Srinagar: Denying that municipal and panchayat polls were “thrust” on people, J&K Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam claimed on Tuesday that people were enthusiastic about the elections, as they were not meant for “big things” but for local civic issues such as sadak, bijli and paani (roads, electricity and water).
“These elections are about their money, their villages, their municipalities and their lives,” he said. “It is not about big things. We are not talking about fundamental things such as the way the country is governed. This is about sadak, bijli and paani kind of issues.”
The region’s two main political parties, the NC and PDP, have both announced a boycott of the polls citing the government of India’s lack of commitment to defend Article 35A, which guarantees special privileges and rights to J&K residents. This is for the first time that mainstream parties and separatist groups are on the same page on boycotting elections.
“It is a complex issue and has to be discussed after an elected government is in place in Jammu and Kashmir. The (Supreme Court) hearing is in January and the elections will be over by then,” Subrahmanyam replied to a query on Article 35A.
The chief secretary said that elections were necessitated at this time as the state was losing a huge tranche of funds amounting to over Rs 4,335 crore without elected urban and panchayat bodies.
He said that “unprecedented” security arrangements are being made to ensure safe and secure polling process that begins October 8. Four-hundred companies of government forces are being deputed to the state from outside Jammu and Kashmir, despite assembly polls in some states, he pointed out.
“That shows this is a very important exercise in JK,” he told reporters while being flanked by secretary rural development department Sheetal Nanda.
The chief secretary also announced sops for government employees who will be posted for election duty in the local body polls. One-month additional salary will be reimbursed as an incentive for the employees, he announced.
On safety of candidates, he said that the government has booked 300 hotel rooms in Srinagar and similar arrangements would be made in north and south Kashmir. “We will provide them all facilities like vehicles and security,” he said.
Lauding the J&K panchayat and municipal laws, he said the government is in process of making “far-reaching” changes to the rural body Act. Spelling out the plan, he said funds meant for central government schemes such as MNREGA, Pradan Mantri Awas Yojana, National Rural Livelihood Mission, Midday Meal, Anganwadi and some parts of health schemes will be routed to concerned agencies through gram panchayats.
“Our estimate is that panchayats will have Rs 50 lakh to one crore of funds per annum. At an average, it will be Rs 3,500 crore, almost twice the CAPEX of the state, lying with Panchayats,” he said, adding, “They are going to be powerful decision-making development bodies. To manage this amount of money we will have 3,500 panchayat accountants.”
Subrahmanyam pointed out some “minor” changes including appointing of Ombudsman for complaints and taxation powers for panchayats to raise their own money. “The control of grazing land will be transferred to panchayats,” he said.