At a time when most senior leaders of mainstream political parties in the Valley are under detention — 250 under the J&K Public Safety Act and hundreds under various sections of the Ranbir Penal Code — the Jammu and Kashmir State Election Commission Sunday announced that Block Development Council (BDC) elections would be held on “party lines” on October 24.
“The counting of votes will be held the same day,” said J&K Chief Electoral Officer Shailendra Kumar.
In the BDC elections, panchs and sarpanchs will elect a chairman, after which District Development Boards (DDBs) will be constituted. Each DDB will comprise elected BDC chairpersons, besides MLAs and MPs from the district. These boards will play an important role in executing development work under the Panchayat Raj Act 1989 and rules framed in 1996.
Of the 310 blocks that will go to polls, 172 seats are reserved for Schedule Caste, Schedule Tribe and Women candidates. Shailendra Kumar said there will be 26,629 electors, of which 8,313 are female, 18,316 male. More than 50 per cent of the blocks, or 168, in the state are in the Kashmir Valley.
In the panchayat elections in J&K in October 2018, 23,629 panchs and 3,652 sarpanchs were elected. However, official figures show 61 per cent panch wards in the Valley are vacant. Of the 18,833 panch wards, panchs have been elected in only 7,596. Similarly, 45 per cent sarpanch wards are vacant. Of the 2,375 sarpanch wards in the Valley, 1,558 have been elected.
Most of them won without a contest. Of the 7,596 panchs elected in the Valley, more than 3,500 did not face a contest. Similarly, more than 530 sarpanchs were elected unopposed.
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Asked how the poll panel would ensure free and fair elections at a time when the mainstream leadership was under detention, Kumar said, “Whenever any candidate or any political party approaches us for facilitating a level playing field, we are here to facilitate that. I am not guessing what kind of requests will come.”
Asked if it was appropriate to conduct BDC elections with thousands of vacant panch seats, the state CEO said, “If we go for elections for vacant seats, then we have to prepare an electoral roll afresh. There must be two per cent new voters. Unless they are there, we can’t have fresh elections for the vacant seats.”
Kumar said it was important to go ahead with BDC elections. “At the block level, many development works have stopped and are not moving ahead,” he said.
Asked if political leaders under detention would be allowed to campaign, given that BDC elections are on party lines, the CEO said, “It is not huge kind of elections. There won’t be any fierce campaigning. You have to go door to door. It is a small electoral process. They (sarpanchs and panchs) are going to vote.”
To a question if the State Election Commission was facing any challenges after August 5, when the Centre removed special status to the state under Article 370, Kumar said, “There is no such challenge. The government has said security will be provided, wherever it is required. The district administration will assess if candidates need security once they fill the nomination form.”