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The Issue of Delimitation of the Uttaranchal Assembly Seats:

WILL THE ELECTION COMMISSION GO BY THE RULEBOOK OR BY THE PUBLIC SENTIMENTS?

By Suresh Nautiyal

EVEN as discontentment over the government's apathy not to provide for apportionment of the assets between the new state of Uttaranchal and the parent state of Uttar Pradesh on the basis of geographical area ratio, as demanded by almost every Uttarakhand organisation, continues; the demand for delimitation of the assembly seats on the basis of geographical area ratio is fast gaining momentum in the hilly part of the state.

According to the Section 12(2) of the Uttar Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2000, number of seats in the Uttaranchal assembly has been fixed at 70 and under Section 22 of the said Act, the responsibility of delimitation of assembly constituencies has been rested with the Election Commission, but the EC, till date, has not taken any clear-cut position on the issue, perhaps fearing opposition to the proposed move from the local political organisations.

It has, however, maintained that the popular sentiments of the local people in this regard would be taken care of while taking a final decision on the issue. But, at the same time the EC has expressed its inability to go beyond the rulebook or the provisions of the Uttar Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2000, which has made provision for delimitation of the assembly seats on the basis of population ratio. In such a scenario, how the EC will perform this feat is to be seen in the times ahead.

During his visit to Dehradun in May, 2001, James Michael Lyngdoh, the then
Election Commissioner and now the Chief Election Commissioner of India, had promised that the delimitation in the state of Uttaranchal would be completed by the end of the year and executed on the basis of 1971 census.

Though Lyngdoh did not make any promise, he made it known that the diverse geographical conditions of the state would be taken into consideration while taking a final view on the matter of delimitation.

Similar views were expressed by the then CEC, Dr MS Gill, who was in Nainital during the same time. Dr Gill had made it clear that the sentiments of the people of the state would be taken care of while finalising the delimitation work and they would also be provided with the draft of the delimitation work before a final decision on the matter. Dr Gill had also promised that the draft of the delimitation work would be shown to the people first.

In fact, the regional organisations, the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal on top of  them, have been pitching for delimitation on the basis of geographical area ratio along with its demand for the apportionment of assets with the parent state on the same basis. The UKD's argument that more than half of the local population has migrated to the plains in search of their livelihood holds water. Therefore, according to the party, the population ratio basis must be adopted for either apportionment of the assets or for the delimitation of the assembly seats.

Even the BJP's local leadership is not averse to the idea that the delimitation should be on the geographical area ratio basis. According to Prakash Suman Dhyani, a local BJP leader, the same basis was adopted in Maharashtrra and J&K while delimiting the seats.

There are several strong points in favour of the popular demand that the basis of the delimitation need to be the geographical area ratio. Apart from the UKD's argument, the papers compiled by the former bureaucrat and chief of the Uttarakhand Vikas party, S S Pangti, are quite convincing. According to the papers, which have already been submitted with the EC, the density of population varies vastly within the state.

Average population (1991), per square km, in the districts of Uttarkashi, Chamoli, Pithoragarh, and Rudraprayag is only 30, 44, 53, and 80 respectively as against 125, 131, 132, 141, 155 of Pauri, Nainital, Tehri, Almora, and Champawat districts respectively. The density of population, per sq km, of the districts of Bageshwar, Dehradun, Udham Singh Nagar, and Hardwar is 212, 332, 460, 564 respectively.

Within the districts, the density of population also varies vastly. For example, in the district of Chamoli, it is only 5.8 in Joshimath and around 40 and in Deval and Dasoli blocks as against 159 and 127 of the blocks of Narayanbagar and Gairsain. Even in the district of Dehradun, density of population of Chakrata block is only 95 per sq km as against 229 and 310 of the blocks of Raipur and Doiwalla.

Pangti goes further by pointing out that the blocks on the Tibet border and the adjoining blocks are thinly populated. Density of population of all the five blocks on the border ie Mori, Bhatwari, Joshimath, Munsyari, Deval, and Purola is below 50. It is also to be noted that these blocks are spread in vast areas of high Himalaya where the terrain is very difficult and means of communication are virtually non-existent.

"Apart from this, these areas are very sensitive from security point of view. In many areas, one has to walk on foot for three to four days to reach the villages. Tribal population mainly inhabits these areas of high Himalaya and come in contact with the mainstream societies only during their winter migration to lower areas of the hills," says Pangti who incidentally comes from one of these areas.

According to him, enumeration of the population of higher hills during census operations is very difficult and census figures always show much smaller number of their population of the communities living there because the life of these people in the higher hills is on constant move.

"For example, during the Becket Settlement (1863-73), the population of the Bhotia tribe of Jauhar pargana and Darma was 13, 483, which increased to 14,125 by 1881. However, as per census of 1991, the population of all the tribes of Pithoragarh district s only 18,313," he argues.

Similarly, the Bhotia population of Joshimath sub-division was 6,383 in 1872 and 7,513 in 1881. This increased to 10,273 in 1991 only. Population density in the urban areas vary from 540 in Chamoli to more than 5000 in Hardwar and Udham Singh Nagar districts.

Several Uttarakhand leaders, including Kashi Singh Airy of the UKD and Pangti, therefore point out that the assembly constituencies be delimited keeping in view the geographical area factor. " There is no point in  delimiting assembly seats on the basis of population as just under 50 per cent of the Uttarakhand population comprises of only three districts of Hardwar, Dehradun, and Udham Singh Nagar," Airy emphasises.

