having only 53,000 voters when constituencies of Bhaderwah and Doda have over 1,00,000 voters? Or those in far-flung areas of Rajouri and Poonch also have over 1,00,000 voters.
Over a period of time, since the last delimitation of 1995-96, anomalous situations have developed all over Jammu and Kashmir. In a fresh delimitation, these seemingly anomalous situations will have to be corrected.
It is safe to assume that many of the present assembly segments will disappear and new segments emerge in delimitation de novo.
(These are estimated figures collated from various official sources. Minor variations in figures is likely.)