JAMMU, Feb 6: The State Government could defer upcoming Panchayat elections, scheduled to be held in March, by few months if the Election Commission of India decided to go ahead with by-election to two Lok Sabha constituencies of Anantnag and Srinagar in the Kashmir valley in March-April.
Top official sources confirmed to the Excelsior that the Government was mulling the option of deferring Panchayat elections from March by two to three months if the Election Commission of India takes a call on holding by-poll to Anantnag and Srinagar Lok Sabha seats in March-April. Anantnag Parliamentary by-poll that was scheduled for December last has already been deferred once in view of 2016 summer unrest in the Valley.
The State Government, according to sources, has taken up the issue of deferring by-poll to two Lok Sabha seats for a couple of months to facilitate holding of Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir, which have already been delayed and a threat looms large over hefty grants that the Central Government gives for spending by the elected Panchayats.
The Election Commission was expected to take a call on Lok Sabha by-poll after few days, sources said, adding that if the Commission goes ahead with election to Anantnag and Srinagar Lok Sabha seats, the Government could defer Panchayat polls by at least couple of months as it has already made it clear that it can’t hold two elections (Lok Sabha and Panchayat) simultaneously in view of militancy and other law and order problems.
“Though the State Election Commission was going ahead with preparations for Panchayat elections and has fixed February 10 as deadline for completion of major formalities prior to announcement of the polls, it was likely to wait before formally announcing the elections till the EC makes the things clear,” sources said.
The State Government is reportedly of the view that seven districts would be involved in conducting by-election to Anantnag and Srinagar Parliamentary seats while an estimated 70 per cent of the area would be covered in the Panchayat elections.
“If the two elections are conducted simultaneously, this will mean holding polls in almost 80 per cent area of the State,” sources pointed out and said: “this is an uphill task which the State can’t afford especially in view of militancy and law and order problems in the Kashmir valley”. Therefore, they said, the State would be left with no option but to defer Panchayat polls if the Election Commission orders by-poll to Anantnag and Srinagar Lok Sabha seats.
However, if the EC agrees to defer by-poll to two Lok Sabha seats, the Government would hold Panchayat elections in time.
The five-year term of Panchayats had expired in June 2016. Though the elections to Panchayats were due in April-May last year, they couldn’t be held due to delay in the Government formation in the State. After summer unrest was over, the Government got an Ordinance promulgated through the Governor designating the Chief Electoral Officer as the State Election Commission for conducting Panchayat elections in the State. The process for holding the election has already been set in motion.
Anantnag Lok Sabha seat had fallen vacant in June last year after Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was elected as MLA from Anantnag Assembly seat and had quit her Lok Sabha membership while Srinagar Lok Sabha seat fell vacant after resignation of PDP MP Tariq Hamid Qarra from the party followed by Lok Sabha.
The Election Commission had deferred Anantnag by-poll, which had to be conducted in December, on the request of the State Government, which had cited law and order problem in South Kashmir as the reason. The Commission had decided that by-election to both Srinagar and Anantnag Lok Sabha seats would be clubbed and held in March-April.
On its part, the State Election Commission has fixed February 10 as deadline for the Rural Development Departments of Jammu and Kashmir divisions to finalize re-organization of Panchayat Halqas, de-limitation of areas, if any, and rotation of Wards for reserve constituencies for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
“The State Election Commission is not taking any chances and was going ahead with preparations for the Panchayat elections,” sources said.