The Election Commission of India today held a meeting to discuss the changed circumstances in Jammu and Kashmir, among other issues, and is now awaiting the Union Home Ministry's nod to conduct a delimitation exercise aimed at increasing the assembly seats in the region and redrawing their boundaries.
This was the first time the Election Commission met after the passage of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, which divided the state into two union territories of Jammu and Kashmr and Ladakh, in parliament last week. Sources said the Election Commission examined the changes brought about in the region, and drew upon past instances of how its predecessors had handled the creation of a new state.
Sources told NDTV that the assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir can be held only after the completion of the delimitation exercise, which will fix limits or boundaries for territorial constituencies. However, the process can start only after the Election Commission receives the Union Home Ministry's authorisation.
Significantly, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act mandates that the number of its assembly constituencies be increased from 83 to 90 through a delimitation exercise. The Union government is yet to notify a commission for the same.
Jammu and Kashmir will be the first region in the country to undergo delimitation based on the 2011 census. It will also be the first to see a hike in assembly constitutencies in the last 48 years. Although delimitation exercises were conducted across the country in 2002, only the boundaries of the constituencies were redrawn. There was no increase in the number of constituencies.
The reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir was accompanied by the scrapping of its special status, a move that drew widespread criticism from rights groups as well as opposition leaders. The central government imposed strict restrictions on the region and placed local opposition leaders -- including National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti -- under house arrest as a "precautionary measure" before pulling off the surprise move.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the objective of the twin decisions was to curb terrorist activities in the state and bring prosperity to its people. "The people of Jammu and Kashmir and those of Ladakh were being denied their rights. But a new era has now dawned on Jammu and Kashmir. Now every citizen in the country has equal rights and responsibilities," he said, terming the special status accorded to the region as a "curse".
The Election Commission was originally expected to hold assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir by the end of this year.