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The vacant seats

By Luv Puri

Jammu Oct. 23. As political parties make efforts for government formation in Jammu and Kashmir, not many know that 24 Assembly seats lie vacant for several decades. The seats have been vacant since the first general elections in the State in 1957.

The first Assembly known as Praja Sabha was formed under the monarchy in October 1934. The sabha consisted of 75 members, out of which 33 were elected by different communities on a franchise that did not cover more than three per cent of population. The rest were nominated. But with the State undergoing democratic transition, at the time of drafting of the State Constitution, 100 seats were earmarked for direct elections from territorial constituencies. Of these, 25 seats were reserved for the areas of the former Jammu and Kashmir State that later came under Pakistani occupation.

Under Section 4 of the J&K Constitution, the State comprises territories which on August 15, 1947 were under the sovereignty of the State ruler. The Assembly segments include Gilgat, Hunza, Nagar, Yasin, Ponial, Chitral and Skardu in the former frontier districts of the State. Similar parts in the former Jammu province are Mirpur, Kotli, Muzzaffarabad, Bhimber, Bagh and Sadhunti. Some other seats are vacant in the former Kashmir province. Initially, 25 seats were kept for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) areas but after the 12th amendment of the J&K Constitution, the figure came down to 24.

In 1975, the number of Assembly seats increased from 75 to 76. In the delimitation process of 1988, the number of seats was increased to 87 which is the present number. The strength of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly is 111 but the Article 47 states that "Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 47, until the areas occupied by Pakistan ceases to be so occupied and the people residing in that areas elect their representatives, 24 seats in the Assembly shall remain vacant and shall not be taken into account for reckoning the total membership of the Assembly. Besides, the areas shall be excluded in delimiting the territorial constituencies under Section 47." Under the Congress regime in 1994, Parliament unanimously pledged to get back those areas from the illegal occupation of Pakistan.

On the other hand, the former Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, has been forthright for his views. He has talked of conversion of Line of Control as the international border and has said, "This is the reality which the two nations have to accept one day". A number of refugees from PoK living here have demanded that they be given the right to choose the candidates for the vacant seats.

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