Srinagar: The strength of the assembly in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir will go up by seven seats, while the council of ministers will be trimmed to 10% of the total strength of the legislature.
These are among the major legal and constitutional changes that have been effected in the UT after the Centre read down Article 370 and divided the state into two UTs – J&K and Ladakh.
Assembly strength up by seven seats
Unlike Ladakh, the Act provides for an elected legislative assembly and council of ministers headed by the chief minister for the UT of J&K. As per the provisions, the total number of assembly segments will be increased by seven seats to 114, from the existing 107 seats. These 114 seats include 24 seats reserved for representatives from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
At present, the total strength of the assembly of the J&K UT is 83, after the deletion of the four assembly constituencies of Ladakh.
The delimitation of these 83 segments will now be decided by the Election Commission through the constitution of a delimitation commission to carve out seven more seats, and take total number of segments to 90.
An official said Jammu was likely to walk away with the lion’s share of the new assembly seats. The delimitation of the assemblies was one of the long-pending demands of the Bharatiya Janata Party to end “discrimination” against Jammu.
While Kashmir, with a population of close to 80 lakh, at present has 43 assembly constituencies. Jammu has 37 segments, with a population of around 52 lakh.
The J&K state assembly had frozen the delimitation of assembly segments till 2026. As per the law, the first delimitation was to be carried after the first census post 2026, which is scheduled in 2031.
The official said the entire process of delimitation will be completed in the coming few months, ahead of the first elections in the UT of J&K.
He said STs were likely to get a new assembly seat. SCs already have a reservation in the assembly.
The assembly term will be six years instead of five.
“The Legislative Assembly may by law adopt any one or more of the languages in use in the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir or Hindi as the official language or languages to be used for all or any of the official purposes of the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir,” reads the J&K Reorganisation Act.
The reorganisation has, however, left the representation of the two UTs in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha unaffected.
While the UT of J&K will continue to have five MPs in the Lok Sabha, the UT of Ladakh will have one MP. Similarly, the UT of J&K will have four MPs in the Rajya Sabha.
Council of ministers trimmed
In the state of J&K, the cabinet had a strength of 24 members including the chief minister, cabinet ministers and junior ministers. The constitution of J&K had restricted the strength of the cabinet to 24 after the Ghulam Nabi Azad-led government amended the J&K constitution in 2006.
But in a major decision, the council of ministers in the UT of J&K shall not consist of more than 10% of the total number of members in the legislative assembly, with the chief minister at the head to aid and advise the lieutenant-governor.
The new arrangement implies that the total number of ministers in the cabinet including the chief minister shall not exceed 10.
The incumbent governor of J&K, Satya Pal Malik, will be the LG for both union territories for the period determined by the president.
House of elders abolished
With the reorganisation of the state, the J&K Legislative Council, also known as Upper House or House of Elders, has been abolished. The House comprised 34 members.
“Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any law, document, judgment, ordinance, rule, regulation or notification, on and from the appointed day, the Legislative Council of the existing state of Jammu and Kashmir shall stand abolished,” reads the Act, adding that on the abolition of the Council, every member thereof shall cease to be one.
Common high court
The J&K high court shall be common for both UTs. The judges of the existing court shall become judges of the common high court, the Act says.
There will be a separate advocate general for the J&K UT. Besides, the Public Service Commission (PSC) for the existing state of J&K will continue to be the recruiting agency for the gazetted services of the J&K UT, while the UT of Ladakh shall come under the ambit of the Union Public Service Commission.
Central laws made applicable to UTs
As a state, J&K enjoyed a special position in the Union of India. It had its own constitution and except for defence, foreign affairs, communication and currency, the state assembly had the power to make laws on all subjects under Article 370.
Over the decades, however, many Central laws had been made applicable to the state – most recently the Goods and Service Tax Act.
Now, the UT of J&K will be under the Centre’s direct rule. At least 106 new Central laws have become applicable to the UT. Some of them include the National Human Rights Commission Act, Central Information Act, the Enemy Property Act and The Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act
State law applicable to UTs with amendments
Under Article 35A of the constitution, which empowered the state legislature to define state subjects and grant exclusive rights to them, only permanent citizens of the state had exclusive rights to own property and apply for government jobs in the state of J&K.
Under the reorganisation Act, various laws related to owning land and property in the UT of J&K have been amended to omit different provisions.
Some of these laws include The Transfer of Property Act, The Jammu and Kashmir Alienation of Land Act, The Jammu and Kashmir Land Grants Act and The Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Reforms Act. A total of seven such laws have been amended.
State laws repealed in UTs
As per provisions of the Act, at least 153 state laws have been repealed under the reorganisation Act, along with 11 under the Governor’s Act. However, 166 state laws shall remain in force in the two UTs.