Elections for ULBs

More than 15 lakh people eligible to voting to Urban Local Bodies of the State will elect members to civic bodies in next two months. Deck has been cleared for next exercise in the democratic process of devolution of power to grassroots level. In fulfillment of his promise to complete the entire exercise of democratization, the Chief Minister has asked the Election Department to begin revision of electoral rolls on 20 April and finish their job within a month. Revision of electoral rolls is a mandatory provision. Since previous revision was done in 2005, and many big changes have occurred in the intervening seven years, it is expected that there will be considerable increase in the number of voters eligible for casting their vote in civil elections. Youth who were just 11 years old in 2005 have attained adulthood and now at 18 they are eligible to vote. In addition, many more Municipal Committees and Councils have been created and these will also have a large number of voters. There has to be a gap of 21 days between the date of issuance of the revised electoral rolls and actual polling thus enabling the voters to ensure that they have been enrolled. The Government expects that polling will be completed in June throughout the state. The next step in the process after elections to ULBs is completed would be to initiate elections for Block and District Councils and thus multi-tier democratic structure will be complete.
It has to be remembered that the municipal bodies had ceased to be with effect from 2010 and it is almost two years that these bodies have been dysfunctional. In normal course of things, such a long delay should not have happened. Nevertheless, it goes to the credit of the Government led by Omar Abdullah that the process is inching towards completion. The ultimate purpose of municipal elections is to encourage and facilitate civic chapters to run the administration, development and maintenance of their respective cities and towns with more objectivity and better delivery. Participation of elected representatives of the civil society reduces the burden and responsibility of the Government to some extent and enables it to attend to other priorities. In a sense this is distribution of work and who else than the elected representatives are better qualified to identify the requirements of the towns and suggest ways and means of fulfilling these.
An interesting aspect of our civic bodies’ election is that the Central Government provides funds for the improvement of cities and towns and for providing better facilities to the civilian population. This is a national programme and our State is also its beneficiary. But these grants carry with them some conditions which respective governments need to fulfill. In the case of our State, since we have not been able to hold election to civic bodies soon after the term of the out gone bodies expired, viz.  2010, the amount of financial assistance from the centre remains blocked. It can be released only when elections of ULBs are completed. The conditions imposed by the Union Government are not J&K specific; these are applicable on national level. Some of the conditions are not palatable to sections of people and bureaucracy in the state and as such, they would prefer deferring elections to ULBs. For example, acceptance of financial assistance would mean imposition of house tax and bringing in some vital reforms in the civic administration and laws. It will be reminded that a hefty amount of 364 crore rupees, the share of the state in centre’s financial support for civic bodies remains blocked. Fortunately it is not lapsable and as such can be retrieved after the ULBs election process is completed. Thus once elections are completed in June, the state can claim the release of financial assistance. In a progressive state like ours, while providing more facilities to the civilian population is a fundamental objective, it has to be understood that raising funds is closely connected to that phenomenon. People throughout the towns and cities in the country are paying house tax and are also benefiting from the assistance they receive from the centre. There is no reason why J&K should remain outside the national mainstream. Our cities and towns are badly in need of improved sanitation and hygiene, healthcare facilities, transportation and civic amenities. We are lagging behind in so many things and before our towns and cities get choked, we need to do good planning. We badly need to check migration of rural population to urban localities as it becomes a drain on civic bodies. Election process to LUBs should become an uninterrupted phenomenon.