The Jammu and Kashmir Chief Electoral Officer announced on Wednesday that around 25 lakh new voters are expected to be enrolled in the Union Territory, with those “ordinarily” residing in J&K and having achieved the age of 18 or above as on October 1 to be included in the list.
Political parties in Kashmir have been questioning the numbers, accusing the BJP of “importing” voters and calling it an attempt by the party to tilt votes in its favour.
A look at how electoral rolls are revised:
THE PROCEDURE: As per the Election Commission, every Indian citizen who is 18 years old on the qualifying date, the first day of January of the year when the electoral rolls are finally published, was eligible to be registered as a voter in the constituency where he is “ordinarily resident”, or the place of residence. However, this year, four qualifying dates (January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1) were introduced for enrolment to the 2023 roll.
One can file an online application or an application at electoral registration officers or assistant electoral registration officers, accompanied by copies of relevant documents such as proof of age and residence.
In case of a change in residence, applications can include their name in the form of new voter registration in the electoral roll of the new constituency, or fill the form for deletion of the name or voter ID, or the form for correction of entries. The 8A form also lets residents shift their address within the same constituency.
CASE OF J&K: Before the abrogation of Article 370, summary electoral rolls for Assembly polls were revised annually in J&K on the basis of the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act 1957, which states that a person shall be disqualified for registration in an electoral roll if “he is not a permanent resident of the state”. The scenario changed after the abrogation.
Speaking to The Indian Express, a senior official said, “With the abrogation of Article 370 and applicability of the Representation of the People Act 1950 and 1951 (to J&K), any citizen of India who has attained the qualifying age and is ‘ordinarily residing’ at a place is eligible to be registered in the electoral roll of that place, if not disqualified otherwise”. This means that non-locals can vote in the Assembly elections in J&K for the first time and that domicile and permanent resident certificates would not be needed anymore to be enlisted as a voter.
THE ONGOING EXERCISE: The ongoing special summary revision of electoral rolls in J&K has January 1, 2019, as the qualifying date. All those 18 years of age or over on that date are expected to be registered, along with others who may have been left out earlier in this revision. The draft will be released on September 15, with people filing objections, if any, by October 25. There has been no announcement of dates for the Assembly polls.
THE OFFICIAL STAND: As per the projections of the Registrar General of India, the projected 18+ population in J&K as on July 1, 2022, is expected to be 98.96 lakh, whereas its registered electors are over 76 lakh, resulting in a gap of 22,93,603. “It is this gap which was used to convey the tentative expectation (of increased voters) from the special summary revision,” officials said.
They also say that prior to the abrogation of Article 370 too, those ordinarily residing in UT could get registered in electoral rolls and were categorised as Non-Permanent Resident (NPR) voters. “During the last parliamentary elections, there were approximately 32,000 NPR voters in J&K,” an official said.
THE DELIMITATION COMPLICATION: The change in voter numbers comes in the wake of the delimitation exercise carried out in J&K, that was also criticised by parties for attempting “demographic changes” to the benefit of the BJP.
Questions were also raised on the fact that the exercise was delinked from the rest of the country, which is scheduled to hold delimitation in 2026. And that factors other than the 2011 Census data were taken into account for it.
Erstwhile J&K had 111 seats (46 in Kashmir, 37 in Jammu, and four in Ladakh, with 24 seats reserved for Pakistan Occupied Kashmir areas). This had been reduced to 107, when Ladakh was carved out of J&K. Following delimitation, the number is up to 114 – 90 for J&K, plus 24 reserved for PoK. Of these 90, now 43 fall in Jammu and 47 in Kashmir province. Critics say that this means that 44% of the UT’s population that lives in Jammu will vote for 48% of its seats, while 56% in Kashmir would vote for 52% of the seats.