Hindustan Times (Patiala) - - Front Page - HT Correspond­ent let­ter­[email protected]

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.

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