Successful panchayat elections will bring new dawn to J&K
by Jaibans Singh on 12 Oct 2018 1 Comment

The breakdown of the coalition government of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and institution of Governor’s Rule in the state was perceived to be a major setback. Added to it was the fact that the tenure of the then Governor NN Vohra, was at its end. Governors of Jammu and Kashmir have always been from a bureaucratic or military background. The Centre surprised everybody by selecting Satya Pal Malik, a career politician, as Governor for the first time in the State’s history. By so doing the Government made its intention of furthering the political process very clear.


It soon became apparent that Governor Malik was determined to conduct the Local Bodies elections despite opposition from the separatists, which was expected, and sadly, also from the PDP and National Conference (NC).


In mid-September, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) declared a nine-phase poll for around 4500 ‘Panchayat Halqas’ with about 58 lakh eligible voters. The elections, as per tradition, are to be held on non-party basis. Thus, the ball for energising the political process has been firmly set rolling.


The terrorists and divisive forces are expectedly putting in all efforts to derail the election process. Prospective candidates are being threatened through posters, door to door canvassing and through the many mosques under their control to desist from contesting or face violent reprisals. The terrorist cadre, though critically depleted, has been told to spike up its activities.


Despite all this, however, the desired results are not materialising. The terrorists cannot operate freely due to sustained and incisive counter-terrorist operations by the security forces, led by the Indian Army. Their already depleted strength is getting reduced by the day and they are not in a position to see their threats through. They have attempted to target police personnel and their families but have failed to intimidate them. The Centre is poised to provide all possible support to the State Government for smooth conduct of the elections, including deployment of Central forces in sufficient numbers. 


The historic significance of the local bodies’ elections cannot be over-emphasised. The tenure of the previous panchayats ended in 2016 and re-elections have since been postponed on some pretext or other. There is a feeling that some political forces in the state are resisting transfer of power to the grassroots.


These elections will pave the way for making available nearly Rs. 4,335 crore of 14th Finance Commission Central grants to the duly constituted local bodies. At present, in the absence of an empowered entity, the people are being deprived of the development that can be ensured through influx of this huge amount.


The Union Government is determined to ensure that the local bodies are vested with requisite powers conforming to the best practices in the country. The functions and functionaries of all the 29 subjects transferred to Panchayats under the 73rd Amendment of the Constitution  of India will be transferred to the Panchayats of J&K, including institutions like primary health centres, primary schools, anganwadi centres to name a few. Financial powers of Panchayats are proposed to be enhanced ten times, from Rs 10,000/- to Rs 1 lakh for Panchayats and from Rs 25,000/- to Rs 2.5 lakh for Block Councils. This will enable the Panchayats to address most of the local issues in their jurisdiction. 


Panchayats will be empowered to and motivated towards “Own Fund Generation”. This will be done by giving them jurisdiction over issues such as building permission fee, entertainment tax, advertisement space etc. Central and State Government funds will further supplement the “Own funds” under various schemes such as MGNERGA, PMAY, ICDS, Mid-Day meal etc. The Union Government proposes to ensure involvement of Panchayats in the implementation of national schemes such as National Health Mission, Samagraha Siksha Mission etc.


Overall, the Panchayats will have at their disposal funds to the tune of Rs. 50-80 lakh per year. They will be allowed to create a secretarial infrastructure, including accountant, data entry operator, block panchayat inspector, and so on.


The Leh and Kargil Autonomous Hill Development Councils (LAHDC and KAHDC) have already been given powers to levy and collect local taxes as well as control over functioning of various departments working for the subjects that are transferred to them.  Public buildings and roads constructed by LAHDC & KAHDC now belong to the councils. They have become the strongest local bodies in the country.


Despite the ban, threats, and intimidation, there are 1283 candidates in the fray contesting from 422 wards in the first phase itself. Of these, 78 wards (15 in northern Kashmir, 24 in central Kashmir, 30 in southern Kashmir and nine in Jammu division) received only one nomination, leading to the candidate being elected unopposed. This indicates that there are many courageous leaders in the Kashmir Valley who wish to break the vice-like grip of the terrorists and divisive forces. Many from the younger generation are coming forward as candidates to contest the elections, an encouraging trend that is likely to throw up a new leadership cadre that the state needs very urgently.


The local bodies’ election will be a game changer in the political landscape of the trouble-torn State. They will usher in a new era of peace and development through democratic practices. This is why forces who wish to keep the people in darkness are fighting tooth and nail to ensure that the elections do not take off. It is encouraging to note that the people are steadfast in defeating the evil forces.


The security forces are poised to give all security to the candidates and the people during the polls. The terrorists are losing ground and will soon be totally eliminated. The dawn of a new era in Jammu and Kashmir is approaching.


The author is a reputed columnist, author and political commentator

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