*Panchayat elections cited as reason for postponement
JAMMU, Jan 29: For the second time, the State Government has sought postponement of by-election to Anantnag and Srinagar Lok Sabha constituencies in the Kashmir valley beyond March-April on the ground that the Government wants to hold Panchayat election first in the State and it wouldn’t be possible for it to hold two elections simultaneously.
Top official sources told the Excelsior that the State Government has taken up the issue of postponement of Anantnag and Srinagar Lok Sabha by-polls with the Election Commission representative citing that holding election to these two Parliamentary constituencies in March-April would further defer Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir, which have already been delayed, leading to non-existent of Panchayats since June 16. The Centre has deferred some of the grants which are spent by the Rural Development Department due to delay in Panchayat polls.
Confirming the State Government request, sources said the poll body has asked it to adopt due procedure, like the one followed in seeking postponement of Anantnag by-poll last year. Under the process, the Commission would seek opinion of the Chief Electoral Officer in Jammu and Kashmir before taking a final call on the State plea.
The State Government is of the view that there was only one Election Commission in Jammu and Kashmir, which has to conduct both the elections-Lok Sabha as well as Panchayats. Normally, the Panchayat elections are conducted by the State Election Commission (SEC) and Lok Sabha polls by the Election Commission and its representative in the State i.e. the CEO.
However, in the absence of the SEC in Jammu and Kashmir, the State Government, through an Ordinance, has already designated the CEO J&K as the SEC for conducting Panchayat elections.
The State Government has pointed out that at least seven out of 10 districts of the Kashmir valley would be involved in by-election to Anantnag and Srinagar Parliamentary constituencies and it would be difficult not only for the State Election Commission but also for the law and order machinery to conduct simultaneous polls to Lok Sabha seats and Panchayats.
It has pointed out that holding Panchayat election in Jammu and Kashmir was very crucial as the Panchayats had ceased to exist on June 16, 2016 after completing their five year term and elections to them couldn’t be conducted due to unrest in the Kashmir valley last summer. As a number of grants of the Central Government are directly given to the elected Panchayats, Jammu and Kashmir could suffer loss of huge funds in case of further delay in holding Panchayat elections.
“Therefore, it was necessary for the State Government to hold Panchayat elections first in Jammu and Kashmir and by-poll to Anantnag and Srinagar Lok Sabha seats could follow,’’ sources said, adding it wouldn’t be possible to hold simultaneous polls to both Lok Sabha and Panchayat.
Anantnag and Srinagar Lok Sabha seat by-polls are very crucial for ruling PDP headed by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti as both seats were earlier held by the party. While Anantnag seat was vacated by Mehbooba Mufti herself in June 2016 after being elected as MLA from Anantnag Assembly seat after she became the Chief Minister on April 1, 2016, Srinagar seat was vacated by PDP MP Tariq Hamid Karra after he quit the party, followed by his resignation from Lok Sabha seat.
Anantnag by-poll was to be conducted by the Election Commission in December 2016 as entire process was required to be completed before January 3, 2016, by-poll to Srinagar seat has to be held before middle of May as Karra’s resignation was accepted by Speaker Sumitra Mahajan on November 15. By-poll for Lok Sabha seat had to be conducted within six months.
As Anantnag by-poll was to be deferred beyond six months period, the Election Commission had got the Ordinance issues from the Union Law Ministry to use special powers to defer by-poll beyond six months.
Sources said the Government has proposed that by-elections to both Anantnag and Srinagar Lok Sabha seats could be held once the Panchayat election process is completed.
The Government has decided to hold Panchayat elections in State in March-April for which the process has already been set into motion. A formal announcement of the polls was likely to be made after the conclusion of budget session of the Legislature on February 7.