Panchayat poll phases may be cut to half from 2011

Duration of election process to be reduced

Excelsior Correspondent
JAMMU, Jan 5: The State Election Commission (SEC) was planning to cut by nearly half the total phases in which the Panchayat elections will be held as compared to 2011 and could also reduce gap between the phases to minimize total duration of the polls, which the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had recently announced to commence from February 15.
Sources told the Excelsior that as compared to 17 phases in which the 2011 Panchayat elections were held with total poll duration lasting about three and half months, the SEC could reduce number of the phases to nearly half i.e. between 8 to 10. This will also bring down the polling period from nearly three and half months to about two months.
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 days 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.
However, much would depend on availability of para-military forces and Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel for conduct of the elections as it was “gigantic task” to protect more than one lakh candidates, who could jump into fray for 35096 Panch constituencies spread over 4490 Panchayats for which the elections will be held in the State.  In 2011, there were only 29,719 Panch segments for 4130 Panchayats.
The Chief Minister had also announced that Urban Local Bodies (ULB) elections, which haven’t been held since 2010, will be conducted after the Panchayat polls.
Meanwhile, 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 Sarpanchs 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, which would have created 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. Last elections to Panchayats were held in 2011 and the elected Panchayats had completed their term in June 2016. Presently, there were no elected Panchayats.
The main Opposition parties including National Conference and Congress have objected to the system of “indirect election” of Sarpanches and wanted previous system of “direct election” to be restored. However, the Government didn’t concede the Opposition demand and would go ahead with “indirect election” of Sarpanchs.
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.
The Elections Department has also taken up the issue of supply of ballot boxes with their counterpart in Himachal Pradesh as the Panchayati Raj Act provides for holding Panchayat elections in the State using ballot boxes and ballot papers and not with the latest technique of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).
The Panchayat elections were last held in the State in April-May 2011 during National Conference-Congress coalition Government headed by Omar Abdullah after a gap of nearly four decades. However, the elected Panchayats had completed their five-year term in July 2016 and since then the elected Panchayats had been rendered defunct as the elections were not held to them.
The Central grants running into several hundreds of crores have been blocked due to delay in holding of Panchayat elections as the Union Government gave certain grants only to the elected Panchayats directly.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh during his four-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir from September 9-12 had also called for holding Panchayat and Municipal elections in the State.