*Electoral rolls to be published on March 9
JAMMU, Mar 5: Setting the process in motion for holding Panchayat election in Jammu and Kashmir, the State Election Commission (SEC) today completed delimitation of Panchayats after which 280 new Panchayats and 4000 Panch segments have been added to the existing rural bodies while the SEC has called a meeting of all 22 Deputy Commissioners (DCs) for finalizing arrangements for the polls.
The SEC will be putting electoral rolls of the Panchayats for public scrutiny on March 9 after which it would take up the issue with Election Commission of India and if the latter agreed to defer Lok Sabha by-elections to Anantnag and Srinagar, it would announce the Panchayat elections in the State.
“The stage has been set for the Panchayat elections with finalization of delimitation of the constituencies. The new Panchayats and Panch segments have been notified. The upcoming Panchayat elections will be conducted on the basis of fresh delimitations,” official sources told the Excelsior.
They 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.
Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Shantmanu, who has been designated as the SEC for Panchayat elections, told the Excelsior that newly carved out Panchayats and Panch segments have been added to the existing list. The SEC and the Rural Development Department had undertaken comprehensive exercise for delimitation of Panchayats before holding elections to them.
Shantmanu said: “now since the exercise for delimitation of Panchayats has been completed successfully, we are going to segregate electoral rolls of Panchayats from summary revision that was finalized on January 10 this year, and put them into public domain on March 9 for scrutiny”. Thereafter, the Panchayat elections can be announced anytime as all formalities for them (the polls) will be over.
However, according to sources, a final decision on announcement of the Panchayat elections would depend on the Election Commission of India (ECI).
“The ECI has assured the State Government that if arrangements for holding Panchayat elections in the State are complete, it would defer Lok Sabha by-elections to Anantnag and Srinagar constituencies to facilitate the State to hold Panchayat elections, which were pending since last year. However, if the State was found wanting in the formalities for the Panchayat polls, the ECI would announce Lok Sabha by-elections and the State would have to defer Panchayat polls,” sources said.
As the SEC and the Rural Development Department were on course to fulfilling formalities required for Panchayat elections, sources said, the Election Commission’s decision would be crucial. If the ECI agrees to defer the Lok Sabha by-polls, Panchayat elections were likely to be announced anytime later this month and start by April end.
In that event, Lok Sabha by-elections will be deferred to June, sources pointed out.
Meanwhile, CEO-cum-SEC Shantmanu has called high-level meeting of all 22 DCs of Jammu and Kashmir through video conferencing on March 7 to give final touch to the preparations for Panchayat elections.
Through the video conferencing, the SEC would discuss and finalize appointments of Election Returning Officers (EROs) and Assistant Election Returning Officers (AEROs). The meeting would also discuss trifurcation of one district for the conduct of elections. The manpower requirements would also be finalized depending upon the Panchayat segments in the districts.
The meeting would discuss the phases in which Panchayat polls can be conducted in the State.
Prior to delimitation, there were 4098 Panchayats in the State including 2145 in the Kashmir division (including Ladakh region) and 1953 in Jammu province. Apart from that, there were 15,767 Panch segments in Kashmir division including Ladakh and 13,635 in Jammu region.
With the State Government through an act of legislation deciding to do away with Sarpanch constituencies by deciding to hold in-direct election to them, there will be only Panch segments in the State now. The Panch segments have been converted into odd-number by the SEC in every Panchayat to facilitate election of Sarpanch from amongst the Panchs.
Sources said the State Government would hold high level review of law and order situation in the State before announcing the Panchayat elections.
The Election Commission had earlier fixed April 17 deadline for holding by-election to Srinagar and Anantnag Lok Sabha constituencies but the State Government had approached the ECI to defer by-polls as it wanted to hold Panchayat elections first. The Panchayats in Jammu and Kashmir had completed their five-year term on June 16, 2016 as the State Government failed to hold timely elections to them.
While Srinagar Lok Sabha by-poll has to be conducted before April 17, the deadline for Anantnag by-polls, which had once already been deferred, was July 4. As the State Government wanted elections to the two seats to be clubbed, the ECI had fixed April 17 deadline for both the polls.
Anantnag Parliamentary seat had fallen vacant in June, 2016 after Lok Sabha member from this seat, Mehbooba Mufti (now the Chief Minister) was elected to the Legislative Assembly from Anantnag Assembly seat. Srinagar Lok Sabha seat had fallen vacant after former PDP leader Tariq Hamid Karra had resigned from the PDP as well as Lok Sabha in protest against what he called ‘brutalities’ on Kashmir unrest protesters.