Panchayat elections begin today in 15 distts across State

Polling staff leaves for far flung areas of Udhampur on Friday.
Polling staff leaves for far flung areas of Udhampur on Friday.

5585 in fray, 1761 elected unopposed
Contingency Plan in place for border belt

Sanjeev Pargal
JAMMU, Nov 16: Being held after a delay of nearly two and half years amidst boycott call by National Conference and PDP and threats by the militants, Panchayat elections will begin in 15 districts of the State tomorrow under massive security arrangements with authorities also putting in place a `Contingency Plan’ for the polling stations falling within firing and shelling range of Pakistan which will be relocated immediately in case of any eventuality.
First phase of Panchayat elections tomorrow will cover selected blocks of seven Jammu province districts including Doda, Kishtwar, Ramban, Poonch, Rajouri, Udhampur and Kathua, six districts of Kashmir-Bandipora, Baramulla, Budgam, Ganderbal, Kupwara and Srinagar and both districts of Ladakh region including Leh and Kargil, official sources told the Excelsior.
Panchayat elections will be held in total of nine phase till December 11. Polling will be held from 8 am to 2 pm while counting of the votes will start immediately thereafter.
Notwithstanding the boycott call of NC and PDP, there has been massive enthusiasm among the people amid reports that active leaders of these two parties have also jumped into fray for the elections.

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Polling for Phase-I will have 3296 polling stations across the State, including 1303 in Kashmir and 1993 in Jammu division.
According to the Chief Electoral Officer, J&K, Shaleen Kabra, 5585 candidates are in the fray for 420 Sarpanch and 1845 Panch seats in Phase-I. He said 85 Sarpanchs and 1676 Panchs have already been elected unopposed in the first phase.
He said 687 polling stations have been categorized as hypersensitive including 491 in Kashmir and 196 in Jammu Division.
He added that in the areas going to polls in the Phase-I, 4,45,059 electors will be voting for Sarpanch seats while 2,72,729 will be polling for Panch constituencies.
“Adequate security arrangements have been made for the elections in all blocks of 15 districts of the State, which were going to polls tomorrow with deployment of para-military CRPF and Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel,” sources said.
Authorities have also pressed Contingency Plan in place for the Panchayat elections in five districts of Jammu region following renewed tensions on the Line of Control (LoC) and identified alternate places in safer areas to relocate polling booths in case of any eventuality.
Over 150 polling stations in five border districts of Jammu region including Kathua, Samba, Jammu (along the International Border) and Rajouri and Poonch districts (along LoC) fall within firing and shelling range of Pakistan army and Rangers.
Sources said the administration have prepared Contingency Plan for all five border districts in view of fresh tensions on the LoC where three Army soldiers and a porter have been killed and five others injured during past about one week in Pakistan firing while ceasefire violations were also taking place quite often in Sunderbani, Nowshera and Pallanwalla sectors.
“Under the Contingency Plan, all five Deputy Commissioners of the border districts have identified all polling stations for the Panchayat elections, which fall within firing and shelling range and located alternate spots for them for relocation of polling booths if the need arises on the day of voting in view of Pakistan army’s firing and shelling,” sources said, adding that the concerned Deputy Commissioners will take a decision as and when required.
The Deputy Commissioners, according to sources, have been asked to ensure that in no case voting suffers due to Pakistan firing and shelling. “The polling should continue uninterruptedly by changing location of the polling stations to safer areas,” sources said, adding that all arrangements for the purpose have either been made or will be in place well before the voting.
They said 170 candidates are in the fray for 64 Sarpanch Halqas and 762 for 498 Panch Wards in Kupwara district, while 21 candidates for 20 Sarpanch Halqas and 81 for 146 Panch wards in Bandipora district.
In Baramulla district, 148 candidates are in the fray for 63 Sarpanch Halqas and 630 for 497 Panch wards.
Eleven candidates for 15 Sarpanch Halqas and 21 for 105 Panch wards in Ganderbal district, six candidates for five Sarpanch Halqas and nine for 45 Panch wards in Srinagar and 35 candidates for 26 Sarpanch Halqas and 124 for 222 Panch wards in Budgam district are contesting the polls in the first phase.
In Kargil, 51 candidates for 23 Sarpanch Halqas and 225 for 179 Panch wards, while in Leh, 64 candidates for 32 Sarpanch Halqas and 207 for 226 Panch wards are in the fray, sources said.
In Kishtwar district, 107 candidates for 50 Sarpanch Halqas and 494 for 358 Panch wards are in the fray, sources said, adding that 190 candidates for 52 Sarpanch Halqas and 626 for 364 Panch wards are in the fray in Doda district.
The officials said 89 candidates for 27 Sarpanch Halqas and 337 for 195 Panch wards in Ramban district and 162 candidates for 42 Sarpanch Halqas and 779 for 332 Panch wards in Udhampur district are contesting the polls.
In Kathua district, 114 candidates are in the fray for 29 Sarpanch Halqas and 450 for 209 Panch wards, while 121 candidates for 35 Sarpanch Halqas and 469 for 253 Panch wards in Rajouri district.
Sources said 162 candidates for 53 Sarpanch Halqas and 736 for 419 Panch wards in Poonch district are contesting the polls.