Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh Friday said elections to panchayat and urban local bodies in Jammu and Kashmir, boycotted by the two major parties in the state, will be of historic significance in many ways and help re-establish grassroots democracy. The home minister said in a statement that the central government will provide all support, including central forces, to help in the smooth conduct of the elections.
“These local body elections will have a historic significance in many aspects. The local bodies elections in Jammu and Kashmir will re-establish the long overdue grassroots level democracy in the state,” he said. The polls to elect 4,130 ‘sarpanches’ (village headmen), 29,719 ‘panches’ (panchayat members) and 1,145 ward commissioners will be held next month.
The National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party have decided to boycott the elections, saying the central government is yet to clear its stand on Article 35A of the Constitution, which was challenged in the Supreme Court.
Urban local body elections were last held in 2005 and panchayat elections in 2011. The home minister said the Jammu and Kashmir government has taken a number of decisions following a review meeting during his visit to the state on July 4-5. The most significant of them is the conduct of local body elections. “The central government is providing all possible support to the state government for smooth conduct of these elections including deployment of central forces in sufficient numbers,” he said.
Singh said the elections will also pave the way for making available nearly Rs 4,335 crore of 14th Finance Commission central grants to the duly constituted local bodies. “But for these elections, people of Jammu and Kashmir would have been deprived of these funds meant for their welfare,” he said.
According to Singh, local bodies are also being vested with significantly enhanced devolution of powers in line with best practices in the country and the polls will enable them to address most of the local issues in their jurisdictions.
The minister said the functions and functionaries of all 29 subjects transferred to panchayats under the 73rd amendment of the Constitution will also be transferred to the panchayats of Jammu and Kashmir. These include institutions like primary health centres, primary schools and anganwadi centres. The home minister said financial powers of panchayats are being enhanced 10 times from Rs 10,000 to Rs 1 lakh.
Similarly, from Rs 25,000 to Rs 2.5 lakh for block councils, every panchayat will now get around Rs 50-80 lakh per year at its disposal for implementation of development schemes, the minister said. To further strengthen the panchayats, additional posts are being sanctioned for accountant, data entry operator, block panchayat inspector and the like, he said.
The home minister said the Leh and Kargil Autonomous Hill Development Councils (LAHDC and KAHDC) have been strengthened and empowered to become the most autonomous councils in the country to address various issues being faced by people living in the remote areas of Ladakh region. Article 35A was incorporated in the Constitution by a 1954 Presidential Order and accords special rights and privileges to Jammu and Kashmir citizens.
The Article, which also denies property rights to a woman who marries a person from outside the state, has been challenged in the Supreme Court and the matter is still under its consideration.