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J&K: Eight-phase panchayat bypolls to begin on March 5

J&K Chief Electoral Officer Shailendra Kumar said panchayat polls to vacant posts will be conducted in eight phases.

Written by Arun Sharma | Jammu |
Updated: February 14, 2020 3:53:15 am
J&K panchayat elections During the panchayat elections in October 2019. (Express Photo: Shuaib Masoodi)

The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) on Thursday announced panchayat bypolls for vacant sarpanch and panch seats in Jammu and Kashmir from March 5. The model code of conduct comes into force with immediate effect, he said.

Unlike the panchayat elections in November-December 2018 that were held on non-party basis, the bye-elections will be held on party lines in eight phases, said Shailendra Kumar, CEO of the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. “Although some panch and sarpanch seats are vacant in Ladakh, they will not be covered in these bypolls as we have not received any request from the administration there,” he said.

The announcement coincided with the ongoing Jammu and Kashmir visit by envoys of nearly two dozen foreign countries. It also comes ahead of US President Donald Trump’s visit to India. Top leaders of NC, PDP and Peoples Conference are still under detention in Kashmir.

There are 4,483 sarpanch and 35,029 panch seats in the 318 blocks across the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Of these, 1,011 sarpanch and 11,639 panch seats are vacant in Jammu and Kashmir’s 274 blocks. Most of these vacancies — 887 sarpanch and 11,457 panch seats — are in the Valley.

Asked whether the announcement of bypolls was to showcase normalcy during the foreign envoys’ visit, Kumar said, “We are only performing our statutory duty. The government wanted us to hold elections and we initiated the process accordingly,” he said.

The CEO said he does not see any ambiguity in holding bye-elections on party basis on the vacant seats when the other seats were filled up through elections on non-party lines. As the last urban local body and Block Development Council elections in Jammu and Kashmir were held on party basis, there is no point in holding bye-elections on non-party lines now, he said, adding that there is no bar on those elected on non-party basis joining any political party.

He said polling will be held in eight phases — March 5, March 7, March 9, March 12, March 14, March 16, March 18 and on March 20. Pointing out that the sarpanch and panch seats going to polls now were left vacant during the panchayat elections in 2018, Kumar said those elected now will hold office for the remaining term of the panchayat.

Ballot boxes will be used for these elections, he added.

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