The UKD leader, Airy, as well as Pangti assert that it would be highly unfair to allow these three districts to enjoy about 50 per cent seats in the assembly. "This would be gross injustice to the people living in the higher altitude areas," Pangti defends.

In view of the above, Hardwar is going to be pivotal because of its large population. Its caste pattern also varies from that of the hills. Because of the size of population of these three districts, the entire configuration of the earlier envisioned state of Uttarakhand does not seem to be translating into reality. Therefore, proportional representation based on population is not welcome in the state.

In a large country Like India the diverse cultures, religions, languages, tribal and ethnic differences, and racial variations, with historical, geographical, and political divergences make it a democracy functioning with all its complexities. If the democratic spirit were to be abandoned, true democracy and collective freedom with authentic federal features would be impossible. Uttarakhand people's demand is just an expression of its effort to be an integral part of the Indian polity with the manifestation of its identity and cultural dimensions, which again are
sub-divided into several mini-streams back in the hills.

In India, when linguistic states were demanded, there was no contra-national passion. On the other hand, it was a great nationalist who urged that linguistic states be formed. The US, the most powerful state in the world, despite considerable autonomy to its states, is proof that nationalism and devolution of power to states are not self-contradictory.

In view of this, if the assembly seats of Uttarakhand or the Uttaranchal state were delimited keeping in mind the demands of the UKD and others, no seditious activities are going to take place there. People have already seen the largest popular and democratic movement in the post-independence era in the shape of the Uttarakhand Movement.

In fact, the movement has gone down in the annals of history as one of the most peaceful movement despite the oppression let loose by the state machinery on its own citizens whose sole responsibility fell on the state. For sure, the tragedy of Muzaffarnagar was the dirtiest blot on the State after the tragedy of the Jallianwallah Bagh in Punjab.

It is being said that the BJP does not want early elections keeping in view the ground realities. It wants to consolidate its position before the assembly elections are held. Reservation for various ethnic or religious groups can be ensured. The UKD is of the opinion that the basis for delimitation of the assembly seats should be the census of 1971 and the geographical area ratio. Single basis cannot be acceptable.

There are also reservations on the proposal to establish the Ganga, Yamuna
and Sharada Management Board for the development of these water resources
as well as for the administration, construction, maintenance, and operation of the projects for the purpose of irrigation, rural and urban water supply, hydro power generation and navigation.

Uttarakhand represents a highly distinct geographic, cultural, and economic region. Therefore, the people's choice Gairsain town in Chamoli district for their permanent capital holds strong symbolic and historical significance as a uniting central point.

The national parties like the BJP and the Congress do not favour the demand of several regional organisations led by the UKD. This is for the simple reason because these national parties cannot take the risk of losing the vote banks in the plains of the state and the neighbouring areas in Uttar Pradesh where assembly elections are due next year.

The Uttaranchal Congress president, Harish Rawat, is reported to have observed that demand for delimitation on the geographical area basis smacked of Pahari chauvinism and therefore was unwarranted. He said such a demand was detrimental to the unity of the state.

One thing is important that the tenure of the Uttaranchal MLAs is due to expire with the members of the Uttar Pradesh assembly because they were elected with the UP assembly members. Therefore, the delimitation of the Uttaranchal assembly seats must be completed before the election process for the UP assembly is announced, so that elections to the Uttaranchal assembly seats are held simultaneously. A forced government or a government not elected by the people would not only be unconstitutional but also detrimental to the interests of the people who are yet to taste the fruits of their struggle.

Though S S Barnala is holding a non-partisan office of Governor, he seems to be influenced by the Akali politics. He is reportedly in favour of delimitation on the basis of population ratio. Chief Minister Nityanand Swami seems to be in a piquant situation. He would not like to do anything that supports the theory of his being an outsider or a non-pahari. At the same time, he cannot distance himself from those non-paharis on whose support he has been thriving all these years, politically. On those people's support who were hardly supporters of the hill state theory.

A ten-member committee is likely to be constituted to finalise the delimitation process. Five members will be selected by the EC, while rest of them have to be appointed by the Centre. It is learnt that names to fill five vacancies in the panel have already been suggested by the Uttaranchal Chief Minister to the Centre. This part of the process was long due as the opposition groups were critical of the state government for not being able to suggest five members' names.

Cutting across the party lines, several leaders are of the opinion that geographical area ratio has to be the basis for the delimitation. They cite examples from the states such as Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Maharashtra where, according to them, cognisance of the geographical area ratio was taken while finalising the assembly seats. They point out that geographical area ratio was the basis for delimitation of seats in the Vidarbha region, which is considered as a backward area.

In nutshell, the debate has already turned into a tussle between the Paharis and
The non-paharis or the outsiders. And interestingly, both of the groups do not want to look beyond their own interests. In such a scenario, opposition to the final decision of the EC seems imminent no matter whether it is in favour of the paharis or in favour of the non-paharis.

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Author: Suresh Nautiyal ( Click here to read Profile of Author)
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(Till recently a Special Correspondent with the Political Bureau of The observer of Business and Politics, the author is currently a Delhi-based freelance journalist accredited by the PIB, Govt. of India.)