Govt bill proposes 28 more Assembly seats
5 January 2007
The Daily Excelsior
By Sanjeev Pargal
Jammu: The Government today proposed an increase of 28 seats in the Legislative Assembly through a legislation seeking an amendment in 33rd Constitutional amendment bill, which required two-third majority for passage in the House. However, the National Conference, Panthers Party and BJP, which together accounted for 30 MLAs in the Assembly, were critical of the bill, albeit for different reasons. While Leader of Opposition Abdul Rahim Rather, who represented National Conference in an all party meeting convened by Law & Parliamentary Affairs and Finance Minister Tariq Hamid Qarra this afternoon, is reported to have questioned the coalition Governmentís motive behind such a bill on the ground that ratio of population in an Assembly constituency in the State was much less than the constituencies in other parts of the country, JKNPP representative and former Education Minister Harshdev Singh outrightly shot down the proposal on the ground that it was discriminatory to Jammu. Mr Rather is also said to have pointed out in the meeting that a State faced with financial crunch can hardly afford burden of more MLAs on the exchequer. Lone BJP MLA Jugal Kishore opposed the bill till seats of Jammu and Kashmir divisions are brought at par while senior Congress leader and Health and Medical Education Minister Mangat Ram Sharma observed that consensus must be evolved among all parties on the sensitive legislation. Authoritative sources told the Excelsior that Mr Qarra produced draft legislation among representatives of all parties in the meeting. As per the draft legislation, the Government proposed an increase of 28 seats in the Assembly from present 111 (including 22 seats reserved for Pakistan occupied Kashmir) to 139. While 9 more seats were proposed for Jammu division from present 37, 12 more seats were proposed for Kashmir division from present 46. Increase of one seat was proposed for Ladakh region from present 4 while an increase of 6 seats was proposed from present 22 seats reserved for PoK, sources said. Number of nominated seats for women was kept at existing two. Present strength of the Assembly in 87. Besides, there are two women members nominated by the Government. Mr Qarra reportedly told the meeting that the Government was committed to equal treatment to all three regions of the State and thatís why it has proportionately increased number of seats of all three regionsóJammu, Kashmir and Ladakh as well as PoK by 25 per cent. His stand was also endorsed by Agriculture Minister and another PDP representative in the meeting, Abdul Aziz Zargar. The Government representatives sought the support of Opposition members in passing the legislation on the ground that it being a Constitutional amendment bill, two-third majority was required to pass it. Two-third majority in the House of 87 comes at 59, a target the coalition canít achieve if the bill is opposed by NC, JKNPP, BJP and Jammu State Morcha, which together have a strength of 31. While NC have 25 MLAs, JKNPP have 4, BJP and JSM have one MLA each. Sources said keeping in view the reported Opposition to the bill by the NC, JKNPP and BJP, the Government decided to convene another all party meeting before introducing it in the Assembly, whose budget session is beginning on January 8. According to sources, Mr Rather reportedly asked the Government to give reasons for increase of as many as 22 seats in the Assembly (barring 6 PoK seats) as they will directly create extra burden on exchequer of the State, which was already faced with financial crunch. 'We must be satisfied for the increase', he was reported to have said. He, however, didnít outrightly rejected the bill saying he will place reasons, whenever given by the Government for increase in seats, before his party, which will decide whether to support or oppose the bill. According to sources, Mr Rather pointed out that it was not an easy task to increase number of MLAs as they will required to be paid nearly Rs 40,000 per month perks besides official vehicles, security and accommodation etc., all of which will need huge funds. Moreover, he reportedly told the meeting that Assembly seats in the State were already based on very less votes as compared to other States of the country, where Assembly seats were based on 4 to 5 lakh voters. Former Education Minister and JKNPP representative, Harshdev Singh, however, outrightly rejected the Governmentís draft legislation dubbing it as 'discriminatory' to Jammu region. 'We stand for equal treatment to both Jammu and Kashmir divisions. And for this, both divisions must have an equal number of seats', he stressed. He noted that proposed increase of 9 and 12 seats for Jammu and Kashmir divisions will take seats of Jammu to 46 and that of Kashmir to 58, thus, leading to a difference of 12 seats, which means Jammu region will permanently lag behind in political power to Kashmir. Mr Singh referred to Section 4 of Representation of Peopleís Act (RPA) which cited five factors for taking into consideration while increasing number of seats. The factors, according to him, were geographical area, population-number of voters, nature of terrain, communication facilities and like considerations which include social and development factors. He told the meeting that all five factors clearly favoured Jammu region which has more area, more voters, rugged terrain and less communication facilities as compared to Kashmir. 'Even then, we are not demanding more seats than Kashmir region but equal to them', he said, declaring that unless number of seats of both divisions was brought at par 'we wonít support the bill'. BJP MLA Jugal Kishore was also of the view that Jammu region deserved more seats than Kashmir valley but, at least, it should be given equal seats. 'Only then, we will support the bill', he said. Health and Medical Education Minister and Congress representative in the meeting, Mangat Ram Sharma stressed for evolving a consensus on the legislation. 'The all party committee will meet again to discuss the issue', he said noting that proposed bill was a Constitutional amendment legislation and required two-third majority for passage. To a question that whether the Congress supports the bill, he added 'we are part of the Government and we have drafted it. Nevertheless, we stand for consensus'. Transport Minister Hakim Mohd Yaseen and Power Minister Rigzin Jora also attended the meeting.