JAMMU, Nov 4: In major step forward towards holding Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir, which were pending for last one and a half year, Governor NN Vohra today promulgated an Ordinance designating Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Jammu and Kashmir as the State Election Commission (SEC) for conducting Panchayat polls in the State.
“Considering time-frame for the forthcoming Panchayat elections, the Governor has given consent to the issuance of Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Ordinance 2017 to empower the State Chief Electoral Officer (Shaleen Kabra) to determine and de-limit Halqa Panchayats and conduct the Panchayat elections,” official sources told the Excelsior.
Excelsior had exclusively reported last week that the State Government was in the process of issuing an Ordinance for holding Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir this winter if the situation and weather permit.
The Rural Development Department had mooted the Ordinance as there was no State Election Commission in J&K for conducting Panchayat elections. Under the Panchayati Raj Act, there has to be the State Election Commission for holding Panchayat polls. In the absence of that, the State Government has now designated the CEO J&K as the SEC through the Ordinance.
Appointment of the SEC is pre-requisite, as per the Panchayati Raj Act, for initiating the process of Panchayat elections in the State. The State Government, as reported by the Excelsior, has already asked the CEO to publish Panchayat electoral rolls on November 5. The CEO, sources said, was in the process of publishing Panchayat rolls.
“If everything goes well, the State Government proposed to start Panchayat elections in first week of December in hilly areas and complete them before start of snowfall. The elections in plains are proposed to be held from end of December,” sources said but admitted that if there is early snowfall or disturbances in the Valley, the election process could be pushed forward to March-April next year.
Sources said the State Government would shortly take a final call on timing of the Panchayat elections as several areas of the State including Kashmir, Ladakh and erstwhile Doda district experience very harsh winter from middle of December to end of February
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh is also reported to have asked the State Government to hold Panchayat and Municipal elections in the State after large number of delegations that met him during his four-day tour to Jammu and Kashmir from September 9-12 had complained of problems in the absence of elected Panchayats and Municipalities.
Initially, a similar Ordinance designating the CEO as the SEC was issued by the Government in the month of March this year for conduct of Panchayat polls, which has since lapsed. The Panchayat polls couldn’t be conducted in April as the Election Commission of India had announced by-elections to Lok Sabha seats of Srinagar and Anantnag.
The Ordinance was promulgated as the Legislature was not in the session. The Legislature had to approve the Ordinance within six months.
The Governor, who has been repeatedly emphasizing the crucial importance of there being no further delay in holding Panchayat elections for the establishment of the three-tier framework of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI), approved the urgent promulgation of this ordinance, during the Darbar Move period so that no time whatsoever is lost in commencing preparations for the conduct of the pending elections.
The Governor observed that the establishment of the PRI set up shall ensure effective participation of the people in the decision making process and enable them to oversee the implementation of developmental programmes.
It may be recalled that the Governor, in discussions with the Chief Minister since summer 2016 has been pressing for the early conduct of elections to both the urban and rural self-governing bodies. The Panchayat elections are no envisaged to be held in winter 2017-18.
Sources said delimitation of Panchayats had already been completed in March-April 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.