JAMMU, July 6: The Government has set the process into motion for conduct of Municipal elections first followed by Panchayats and directed the concerned departments-Urban and Rural Development-to coordinate with the Election Department and complete the formalities, which were requisite for the elections.
Governor NN Vohra, who had repeatedly asked the previous PDP-BJP State Government headed by Mehbooba Mufti to hold Panchayat elections followed by Urban Local Bodies polls, which were pending for quite a long time now, is understood to have asked the administration to explore possibilities for conduct of the elections with the State Election Department.
Official sources told the Excelsior that the Government reportedly wants to conduct Municipal elections first after completion of Shri Amarnath Ji pilgrimage in August end as it feels that it would get assessment of situation for the polls as ULBs are confined to cities and towns only, where presence of security forces is already good, while Panchayats cover rural areas, where massive security arrangements were required to be made.
“The Urban Local Bodies fall in cities and towns only. So it will not only be easy to conduct elections there, it will also give mood of the public especially in the Kashmir valley, before the Government opts for holding the Panchayat polls,” sources pointed out and said if the Municipal elections are conducted successfully, the Panchayat polls will follow. Otherwise, they can be deferred as well.
The previous Government was of the view that the militants could target Panchayat candidates as it will not be possible to protect such a large number of candidates in the remote areas.
Sources said the issue of Panchayat and Municipal elections was once again taken up by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh at the high-level security review meeting in Srinagar yesterday saying it was necessary to strengthen the local self governance. During his visit to Jammu and Kashmir in September last year, Rajnath had taken up the issue with then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti for holding elections to Panchayats and Municipalities in the State.
In December last year, Governor NN Vohra had again taken up the matter with Mehbooba Mufti for holding Panchayat elections after which the then Chief Minister had announced conduct of Panchayat elections in February this year followed by Municipal elections in March. However, after holding an All Party Meeting in February after the Legislature session, the then Government had suspended the process of Panchayat elections, which was initiated in January, citing tourism seasons, security reasons etc.
Sources said the Rural Development and Urban Development Departments, which were responsible for holding Panchayat and Municipal elections respectively, were in touch with the State Election Department to ascertain the formalities required to be completed for conduct of elections to Panchayats and Municipalities.
The Election Department had completed almost all formalities for holding elections to Panchayats in January this year including purchase of ballot boxes from Himachal Pradesh, updating electoral rolls, delimitation and rotation of reserved seats of Panchs before the process was called off by the Government.
Elections to Urban Local Bodies were last held in January-February 2005 during the tenure of late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed-led PDP-Congress coalition Government. However, the elected Municipalities had completed their term in March 2010. Since then i.e. for more than eight years, the successive Governments didn’t hold elections to Municipalities.
Panchayat elections were held in 2011 by Omar Abdullah led National Conference-Congress coalition Government and the elected Panchayats had completed their term in July 2016. Elections to the Panchayats too haven’t been held since then.
Even former Finance Minister Dr Haseeb Drabu had presented separate budget for Panchayats along with general budget in the Legislature in January this year.
As reported, the Election Authority had already converted number of Panch constituencies in every Panchayat to odd numbers to facilitate smooth election of Sarpanchs. Some of the Panchayats had seven Panch constituencies and others nine. This exercise was completed in January.
“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 had opted for indirect elections. Now, the elections will be held only for Panchs while the Panchs would elect their Sarpanch whenever the Government decided to hold them,” 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 odd number of Panch segments would help in smooth election of Sarpanchs.
They added that number of the Panchayats have gone up to 4490 as compared to 4130 in 2011.
Sources said the Election Department had also finalized voter lists for the Panchayat elections. 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. However, the electoral rolls have to be updated once again when the Government initiates exercise for Municipal and Panchayat elections.