JAMMU, Feb 24: In a significant political development, the State Government has officially approached the Election Commission seeking deferment of by-election to Anantnag and Srinagar Lok Sabha constituencies citing that it wants to hold Panchayat elections in April-May, which would be delayed in the event of the Commission sticking to its deadline of April 17 for holding both the by-polls.
The Election Commission has, however, not given any assurance to the State Government but agreed to discuss their demand after the completion of Uttar Pradesh elections in the first week of March. It told the State Government representative that it would hold law and order review before taking a final call on Parliamentary by-elections.
Top official sources told the Excelsior that Chief Secretary BR Sharma met the Election Commissioners in New Delhi and conveyed to them the State Government decision to hold Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir in April-May as the Panchayats have already completed their term in June 2016 and elections to them couldn’t be held last year due to summer unrest.
The State Government put forth its view point that holding Lok Sabha elections before April 17 deadline will further push the Panchayat elections ahead as it was not possible for the administration to hold two elections simultaneously in view of disturbed conditions in the Kashmir valley and use of two different modes for the voting-EVMs for Lok Sabha polls and ballot papers for Panchayat elections.
Sources said the Chief Secretary gave a comprehensive view of the Government to the Election Commissioners and sought that by-elections to both Srinagar and Anantnag Lok Sabha constituencies should be deferred further to facilitate the Government in holding Panchayat elections in April-May as the State Election Commission and the Government have nearly completed all major formalities for holding polls to the rural bodies.
The State Government has also cited that major funding from the Central Government to the Panchayats would be blocked in the event of further delay in the elections.
The Election Commission comprising Chief Election Commissioner Dr Nasim Zaidi and Election Commissioners AK Joti and Om Prakash Rawat have reportedly assured the State Government that they would take a call on the request to further defer Lok Sabha by-polls after the completion of election process in Uttar Pradesh i.e. around first week of March.
Though the Election Commission gave no categorical assurance to the State Government, it was reported to have assured to take the State Government viewpoint on board before taking any decision on the by-elections. It was also reported to have said that the Commission would hold law and order review meeting with top officials of the State Government prior to the elections.
According to sources, the Election Commission would also consult its representative in Jammu and Kashmir-Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Shantmanu before its decision on the by-elections.
Sources said the Election Commission had to defer Srinagar Lok Sabha by-poll only, which has to be conducted before April 17 while the deadline for holding Anantnag Lok Sabha seat by-election was July 4. As the State Government had earlier request the Election Commission to hold both the by-elections together, the Commission had fixed April 17 deadline for the by-polls.
Prior to officially approaching the Election Commission of India for deferring by-polls, the State Government had conveyed similar message to the ECI through the CEO J&K.
Sources, however, said that even if the Election Commission agrees to defer Lok Sabha by-polls, the Panchayat elections can be started only by the end of April in view of some formalities required to be completed before announcement of the elections like reorganization of Panchayats, rotation of reserved Wards and converting even-number Panchayats into odd-number by increasing or reducing the Wards for the purpose of holding the Sarpanch election from among the Panchs as per the new amendment carried out in the Panchayati Raj Act.
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. Tariq Karra had recently joined the Congress.
Sources pointed out that since Anantnag Lok Sabha by-election had to be held before January 4, 2017 and was deferred for six months in December 2016 by the Election Commission in view of unrest in the Valley, the fresh deadline for holding election there was July 4. However, the six month deadline for holding by-poll to vacant Lok Sabha seat of Srinagar was April 17.
As the State Government had in December urged the Election Commission to club both the elections, whenever they are held, the Commission had recently decided to hold by-elections to both Lok Sabha seats before April 17.