Jammu: Visiting envoys from nearly two dozen countries on Thursday met representatives of various civil society groups and elected panchayat and urban local bodies (ULB) members here to get a first-hand appraisal of the situation during the recently held DDC elections — the first democratic exercise in Jammu and Kashmir post the nullification of Article 370.
Representatives of West Pakistani Refugees and Walmiki Samaj, the two communities who were deprived of voting rights over the past seven decades and voted for the first time in the local elections, briefed the envoys about their experience, officials said.
The visiting envoys of several countries, including member states of the European Union, reached Jammu on the second leg of their two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday. The envoys visited Kashmir on the first day of their tour on Wednesday.
“We briefed them about the establishment of the three-tier panchayati raj and implementation of the 74th amendment. While the elections to panchayats was held for the fourth time in J-K compared to 14 times in rest of the country, the implementation of the 74th amendment of the constitution after 28 years was possible only after the abrogation of the Article 370,” Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) Mayor Chander Mohan Gupta told reporters.
Gupta, a senior BJP leader who led a delegation in the meeting, said the previous governments in the erstwhile state were not interested in empowering the people at the grass-roots level.
“They were only interested in Parliament and assembly elections,” he said.
“The delegation also briefed the envoys about other positives including development which has been speeded up after the August 5 2019 measure,” Gupta said.
Vice president of West Pakistani Refugees Sukhdev Singh Manhas said, I told them what we have been subjected to over the past 73 years under the garb of Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution.
“This was for the first time we voted in the local elections and for that we are thankful to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. The post August 5 2019 development gave us rights and now we can vote, contest elections, avail government jobs and own properties,” he said.
Echoing Manhas, Valmiki Samaj representatives — Akash Kumar and Vanisha — said they told the envoys that the foremost benefit which they saw after the abrogation of provisions of Article 370 was that the community took part in the District Development Council (DDC) elections held in November-December last year for the first time.
Vandana, a BJP sarpanch, said the envoys were very curious to know about the response of the people during election campaigning.
“We told them that the people are happy with the development which gave us a full-fledged panchayat system including 33 percent reservation to women,” she said, adding the people overwhelmingly voted in the democratic exercise to choose their representatives.
DDC member Rajinder Sharma from Rajouri highlighted the issues of Pahari community and thanked the central government for granting four percent reservation in public sector employment and admission to educational and professional institutions.
“The past governments ignored the community, which constitutes 9 percent of the total population of J-K with majority of them being Muslims,” he said.
“The community suffered immensely due to Pakistan-sponsored militancy as majority of its members live near the Line of Control and face frequent shelling from across the border,” Sharma said.
He expressed hope that the Modi government would do justice with this hardcore nationalist community by granting scheduled tribe status in near future.
Another DDC member from Rajouri Mohammad Iqbal Malik said Article 370 was a huge barrier in the path of development especially in the far flung areas of the erstwhile state.
With its abrogation many deprived sections of the region including scheduled caste community, Valmiki Samaj, Gorkha community, women, Gujjars and Bakerwals have all got equal political, economic and social rights, he said.
He praised the central government for holding block development council and DDC elections to set up a three-tier panchayati raj system for the first time in the history of JK. PTI