SC asks Centre, election panel to reply on plea challenging J&K delimitation commission

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The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Centre and the Election Commission of India to reply to a plea challenging the Delimitation Commission formed to redraw boundaries of Jammu and Kashmir Assembly constituencies, Bar and Bench reported.

A petition filed in March by two Kashmiris, Haji Abdul Gani Khan and Mohammad Ayub Mattoo, has argued that the formation of the Delimitation Commission is unconstitutional and has been done without the necessary power, jurisdiction and authority.

The Union government started the delimitation process – or redrawing boundaries – of Assembly constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir on February 17, 2020. On May 5, the number of Assembly seats was increased from 83 to 90 in the final delimitation order. Of the seven new seats, one was given to Kashmir, taking its total to 46 and six were given to Jammu which now has 43 seats.

The petition filed by Khan and Mattoo contends that according to a letter issued by the Delimitation Commission in July 2004, the number of existing Assembly seats of all states and Union Territories would not be changed till the first Census is done after 2026.

On Friday, a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh asked the petitioners why did not they challenge the Delimitation Commission in 2020 itself, PTI reported.

The petition also challenged Section 63 of the Jammu and Kashmir Re-organisation Act, 2019, which pertains to the reorganisation of the existing state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The bench said it will not examine this particular contention made in the petition, which challenges the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution.

“Are you challenging [the removal of] Article 370?” Justice Kaul asked, reported Bar and Bench. “What are you challenging? I do not want to get into the merits and demerits of sub-judice matters.”

On August 5, 2019, the Centre abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The challenge to Article 370 is pending before the Supreme Court.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, defended the delimitation exercise.

“There are two types of delimitation,” he told the court. “One is geographical which is conducted by the Delimitation Commission. The second concept which is by Election Commission is for reservation of seats.”

Mehta urged the court to not issue a formal notice in the case.

The bench then directed the Centre and the Election Commission of India to file an affidavit within six weeks.

The case is scheduled for hearing on August 30.

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