Elections process for vacant Panchayat, BDC seats begins

SAHIL RASGOTRA. Updated: 9/16/2020 11:02:22 AM Front Page

Home Secy to draw schedule by Sep 28

JAMMU: Jammu and Kashmir could witness its first major democratic activity after the abrogation of its special status last year, as the union territory administration on Tuesday constituted two high-level panels thus kickstarting the preparatory work for bye-elections for vacant Panchayats and Block Development Councils (BDC).

The development came on a day India asserted at UNHCR that it has revived grass root democracy and provided a new momentum to social and economic development in Jammu and Kashmir despite persistent attempts by a neighbouring country to infiltrate terrorists to derail this process.

While the BDC polls were conducted in October 2019 with Panchayat members electing the chairpersons of their respective Blocks, this is the first time when people will directly participate in the polls to elect their representatives at the grassroots level in more than 12 thousand vacant panchayat seats across the union territory.

Two Divisional Level committees to be headed by their respective commissioners has been tasked to assess manpower, security, logistics, transport, equipment and all other requirements, and on the basis of it, submit an outline of the possibilities and constraints to an Apex Level Committee within a week, by September 21, for holding Panchayat and BDC elections.

The Apex Level Committee will draw a roadmap and detailed schedule for conduct of elections to vacant panchayats and BDCs across the Union Territory on the basis of inputs provided by the Divisional Level Committees and upon assessment of the ground level situation taking into consideration security, logistics, personnel, equipment.

To be headed by Principal Secretary, Home Department, the Apex Committee has been tasked to submit its report to the Government by September 28.

The significant development comes around a month after Centre replaced hardcore bureaucratic G C Murmu as the Lieutenant Governor of the UT, with the more politically-focused Manoj Sinha, with sources claiming that the change at the top level was affected to ensure a political outreach to the public of the UT, which is without an elected government since June 2018.

The elections to 4490 Panchayat Halqas in the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir, including the now separated area of Ladakh, were conducted in 2018. However, a significant number of seats—around 13 thousand, most of them in Kashmir Valley, had remained vacant, as the elections were not conducted on them.

In Kashmir out of 20093 Panch and Sarpanch seats, only 6162 Panches and 1366 Sarpanches were elected in the polls while 12565 constituencies have remained vacant. In Jammu, 15800 Panches and 2289 Sarpanches were elected where 166 seats have remained vacant. While in Ladakh, 45 seats are vacant where 1414 Panches and 192 Sarpanches were elected.

On February 13, this year, the Chief Electoral Officer had announced eight-phase Panchayat by-polls from March 5 to March 20, to be held on party-basis.

However, barely five days later, the government had deferred the polls to citing ‘security reasons’.

The postponement had come hours after representatives of all political parties, barring BJP, ruled out participation in the electoral exercise until and unless detained leaders were released, as over 60 leaders including three former Chief Ministers were detained back then after the Centre had abrogated Article 370 provisions of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and split it into union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

“Seven months later, almost all the leaders barring PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti have been released and the time is now conducive to hold elections,” said an officer familiar with the development.

When asked if Mehbooba could be released ahead of the elections, the officer didn’t rule out the possibility but refused to divulge further.

Meanwhile, India on Tuesday said it has revived grass root democracy and provided a new momentum to social and economic development in Jammu and Kashmir despite persistent attempts by a neighbouring country to infiltrate terrorists to derail this process.

Speaking during a debate at the 45th Session of the Human Rights Council at Geneva, India's permanent representative Indra Mani Pandey referred to the abrogation of the Article 370 in 2019 that revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and said that since the changes, people in Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir have been enjoying the same fundamental rights as people in other parts of India.

“We have been able to revive grass root democracy and provide a new momentum to social and economic development, despite the challenge posed by COVID-19 pandemic and persistent attempts by one country to infiltrate terrorists to derail this process by all possible means,” he said, in a veiled reference to Pakistan.

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