By Sanjeev Pargal
JAMMU, Apr 6: Delay in preparation of draft rolls followed by revision of electoral rolls and completion of many other formalities have delayed elections to Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and it would be impossible for the Election Department to complete poll process even in May.
Official sources said the statement by Minister of State for Housing and Urban Development, Nasir Aslam Wani, who also holds charge of Home Department, in the Legislative Council on April 4 that ULB election process would be completed by April end appeared to have been made out of sight.
“The Government, had in January this year, written to the Election Department to complete election process of Municipalities by April end. The statement was reportedly based on that order, which has neither been modified nor cancelled so far”, they said.
However, according to sources, due to delay in preparation of draft rolls by some of the Deputy Commissioners, which would be followed by mandatory revision of electoral rolls and reservation of wards for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes and women, the Election Department was not in a position even to complete the election process in May what to say of April end.
Even Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, in his reply to the debate on grants of his Departments in the Legislative Assembly on March 28, had said that elections to ULBs would be held this year. He had not mentioned any specific month or given any deadline for conducting the polls, dropping enough hints that elections were unlikely to be completed by the April end deadline set by him early this year.
Meanwhile, when approached for his comments, Nasir Aslam Wani, said he had reiterated the Government message sent to the Election Department earlier that the election process should be completed by April end.
“I had said in the Council that the Government had written to the Election Department to complete poll process by April end”, he said, adding it was for the Department now to give reasons for not meeting the deadline.
Mr Wani said Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand, who holds portfolio of Housing and Urban Development Department, has called a meeting of all concerned officials early next week, most likely on Monday or Tuesday, to discuss threadbare a strategy to hold the Municipal elections at the early possible date.
Sources said revised figures of the census have made Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) eligible for 75 Wards instead of present 65 while Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) even didn’t qualify for existing 71 Wards. Under the Act, population of a Ward in the Corporation shouldn’t exceed 7500.
The Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar has already written to the concerned authorities including Housing and Urban Development Department and Election Department for increase in number of Wards of the SMC from 65 to 75. The H&UD Department was yet to take a decision on it.
In addition to this, sources pointed out, a number of districts were yet to come up with draft rolls. Though some of the districts have prepared draft rolls, others were yet to submit the lists to the Election Department.
“Only when all districts submit draft rolls to the Election Department that revision of electoral rolls could be ordered ”, sources said pointing out that revision of rolls was mandatory before conducting elections to the Municipalities.
It would take at least 15 days to the Election Department to complete revision of electoral rolls.
Going by the statement of Nasir Aslam Wani that reserved Wards for women would be changed in the elections, sources said, the exercise of identifying the Wards for reservation of SC, STs and women as provided in the Municipal Act would also take time as these Wards would be identified by the Deputy Commissioners and conveyed to the Election Department.
Due to addition of some Municipalities, their Wards, voters and reserved Wards were also yet to be fully identified. Moreover, some areas of Municipalities have been included in Panchayats and vice versa. The concerned Deputy Commissioners have to finally demarcate the Wards.
Fresh census figures have also created certain problems, sources said, adding that population had increase in some Wards and gone down in others, leading to imbalances, which were being set right.
After revision of electoral rolls was completed, the Election Department had to issue a notification of 21 days for starting elections process for first phase, sources said.
The elections to Urban Local Bodies were hanging fire for past about two years now as all Municipal bodies had ceased to exist in March 2010. Elections to the ULBs were held in January-February 2005 after a gap of about 26 years as they had last been held in 1979. The Municipalities were formed in first week of March in 2005 and they completed their five years term in March 2010. Since then, the elections hadn’t been held to Municipal bodies.
During last elections held to the Municipalities, there were 14.34 lakh voters. With elections now being held after more than seven years, the number of electorates was expected to go up significantly especially with the inclusion of 16 more Municipalities for holding elections.
The Central funds worth several crores had been blocked due to delay in holding of elections to the ULBs, sources said, adding though the funds are non-lapsable, they would be granted by the Centre to the State only when elections were held to the Municipalities.
It may be mentioned that the Centre has agreed to release Rs 364 crore worth funds to the State, which had been blocked due to delay in holding of elections to the Panchayats.
According to sources, the elections to Municipalities would be held on party basis contrary to the Panchayat elections, which were held on non-party basis last year.
Sources said only after the completion of electoral process for Municipalities, the Government would hold first ever elections to Block Development Councils in the State, which would be second tier of Panchayats.
Election for four seats of Legislative Council of Panchayats would also be held after the Municipal polls, sources said, adding that the Government could request the Election Commission through the State Election Department to hold election for four seats of MLCs from Panchayat quota (two each from Jammu and Kashmir divisions) simultaneously with two seats of MLCs to be elected by the Municipalities (one each from Jammu and Kashmir divisions) if the ULBs were in place.
By Sanjeev Pargal