JAMMU, Aug 1: Governor N N Vohra today virtually announced conduct of elections to Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and Panchayats in September/ October this year and use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in Municipal polls instead of ballot boxes as he reviewed arrangements for both the elections at the meeting of the State Administrative Council (SAC).
“The SAC reviewed all aspects relating to the preparations and conduct of elections including drawing up of schedules of electoral rolls, updating them and finalization followed by publication of final electoral rolls, polling in Urban Local Bodies using EVMs, availability of EVMs and ballot boxes etc to enable conduct of elections in September/October this year,” official sources said.
Vohra directed Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Shaleen Kabra to finalize new Panchayat Halqas by August 2 for their notification. He observed that with the holding of elections to the Urban Local Bodies and Panchayats across the State, the institutions of local self-governance will be revived resulting into their inclusion in the development process at the grassroots level.
The meeting was also attended by KB Aggarwal, Financial Commissioner, Housing & Urban Development Department, Umang Narula, Principal Secretary to Governor, RK Goyal, Principal Secretary, Home Department, Shaleen Kabra, Chief Electoral officer and Sheetal Nanda, Secretary Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Departments. They were special invitees to the SAC.
Reacting to virtual announcement of ULB and Panchayat elections, Union Minister of State in PMO, Dr Jitendra Singh said the elections will help in restoration of democratic institutions at grassroots level in Jammu and Kashmir, which was the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “People of the State were eagerly waiting for conduct of Municipal and Panchayat polls. The elections will also help J&K with financial grants, which are directly given to the civic bodies,” he said.
Meanwhile, sources told the Excelsior that the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) was all set to retain some of the additional companies provided for annual pilgrimage of Shri Amarnath Ji to Jammu and Kashmir for conduct of Municipal and Panchayat elections in the State.
Sources said the Home Ministry headed by Rajnath Singh was likely to retain some of the additional para-military companies of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Jammu and Kashmir even after completion of the pilgrimage on August 26 to facilitate smooth conduct of Municipal and Panchayat elections.
Generally, the additional companies of para-military forces deputed for the pilgrimage, start returning to their Headquarters for further deployment in Naxalite-affected States and North East or other duties. This time, however, the MHA was likely to retain some of the companies in Jammu and Kashmir and keep them at the disposal of the State Government as additional security cover for the civic bodies’ elections.
“Normally, the State had to conduct Panchayat and Municipal elections using own resources of security i.e. the State Police. However, taking in view the security situation of Jammu and Kashmir into account, the Central Government was likely to give some additional companies to J&K to facilitate conduct of elections,” sources pointed out.
Sources said the MHA and Jammu and Kashmir Government officials were expected to devise joint strategy before formal announcement of the elections as both Centre and State were of the view that the elections had to be conducted very cautiously to ensure that situation on both militancy and law & order fronts don’t deteriorate as it was gradually showing signs of improvement after imposition of Governor’s rule in the State.
“The election phases and combination of the districts has to be carried out very tactfully,” sources said, adding this process will be worked out before formal announcement of the elections by the State Election Commission.
Sources said the MHA and State Government officials were likely to devise joint strategy for holding the elections keeping in mind the militancy and law & order problems to ensure that they don’t flare up as the militants could try to sabotage the polls by targeting the candidates as it wouldn’t be possible for the Government to provide security cover to the candidates for nearly 34,000 constituencies of Sarpanchs and Panchs for which nearly one lakh candidates could be in fray.
Similarly, there are 78 Municipal Corporations, Councils and Committees and there could be roughly around 1000 total Wards of the Municipalities for which around 5000 candidates might join the fray.
Municipal elections were last conducted in January-February 2005 and the elected Municipalities had completed their term in March 2010. Panchayat elections were last held in April-May 2011 and the elected Panchayats had completed their five-year term in July 2016.
While the Municipal elections in Jammu and Kashmir haven’t been held for the last eight and a half years, the Panchayat polls were pending for over two years now.
There were 4490 Panchayats in Jammu and Kashmir presently as compared to 4130 in 2011, when last elections to Panchayats were held.
Number of the electorates for Panchayat elections had come out at around 57 lakh after extensive exercise undertaken by the Election Department for updating electoral rolls in January this year.
The Central grants running into several hundreds of crores have been blocked due to delay in holding of Panchayat elections as the Union Government gave certain grants only to the elected Panchayats directly.