Centre to provide 400 addl companies for polls: CS

‘Elected Govt to fight 35-A case before SC’

*One month extra salary to employees on poll duty

*SPOs’ honorarium to be enhanced

Fayaz Bukhari
SRINAGAR, Sept 25: Chief Secretary B V R Subrahmanyam today said that Government is providing adequate security for holding of Panchayat and Municipal elections in the State for which Centre is providing 400 additional companies of Central forces. He said that the Government will provide one month extra salary to the employees for poll duty and announced that honorarium of 30000 Special Police Officers will be enhanced in couple of days.

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The Chief Secretary while addressing a press conference this morning said that there were concerns about security which will be adequate and for which additional Central forces are also coming. “There have been some concerns regarding security of staff, candidates and to the entire Panchayat process. We have made very good arrangements for all of them. We are getting 400 companies of Central forces for conducting Panchayat elections over and above what is already there in the State with J&K Police and Central Paramilitary Forces”, he said.
Subrahmanyam said that the security is more than adequate. “This is more than adequate to conduct the elections and this is being done in spite of the fact that there is a lot of pressure for security forces’ requirements in other States which are going for Assembly elections. That shows this is a very important exercise which we are conducting in Jammu and Kashmir. 400 companies were something, we couldn’t imagine that we will get. It has been a very hectic discussion, we have all of them. All the 400 companies are coming into place and by the time Panchayat elections will be notified by the end of this month, all of them will be in position right through”, he said.
The Chief Secretary said that Government will provide one month extra salary to the Government employees for poll duty. “For Government employees who are conducting the elections, as an incentive we are providing one month extra salary. It is being notified, one month additional salary for all Government servants involved in the elections is unprecedented. It has never happened before. It is probably not done in the country but we are doing it. We have made adequate arrangements for their safety and security”, he said.
Subrahmanyam said that resignation of couple of SPOs in South Kashmir is negligible and it is restricted to certain areas of South Kashmir. “There were three unfortunate killings of SPO’s in Shopian 4-5 days ago. They were ex- SPOs who were then inducted into the Police force. There were a couple of resignations as well. The problems are restricted to only certain areas. The issue is not in large parts of North Kashmir and most parts of Central Kashmir, it is concentrated in some parts of South Kashmir alone. A couple of SPOs resigning is news but you must see in perspective. The State has over 30,000 SPOs. If you compare the number of people resigned and what has been circulated, it is a negligible percentage of the total. All the SPOs have been instructed about the personal security”, he said.
The Chief Secretary said that the honorariums of 30, 000 SPOs will be enhanced in next few days. “In 2016, the wages of SPOs were enhanced from Rs 3000 to 6000. A very serious discussion is going on right now. The salaries or the honorariums of the SPOs are going to see a substantial jump in next few days. Rs 6000 a month is much lower than what a class fourth employee gets. So the SPOs are going to see an increase in the remuneration in the next few days”, he said.
Subrahmanyam said that Government will provide adequate security and accommodation to the candidates who contest the polls. “Election process is on. Today is the last date for filling nominations for various Municipalities. Candidates have picked up forms in very large numbers. As of last evening, more than 700 forms have actually been issued and candidates are going and filling nominations. Wherever candidates have sought security, we have provided accommodation for them. We have more than 300 hotel rooms in Srinagar for candidates who want to stay. Similar arrangements have been made in almost all the districts of South Kashmir. In North Kashmir, we have made arrangements in Baramulla and Bandipora. Ganderbal and Budgam are very close to Srinagar, so there is no issue. So all candidates who feel insecure or seek accommodation, they would be provided accommodation. If they want security, we will provide security to them. We have adequate forces at our proposal to provide security to all the candidates. We will facilitate their campaigning, if they feel that they do require but it is up to them”, he said.
The Chief Secretary said that political parties should not feel threatened by Panchayat elections. “In large parts of the country, across the nation from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, Panchayat elections are non-party based, they are largely about local issues. In major States, Panchayat elections are not contested by the parties, they say let people contest it. It is all about local issues and I do not think that any national political party or State party should feel threatened by a Panchayati Raj system. Wherever Panchayati Raj has grown strong roots, Political parties have co-opted the Panchs into their own system and they have become a Pyramid. There is a Panchayat system in the bottom and Assembly above them”, he said.
Asked when the Assembly polls will be held in the State, the Chief Secretary said it is for authorities higher than him to decide. “I am not competent to answer this question. It is for the authorities higher than me to decide,” he said adding that an Assembly is in place in the State.
Subrahmanyam today said that Rs 4335 crore will be devolved to the Urban and Rural Local Bodies for developmental activities immediately after the conclusion of the ongoing poll process. “This huge chunk of funds allocated to the State under the 14th Finance Commission award has been withheld as no elected Urban and Rural Local Bodies are in place in the State,” he said.
Giving a breakup of the funds withheld, the Chief Secretary said that Rs 3029 crore are pending for Panchayat bodies while Rs 1306 crore are pending for Municipal Bodies.
The Chief Secretary said while Jammu and Kashmir has a most comprehensive and robust Panchayati Raj Act in place, the Government is initiating some far-reaching changes that will make Panchayats even more powerful decision-making bodies with extended reach.
He said in addition to the funds awarded under 14th Finance Commission, the State Government is also planning additional devolution of resources to the Panchayats under MGNREGA, PMAY, NRLM, ICDS, NHM and other similar flagship programmes to undertake targeted development at the grassroots level. “As per rough estimates each Panchayat would be entitled to a cumulative allocation of Rs 50 lakh to Rs 1 crore per annum,” he said and added that the Panchayats would be also vested with taxation powers on Bus Stands and Mobile Towers to generate additional resources locally. He said each Panchayat will have an Accountant for keeping books while an Ombudsman will be appointed for transparency and accountability.
The Chief Secretary said there are 4,490 Panchayats in the State and as many Sarpanches are to be elected. The total number of Panchs in the State will be 35,000. “There will be around 39,500 elected representatives in these Panchayats”, he said.
Subrahmanyam also said that there are 79 Urban Local Bodies and about 1200 wards – 600 each in Kashmir and Jammu regions.
The Chief Secretary said Governments stand on the legal challenge to Article 35-A of the Constitution before the Supreme Court will remain consistent that an elected Government should plead the case before the Apex Court.
“As far as Article 35-A is concerned, the Governor has gone on record multiple times and he has clearly said that this is not an elected Government and it would be right if an elected Government within the State actually fights the case in the Supreme Court,” he said.
Subrahmanyam said there was no link between the timing of holding Panchayat elections in the State and deferment of hearing of the PIL challenging Article 35-A before the Supreme Court. “There have been multiple postponements of the hearings of Article 35-A in the Supreme court before and after the Panchayat elections were announced. It is just accidental that the case is listed in January and the Panchayat elections are to be completed before that,” he said.
The Chief Secretary said the Governor’s administration is going to be consistent in its stand before the Apex Court that an elected State Government should fight the case. “The stand of the Governor’s administration is going to be consistent in the Supreme Court that there are many serious complex issues which have to be discussed as far as Article 35-A is concerned and these should not be discussed when Governor’s rule is in place. These should be discussed when an elected Government is in place, which will take a solid position in the Supreme Court. So, there is absolute clarity that Governor’s rule is not about deciding Article 35-A,” he said.