Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir governor NN Vohra has drawn flak for his decision to hold panchayat and municipal polls in the state, even though he has kept the Legislative Assembly in suspended animation to avoid holding Assembly elections for six months from 19 June, the date the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew support to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), causing the government to collapse.
Several political parties have criticised Vohra for his decision, saying that if conditions in the state are conducive for Panchayat and municipal elections, there is no point in deferring Assembly elections either. They say that the number of candidates in the fray during panchayat and municipal elections is much higher than the corresponding numbers for Assembly elections, and therefore a greater security risk as well.
With anti-establishment protests raging across Kashmir, especially the southern part of the Valley, even civilian killings haven't stopped since Governor's Rule came into effect a month ago. However, despite all this, Vohra has asked officials to gear up for the elections. The focus of the government under Vohra has now shifted to "creating a conducive environment" for the Panchayat and urban body elections.
On the other hand, all political parties, except the BJP, have demanded that the Legislative Assembly be dissolved immediately and fresh elections take place. They have claimed that keeping the Assembly in suspended animation is resulting in "horse trading business".
On Thursday, the state government issued a directive asking the officials to "conduct preparatory work for elections to panchayats and urban local bodies". The government constituted the committee of officers — one for the entire state and two others for the regions of Kashmir and Jammu — "to draw a road map and detailed schedule for conduct of elections to urban local bodies and panchayats across the state".
The officers have been asked that an "assessment should be made on the ground to take into consideration security, logistical, personnel, equipment and all other requirements".
The state level committee, headed by principal secretary (home), has been asked to submit its report to the government by 10 August.
Secretary rural development and Panchayati Raj, Sheetal Nanda, said that "preparations are underway for holding the polls". She said that the chief electoral officer (CEO) is in the "process of finalising the constituencies" of panchs and sarpanchs which will go to polls. "We have started the preparation of finalising the constituencies and the electoral rolls," she said.
She added that the finalisation of constituencies is "done on the basis of delimitation and 33 percent reservation for women".
An earlier assessment by the state government revealed that as many as 18,785 panchs and 2,369 sarpanchs will be elected in Kashmir alone. But, based on the new exercise which has been launched, the numbers would vary, said an official of the Rural Development Department. Apart from the constituencies of panchs and sarpanchs, 80 municipal bodies, including municipal councils and municipal committees would also go for polls in the state, said financial commissioner, housing and urban development department, KB Agarwal.
Nanda said that due to the delay in the holding of panchayat polls, the state government has lost money which would have come as a "grant to the panchayats" from the Government of India, and this has prevented women from taking part in the grassroot decision making.
People's Democratic Party's women's wing president, Safina Beigh, however, said, "There is reservation for women in the panchayats at the lower level as well, but not at the higher level in the Assembly. But we have seen that these reservations are not having any benefit on the ground, as whenever decisions were taken by panchs and sarpanchs, they were made by either the brothers or husbands of the women."
Congress state president GA Mir said that the party has already sought that the Legislative Assembly be placed under suspended animation. "In the all party meeting, we made it clear to Governor Vohra that if a political party claims that it intends to form the government, that party has to be given a chance. Since none of the parties have staked a claim for government formation, we are expecting the governor will come back to us on our demand to dissolve the Assembly."
Congress state vice-president GN Monga said, "By keeping the Assembly in suspended animation, the governor is promoting horse trading. The Assembly has been kept in suspended animation to allow government formation, but the governor has not talked of Assembly elections at all. The decision has to be taken by the governor himself; we have put forth our views."
Former minister and National Conference provincial president for Kashmir, Nasir Aslam Wani, also echoed similar views, saying that the party has sought that the Assembly be dissolved to prevent horse trading. "We are seeking that the Assembly be dissolved, or the business of horse trading will go on," he said.
"If the ground situation is not conducive for polls because civilians are getting killed, there has to be a proper assessment which must be done by the governor," Wani said.
Vohra had earlier kept the state Assembly in suspended animation instead of dissolving it in order to prevent holding of elections within six months. There is a constitutional obligation to hold two sessions of legislative Assembly in six months.
But with Vohra keeping the Assembly in suspended animation, many PDP MLAs have raised dissenting voices against former chief minister and party president Mehbooba Mufti, purportedly to form a government with BJP.
Even as Mehbooba tries to woo back the party's rebel MLAs, one of them, Tangmarg legislator Mohammad Abbas Wani, said, "It's not possible for me to join a PDP headed by Mehbooba Mufti. We're waiting for the Amarnath Yatra to conclude, and will then begin government formation talks with like-minded legislators."
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Updated Date: Jul 21, 2018 14:47:19 IST