Govt set to announce Panchayat election process on Jan 12

Sanjeev Pargal
JAMMU, Jan 8: Process for Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir is likely to be set into motion on January 12 when the Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Ministry would finally write to the State Election Commission (SEC) to hold elections to the rural civic bodies. Thereafter, the SEC would announce election schedule for Panchayats amidst the ongoing budget session of Legislature.
Official sources told the Excelsior that the Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Ministry was expected to write to the Chief Electoral Office, which has been converted into the SEC for conduct of Panchayat elections by an Ordinance of the Governor, on January 12 for holding the polls.
Significantly, Finance Minister Dr Haseeb Drabu will present general and Panchayat budgets, separately, for 2018-19 in the Legislative Assembly on January 11 while notification for the elections would be issued a day later.
“The separate Panchayat budget, which is being presented by the State Government for first time in the history, could carry important announcements about powers of the Panchayats, both financial and otherwise, including a handsome package of Rs 4500 crores for a total of 4490 Panchayats i.e. Rs 1 crore for each Panchayat,” sources said.
Excelsior had exclusively reported that the State Government would present separate Panchayat budget in the Legislature, which was also aimed at wooing number of candidates for the polls and attract maximum participation of the people. The Government has, however, decided to do away with the practice of power budget.
“As soon as the Rural Development Department issues notification for Panchayat elections on January 12, the SEC will set into motion the process for conduct of elections by announcing detailed schedule including total number of phases, the districts which would be covered phase-wise etc,” sources said.
Entire election process, according to sources, could last about two months and might be covered in eight to 10 phases as against 17 phases in which the Panchayat polls were held during 2011.
On imposition of Model Code of Conduct, sources said since the elections are being held on non-party basis, the Conduct might not be enforced on major announcements to be made by the Government leaders but was likely to be confined to some selected fields. However, a separate Code of Conduct could be issued for the candidates as well as the campaigners, they added.
“The State Election Commission is working on this,” sources said, adding that details of Model Code of Conduct would be released at the time of announcement of elections by the SEC.
On inclusion of new voters, who would attain the age of 18 on January 1, 2018, sources pointed out that such voters have been incorporated in the Panchayat rolls separately during Summary Revision of Parliament and Assembly constituencies.
On whether the Legislature can conduct business when the Panchayat elections are announced, sources said: “this was a decision that has to be taken by the Government and the Presiding Officers after going through the election schedule and Model Code of Conduct”.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had recently announced that Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir will start on February 15. Later, she stated that the Panchayat polls would be followed by the elections to Urban Local Bodies.
In 2011, the election process was set in motion on March 18. The first phase of polling was held on April 13, 2011 and the last phase on June 27, 2011. The Panchayats were constituted in July 2011 and they completed their five-year term in July 2016, nearly one and a half year ago.
Sources said the State Government was also of the view that the Panchayat election process should be completed in nearly two months and the SEC was also planning to cut down the phases from 17 in 2011 to eight to 10 this time. Also, the time gap between one phase to another could also be reduced from seven or eight day to four or five days.
“If the first phase of Panchayat election starts on February 15, the Commission would try to finish the election process by April 15,” sources said.
As reported, the Election Authority has already converted number of Panch constituencies in every Panchayat to odd numbers to facilitate smooth election of Sarpanchs. Some of the Panchayats would have seven Panch constituencies and others nine.
“This will help in easy conduct of Sarpanch election, who will be elected by the Panchs. In 2011, the then National Conference-Congress Government had gone for direct election of the Sarpanchs but the previous PDP-BJP Government has opted for indirect elections. Now, the elections will be held only for Panchs while the Panchs would elect their Sarpanch,” sources said, pointing out that even number of Panch segments might have lead to tie in some cases during election of Panchayats, leading to problems. However, the even number of Panch segments would help in smooth election of Sarpanchs.
They added that number of the Panchayats, where elections will be held, have gone up to 4490 as compared to 4130 in 2011.
Sources said the Election Department has also finalized voter lists for the Panchayat elections. Number of the electorates for Panchayat elections has come out at around 57 lakh after extensive exercise undertaken by the Election Department for updating electoral rolls.


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