JAMMU, Feb 18: There will be no Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir in March. The State Government and the State Election Commission have officially conveyed this to the stakeholders as the process for conduct of elections was taking long time than anticipated especially reorganization of Panchayats, rotation of reserved Wards and covering even-number Panchayats into odd-numbers.
Confirming this, official sources, however, told the Excelsior that the State Election Commission, which was authorized to hold Panchayat polls, would go ahead with all preparations for conduct of the elections and brief the Government when the preparations are complete.
“A decision on fresh timings of the Panchayat elections would be taken by the Government after completion of arrangements,” they said.
However, as the Election Commission of India has made it clear that it would hold by-election to Srinagar and Anantnag Lok Sabha seats in the first week of April, the Panchayat elections could be pushed ahead further as it has been decided that keeping in view militancy and law and order situation and, above all, the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in Parliamentary elections and ballot boxes in Panchayat polls, the two elections can’t be held simultaneously.
“Such a scenario could push the Panchayat polls to May, sources said.
Asserting that the State Government was committed to hold Panchayat elections, sources said all arrangements like reorganization of the Panchayats, identification of Wards reserved for women, SCs and other castes and fixation of Wards in every Panchayats in odd-numbers, have to be completed by the State Election Commission before announcement of dates for the elections.
The State Election Commission, headed by Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Shantmanu, has almost completed the exercise for reorganization of Panchayats, rotation of reserved Wards and keeping Wards of the Panchayats in odd-numbers like 9, 11 and 13. The exercise had been completed through the Rural Development Department, Jammu and Kashmir divisions, separately.
However, before the exercise could be put in public domain for inviting claims and objections, there was massive Opposition uproar on the ground that the exercise conducted by the Rural Development Department was not acceptable to them. While National Conference has demanded constitution of Delimitation Commission, the Congress and National Panthers Party have suggested free and fair delimitation by an independent agency of the State Election Commission and not the Rural Development Department.
Sources said when the reorganization, rotation of reserved Wards etc are put in public domain, the State Election Commission has to give at least one week time for inviting objections from the stakeholders.
“After receiving the objections, the State Election Commission would require at least 10 to 15 days, or even more, to dispose of the claims and objections,” sources noted saying this way the deadline of March-end set by the State Government for start of Panchayat elections can’t be met.
They pointed out that even-number Panchayats had to be converted into odd-numbers following change in legislation under which the election will be held only for Panchs and they (the Panchs) would elect their Sarpanch. For the purpose of election of Sarpanch from within the Panchs, the number of constituencies in a Panchayat had to be in odd-numbers like 9, 11 and 13. If the number of Panch segments remained even, there could have been tie in the election of Sarpanchs, sources said, adding this exercise has also consumed lot of time and now has to be put in public domain for inviting claims and objections.
Sources, however, said the Government has conveyed its keenness to the State Election Commission for conducting elections to the Panchayats as early as possible. Though the process to conduct elections would go on, it could take a backseat as and when the Election Commission announced by-election to Lok Sabha seats of Anantnag and Srinagar.
The Lok Sabha elections had to be conducted by the Election Commission through its representative in Jammu and Kashmir-the Chief Electoral Officer, who has also been designated as the State Election Commission by the J&K Government for conduct of Panchayat elections through an Ordinance promulgated by the Governor.
The Lok Sabha by-polls would, therefore, push back the Panchayat election process to the month of May, sources said.
The Panchayat elections were last held in 2011 and the Panchayats had completed their term in June 2016. The State Government could lose handsome Central grants in the event of any further delay in the conduct of elections as some of the grants are released only in favour of elected Panchayats.