Local body polls likely to be delayed in J-K
Jammu: The urban local body and panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir are likely to be delayed as the administration is mulling changes to municipal acts and rules as well as a delimitation exercise to address skewed distribution of electors, officials said on Sunday.
The Union Territory’s administration is considering the delimitation exercise for municipal wards and panchayat segments in the backdrop of a delimitation exercise that was carried out by the Election Commission for assembly and parliamentary seats, said the officials, requesting anonymity.
The housing and urban development department is actively pursuing a communication from the office of the chief electoral officer, which, among other things, suggested transfer of mandate to conduct the municipal electoral processes to the State Election Commission (SEC) in accordance with constitutional provisions, they said.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the chief electoral officer (CEO) is the authority to hold urban local body (ULB) elections in addition to Lok Sabha and assembly polls, while the SEC — headed by a state election commissioner — is mandated to conduct elections to Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI).
On September 23, Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee president Vikar Rasool Wani in a letter to Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha had demanded holding of ULB elections under the SEC as mandated by the 74th amendment of the Constitution.
“We urge the Lt Governor to immediately set right the constitutional wrong being committed and hold the elections to municipal corporations and other urban local bodies under the superintendence and control of an independent State Election Commission on time,” Wani had said.
In a letter to the housing and urban development department last month, the CEO’s office said consequent to the appointment of a full-time state election commissioner, the mandate to conduct the municipal electoral processes needs to be transferred from the CEO to the SEC.
“For this, the election authority under the municipal acts needs to be changed from chief electoral officer to the state election commissioner. The constitutional provisions also mandate this,” the letter read.
The five-year term of most of the municipalities, including the Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) and the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), ends this month, while the term of panchayats is expiring on January 9 next year. The term of the SMC ended on November 5 and the JMC’s ends on November 14.
The tenure of block development councils (BDCs) and district development councils (DDCs) is ending in October 2024 and January 2026, respectively.
The last ULB and panchayat elections were held between October and December 2018 after a long delay.
The CEO’s office, in its letter, also referred to various petitioners who have objected to the large-scale difference in the electoral base of each seat of the two municipal corporations and demanded a fresh delimitation of all bodies.
“…there is a large difference in the elector bases of different wards wherein there are wards with elector bases in the range of 2,000 to 3,000 on one side and 12,000 to 15,000 on the other extreme. Similar variance is there in most of the municipal councils and committees also. This skew in the representation strength of each ward can be addressed by a fresh delimitation exercise,” the letter said.
The officials said the rural development department is also considering the demand for rationalisation of electorates in panchayat segments.
The All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference (AJKPC), a representative body of elected panches and sarpanches, has been demanding delimitation of “halqa panchayats”.
“There are panchayats where the number of voters is just 600 while this number is anything between 3,000 and 4,000 in other panchayats. There is a need for rationalisation of these panchayats to have a level playing field for ensuring free, fair and transparent polls,” AJKPC president Anil Sharma had said.
The CEO’s office also referred to suggestions and objections which it had received consequent to the publication of updated electoral rolls and draft reservation of seats in all the municipal bodies for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and women as per extant rules.
It said the demand for reservation of other backward classes in consonance with constitutional provisions was also highlighted.
Out of the 75 wards of the JMC, having 4,65,794 voters, 25 wards are reserved for women, 10 for scheduled castes and two for scheduled tribes. Similarly, in the 75 wards of the SMC, having 7,46,711 voters, 25 wards were reserved for women.
Quoting a Supreme court ruling on the subject forwarded by the petitioners in support of their demand, the CEO’s office said that “if reservation has to be made in favour of OBCs then corresponding amendments in municipal acts and rules are required”.
They said the elections to ULBs and panchayats is likely to be held next year after completion of the ongoing process.
With the Jammu and Kashmir administration tight-lipped on the holding of ULB and panchayat elections, political parties, including the Congress, the National Conference and the PDP, are targeting the BJP government at the Centre for the delay in holding elections to assembly and grass-root level institutions.
The assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir were last held in 2014.