JAMMU, Aug 10: In what could be a major relief for Jammu and Kashmir, the Central Government has in principle agreed to release the grants blocked for the State for not holding elections to Municipalities and Panchayats for past several years following an assurance given by the Government that it would hold elections to both bodies in next few months for which entire exercise has already been initiated.
Confirming this to the Excelsior, official sources said Jammu and Kashmir could benefit by at least Rs 1000 crore worth grants including Rs 700 crore for Panchayats and Rs 300 crore for Urban Local Bodies during the current financial year even if the previously blocked grants were not released. However, if the Centre agrees to release the previous years’ grants also, albeit in installments, the State would benefit immensely.
The State Government, according to sources, took up with the Centre the issue of pending grants running into hundreds of crores for past quite some time, which had been blocked as there were no elected Panchayats or Municipalities in place. As per new procedures, the majority part of grants for these two bodies are released only to elected Panchayats and ULBs and, in their absence, the grants are blocked.
They said the State Government has projected that it has initiated entire exercise for conduct of both Panchayat and Municipal elections and the Central Government was also well aware of the exercise as it was assisting in conduct of long pending polls to the urban and rural bodies. The State Government proposed to hold Municipal elections in September-October and Panchayat polls in October-December.
Jammu and Kashmir is scheduled to get around Rs 1000 crore worth grants for Panchayats and Urban Local Bodies during the current financial year including about Rs 700 crore for Panchayats and Rs 300 cr for ULBs. Initially, the Centre had decided not to release the grants to the State on the ground of delay in holding elections to the two bodies but with the State Government immediately after imposition of Governor’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir on June 20 approving schedule for the elections, the Government of India has assured release of the grants.
“The grants could be released pending conduct of the elections to Municipalities and Panchayats. However, there are certain specific grants, which have to be spent only through the elected bodies, which would be utilized after completion of the polls. If everything goes well, there would be elected Municipalities in place by October and Panchayats by December,” sources said.
The ULBs have so far suffered a total loss of Rs 1200 crore as Rs 900 crore worth grants had been blocked during the past few years by the Union Government in the absence of any elected bodies in place for the past over eight years now while Rs 300 crore worth grants were stopped during last financial year of 2017-18.
The Panchayats got their due grants for full five years from 2011 to 2016 but the grants amounting to Rs 700 crore were blocked by the Government of India once the elected Panchayats ceased to exist as no elections were held to them after 2016.
The practice of blocking the grants in the absence of elected Panchayats and ULBs was aimed at encouraging the State Governments to hold regular elections to Panchayats and Municipalities for keeping democracy restored at grass-root level and facilitate developmental works identified by the local representatives of the people.
The previous PDP-BJP coalition Government in its meetings with various representatives of the Central Government had cited “exceptional circumstances” of Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of militancy and other disturbed conditions for not holding elections to the Panchayats and Municipalities seeking release of grants but the Centre didn’t oblige. However, this time, the Centre was convinced that the State Government has seriously initiated the process to conduct Municipal and Panchayat polls and was, therefore, almost ready to concede the State’s demand for release of the grants.
While the 14th Finance Commission grants can be re-validated by the Government of India if the Municipal and Panchayat elections are held, rest of the grants for previous years are generally lost unless the Centre takes very liberal view.
The Panchayat elections were due in Jammu and Kashmir in June-July 2016 after the completion of five year term of the bodies, which were elected in 2011 during National Conference-Congress coalition Government.
The Municipal elections were last held in the State in January 2005 during the tenure of late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed when he headed the PDP-Congress coalition Government. The elected Municipalities had completed their five-year term in March 2010.