Says they were not consulted, conditions not conducive in Kashmir
Srinagar: Reacting to the government’s decision to hold Panchayat elections in February next year, the All Jammu & Kashmir Panchayat Conference (AJKPC), an amalgamation of all the state’s panchayat bodies, said on Tuesday that the government had not consulted them before the announcement and that the decision was a “premature move out of compulsion”.
Chairman AJKPC Shafiq Raina told Kashmir Reader that the government had made an “abrupt decision” without taking efforts to make the situation in Kashmir conducive for polls.
“Before announcing the date, it would have been better had the government worked on the ground situation to create an atmosphere suitable for the elections. We didn’t hear the Chief Minister making a speech appealing to people to participate in panchayat polls, rather she abruptly announced the date,” he said.
He said that it was local political polities who exploited panchayat members in the past and made their lives vulnerable to threats and lethal attacks. “Several of our members were killed and others injured due to these attacks. We don’t want more attacks now. We don’t want ourselves to become the victims and tools of vicious politicians,” he said.
In her meeting with Governor N N Vohra on Monday, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti informed him about her government’s decision to commence panchayat elections from 15 February 2018.
Polls to 4,098 panchayats are to be held after every five years. The term of the last panchayat expired in June 2016, but due to the public uprising that began the next month, the polls were postponed, making fresh polls long overdue.
Later, the government announced it would hold polls in March-April this year, only to be postpone them again after it decided to conduct by-polls for two Valley parliamentary seats first.
The absence of panchayats not only prevents decentralisation of power but also blocks money budgeted for them. The last panchayat elections were held six years ago in 2011.
“Before all, we wanted the government to implement the 73rd Amendment here, but they didn’t. We wanted them to empower local bodies before announcing election dates, which again they didn’t. It is simply a premature decision out of compulsion because the government is eying funds that come from the central government under various schemes,” Raina said.
Citing last year’s amendment to the Panchayat Act, Shafiq said that rather than empowering local bodies, the government was disempowering them by snatching rights that local body members enjoy under the Constitution.
“They (the government) have made an amendment during the last winter budget session that the sarpanchs of these local bodies will now be elected indirectly by the punchs who otherwise were directly elected by the people. It was done so because the punchs would be easily manipulated by political parties later after they were elected to support or represent (the political parties) in the assembly and in parliamentary elections or at least to keep their hold in their localities,” he said.
He said that the AJKPC’s members were not affiliated with any political party and that their members would contest polls independently.