EC: PANCHAYAT BYPOLLS IN J&K FROM MARCH 5
JAMMU: By-elections to over 12,500 panchayat seats in Jammu & Kashmir will be held in eight phases from March 5 as part of the second such electoral exercise since the region was stripped of its special status with the nullification of the Constitution’s Article 370 and the incarceration of hundreds of politicians and activists in August.
Jammu & Kashmir’s chief electoral officer Shailendra Kumar said the polling would conclude on March 20 and that paper ballots would be used for the polling. “Ballot boxes would be used during these elections,” said Kumar. Paper ballots were used during the 2018 local elections too. The polling dates were announced a week after two former chief ministers, Omar Abdullah of the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) Mehbooba Mufti, were booked under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) that allows for detention without trial for up to two years. Another former chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, was booked under the PSA in September.
JAMMU/SRINAGAR: The panchayat bypolls for over 12,500 vacant seats in Jammu and Kashmir will be held in eight phases starting March 5, said J&K chief electoral officer (CEO) Shailendra Kumar on Thursday.
“Out of 137 blocks in Kashmir, 128 having 887 panchayat halqas will go to polls for 11,457 vacant panch constituencies. Similarly, out of 148 blocks in Jammu, 146 having 124 panchayat halqas will go to polls for 182 vacant panch constituencies, ” said CEO Shailendra Kumar.
“Therefore, out of a total 285 blocks in J&K, 274 blocks having 1,011 vacant sapranch seats and 11,639 vacant panch seats will go to polls in eight phases on March 5, 7, 9, 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20,” he said.
Jammu and Kashmir government on Tuesday had issued notification to fill vacant panchayats, where panches and sarpanches could not be elected in 2018.
This will be the first election which will be held under UT administration after erstwhile state of J&K was bifurcated into two UTs—J&K and Ladakh.
Roughly 60 per cent of the total panchayat seats in Kashmir remained vacant after the last edition in November-December 2018 due to lack of participation in the electoral process. Two major parties the National Conference (NC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had boycotted the polls over Article 370 and 35-A.
The CEO informed that polls in snowbound areas like Marwah and Dachhan in Kishtwar and Gurez in Kupwara will be held at a later stage.
In last panchyat elections, a total of 22, 214 panches and 3,459 sarpanches were elected out of a total of 33,592 panch and 4,290 sarpanch constituencies. Ballot boxes will be used to conduct the exercise. Responding to queries, he said that the UT administration of Ladakh has not made any request to his office to hold polls for the vacant panchayat constituencies there.
“It is still snowbound and cold conditions are prevailing there. It is not feasible to hold polls at this point of time in Ladakh,” he said.
When asked why this edition is being conducted on party basis unlike 2018 edition, Kumar said,
“Polls are never non-political, they are always political. Everyone knows that during panchayat polls in 2018, all the candidates were affiliated to certain political groups or ideologies. Since they were held on non-party basis they were elected as independents, but today if they join political parties they won’t be disqualified.”
When asked whether polls were announced keeping in mind visit of a foreign envoy to J&K, the
› The model code conduct comes into force from today (Thursday) in Jammu and Kashmir. The polling hours shall be from 9am to 1pm. Votes will be counted and results will be declared on the same day.
SHAILENDRA KUMAR , J&K chief electoral officer (CEO)
CEO said, “I don’t think any election commission would wait for such envoys to announce elections. We have been preparing for this for long and an SRO was issued last month. The schedule was expected any time.”
To another query on security arrangements vis-à-vis recent terror attacks in Nagrota and in Srinagar, he said that the security arrangements will be tight.
“We will ensure that polls are held peacefully and whatever is required will be done. As far as security to candidates is concerned, it will be provided as per threat perception to them. Once the candidates were announced, IGP and SSPs will be reviewing this aspect,” he said. To keep a check on expenditure by contesting candidates, the CEO has put a rider of ₹1 lakh for those contesting for the post of sarpanch and ₹30,000 for the post of panch.
■ EIGHT-PHASE VOTING: Jammu and Kashmir chief electoral officer Shailendra Kumar (left) addressing a press conference in Jammu on Thursday.