SRINAGAR: After fixing dates for municipal polls, the State Election Commission announced dates for panchayat elections on Sunday: November 17, 20, 24, 27, 29, December 1, 4, 8 and 11. Counting will take place on the day of polling. “Votes will be cast using ballot paper,” said Shaleen Kabra, J&K Chief Electoral Officer, told reporters.
The elections to be held in nine phases will be boycotted by the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party. The panchayat elections have been delayed since June 2016. First they were delayed due to the 2016 uprising triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, and then due to civilian killings and violence on the day parliamentary by-polls were held in Srinagar constituency in April last year. There has since been no stop to the spree of civilian killings and public protests.
The last time panchayat elections were held was in March-April 2011, after a gap of ten years. Those elections had also been delayed due to the anger of people against the government.
The Election Commission hasn’t been able to hold parliamentary by-polls for Anantnag parliamentary constituency for more than 20 months now. The by-polls for Srinagar constituency saw an embarrassing 7 percent voter turnout, a record low in the history of Indian rule in Kashmir.
This time the EC has added 280 new panchayats. The number of panch constituencies has gone up by 4,000, from 29,402 to 33,402.
“The entire process will last for 25 days. The notification for the same will be issued from October 23. Individual notifications for each phase of the elections will be issued on October, 23, 26, 29 and November 1, 3, 6, 9, 12 and 14,” Kabra said and added that the polls will be contested on non-party basis.
He said the last date for filing nominations for these nine phases will be October 30, November 2, 5, 8, 10, 13, 16, 19 and 22, respectively.
“The date of scrutiny of nominations will be October 31, November 3, 6, 9, 12, 14, 17, 20 and 24. The last dates of withdrawal of candidature will be November 2, 5, 8, 12, 14, 16, 19, 22 and 26,” Kabra said.
The Election Commission has scheduled the polling hours from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm.
Kabra said that in majority of the places, the number of voters will not exceed 700.
“In the 4,500 Panchayat halqas in the state, there are 316 blocks, 35,000 Panch constituencies, and the number of electors as per the draft roll is 58 lakh. Of course, figures will change when the electoral roll revision exercise is over,” he said.
“We will issue voter slips in Urdu and English language, which will inform voters about their segment and polling station,” he said.
Kabra said the commission will appoint Observers, Expenditure Observers, and Micro Observers for smooth conduct of polling.
“The entire process will be video-graphed. General Observers will oversee entire process, Expenditure Observers will see day-to-day expenditure incurred by candidates. The limits for expenditure have been revised from Rs 5,000 to Rs 20,000 for Sarpanch and from Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 for Panch (candidates),” he said.
The CEO said that the commission has included a special provision for Kashmiri migrants by way of postal ballot.
“The Relief Commissioner’s office would be directing officers in different places in transit camps in Kashmir apart from Jammu camps,” he said.
“And the migrants would fill forms for the purpose of expressing their choice by posting ballot, which will be maintained by the Returning Officers,” he said.
Kabra said the Model Code of Conduct comes in force with the announcement of the dates for the Panchayat election. “There shall be no announcement for development related works, or sanctions, till the conduct of these elections,” he said.
When asked about the security issue, Kabra said it was not possible to provide security to every candidate.
“A secure environment will be created to ensure free and fair elections. We expect good participation to ensure democracy at grassroots level,” he said.
On holding of polls in volatile south Kashmir, Kabra said that the commission has carried an exercise to ensure participation by people.
“We have gone into the details on various aspects. We hope good participation as these elections are meant to address local issues by resources available,” he said.
Kabra informed that in case of single or no contestant, the halqa will go uncontested.