In the first democratic process in Jammu and Kashmir since the government’s August 5 decision to scrap the special status under Article 370, elections to Block Development Councils (BDC) — the second tier in the Panchayati Raj system — will be held on Thursday.
This is the first time that over 26,000 panchs and sarpanchs from across the state — elected in November-December last year — will cast their votes in their respective blocks to elect the BDC chairpersons. Any panch or sarpanch can stand for the post of block chairperson.
But with the mainstream political leadership detained since August, and, barring the BJP, all the major parties — NC, PDP and Congress — deciding to boycott the polls, questions are being raised about the credibility of the process.
While J&K has 316 blocks, elections were to be held for 310 blocks, as there were no candidates in the remaining blocks. Official records show that while no panch or sarpanch had been elected in two blocks of the Valley, there was no female panch or sarpanch in the four blocks reserved for women — 33 per cent of the blocks have been reserved for women candidates.
Of the 310 blocks, candidates in 27 blocks have been elected unopposed. So voting will be held only in 283 blocks, where over a thousand candidates are in the fray. According to the election department, 853 are independent candidates, while 218 are from the BJP.
“We are ready and everything is in place,” J&K’s Chief Electoral Office Shailendra Kumar told The Indian Express. “All polling material has been despatched and the staff have been trained. Counting will take place immediately after the elections are over,” he said.
Polling stations have been set up at each block. “We have made (security) arrangements for the BDC polls at every place. I believe that the elections will be held peacefully,” said J&K’s Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbag Singh.
Officials have said that the BDC polls will pave the way for elections to the District Planning and Development Boards (DPDB), the third-tier of Panchayati Raj, and thus spur development in the state. “It is for the first time that the DPDB would be emerging out of popularly elected local self-governments,” CEO Kumar had earlier told The Indian Express.
However, official figures reveal that 61 per cent of panch seats in the Valley are vacant. Of the 18,833 panch seats in Kashmir, panches have been elected in only 7,596, as there were no candidates in the remaining seats. And of the 7,596 elected panches, the government has notified only 7,308, as only one panch was elected in 288 panchayats.
The figures are similar for the sarpanches as well. According to government figures, over 45 per cent sarpanch seats in the Valley are vacant. Of the 2,375 sarpanch seats in the Valley, 1,558 have been elected, and only 1,311 notified.