Centre’s ‘no’ to performance, other grants to Panchayats till elections

Sanjeev Pargal
JAMMU, Nov 5: The Centre Government has refused to release ‘performance grants’ for Panchayats in Jammu and Kashmir, which runs into hundreds of crores on the ground that there were no elected Panchayats in the State but assured the State Government that once the elections were held to Panchayats, the release of pending grants could be considered.
Official sources told the Excelsior that the Union Ministry for Rural Development has blocked the ‘performance grants’ as well as some other grants, which are released only for the elected Panchayats, stating that these grants can’t be released to the Rural Development Department of the State as they wouldn’t be utilized by elected representatives of the rural bodies, who were not in place for past about one and a half years.
Saying that exact amount of the grants withheld by the Government of India can’t be assessed as the grants are released based on performance of the Panchayats, sources, however, said that they could run into hundreds of crores and was direct loss to development of the rural areas, which would have benefited with release of the grants.
Describing withholding of performance related and other grants as one of the reasons for the State Government pushing for Panchayat elections in winter, sources said the Centre had rejected contention by the State Government that it was unable to hold Panchayat elections in the State due to various reasons including militancy and unrest.
The Centre Government was of the view that elections to the Panchayats and Municipalities were a must as certain grants can be released only to the elected urban and rural civic bodies and can’t be kept at disposal of the official machinery, which would defeat purpose of the grants.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had also voiced concern over delay in holding of Panchayat and Municipal elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
However, according to sources, the Centre has assured the State Government that once the elected Panchayats were in place, it would consider release of pending grants.
Only yesterday, Governor NN Vohra had promulgated an Ordinance designating the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Jammu and Kashmir as the State Election Commission for the purpose of holding Panchayat elections in the State.
Meanwhile, stepping-up the process for holding Panchayat elections in the State, the Election Department has asked the Rural Development Department to immediately notify 33 per cent reserved Wards.
Sources said delimitation of Panchayat Wards was held in March-April this year when the elections were proposed to be held in the State but were deferred as the Election Commission of India had announced by-elections to Srinagar and Anantnag Lok Sabha seats.
They added that once the reserved Wards are notified by the Election Department and electoral rolls are finalized, the State Government would take a call on timing of the Panchayat elections.
Yesterday, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Shaleen Kabra, who has been designated as the State Election Commission for conduct of Panchayat elections through an Ordinance, had held meeting with Directors, Rural Development Department of Jammu and Kashmir to discuss and finalize arrangements for the Panchayat polls.
Sources said delimitation of Panchayats had already been completed in March-April this year when the election process was initiated. The Government had also decided to do away with the process of Sarpanch constituencies. Elections will be held only for Panches, who will elect the Sarpanch among them.
Sources said 280 new Panchayats have been added in the State after delimitation, taking total number of existing Panchayats to 4378. There were 4098 Panchayats in the State when last elections were held to them in 2011. The number of Panch segments has gone up by about 4000, taking total number of Panch constituencies to 33,402.  There were 29,402 Panch segments in the State prior to delimitation.
Sources said that newly carved out Panchayats and Panch segments have already been added to the existing list. The SEC and the Rural Development Department had undertaken comprehensive exercise for delimitation of Panchayats in March-April this year.
The Panchayat elections were last held in March-April 2011 after a gap of near four decades. The Panchayats were constituted in May-June 2011 and they completed their term in June 2016. However, the Government didn’t initiate the process to hold elections to Panchayats in time, which led to completion of their tenure. Nearly one and a half years have already elapsed without any elected Panchayats in the State.
Due to delay in the elections to Panchayats, the Central Government has stopped certain funding to Jammu and Kashmir especially the amount that has to be spent only through the elected Panchayats.