Srinagar: Around 50 percent of the total panchayats in Kashmir have not been constituted due to a lack of quorum, as people largely stayed away from polls and sufficient candidates were not available to contest the polls in the Valley. The government is now thinking of holding fresh elections in these panchayats.
Of the 4,483 panchayat halqas in the state, 2,135 panchayats are in the Kashmir valley. The panchayat polls were held last year in nine phases between November 17 and December 11. A total of 1,057 panchayats have not been constituted yet and all of them are in Kashmir, official figures exclusively accessed by News18.com state.
The panchayat elections in the state, which has not seen an elected government since over a year and is currently under President’s rule, were held under tight security and amid difficult circumstances.
The two main political parties of the state—National Conference (NC) and the People's Democratic Party (PDP)—had boycotted the local bodies elections that were held before the panchayat polls, over the issue of Article 35A of the constitution.
Unlike other parts of the state, Kashmir gave a cold shoulder to the panchayat polls, which not only witnessed a boycott from the voters, but out of the 2,135 Panchayats, no candidate stood in 708 panchayats, thus remaining vacant. In another 699 panchayats, only a single candidate fought the polls, each won unopposed.
In Kashmir, over 60 per cent of the wards had no candidate.
“There are 1,057 panchayats which have not been constituted because of the lack of quorum,” Mohammad Nazir Sheikh, director, Panchayati Raj, told News18. “As per the constitution, a panchayat can only be constituted after it has at least a sarpanch or a panch,” he said, adding that in these panchayats either there is “only panch or sarpanch or the entire panchayat is completely vacant.”
The panchayats where there is a lack of quorum, the elected sarpanchscannot take the oath. There are dozens of panchayat members in the Valley who were elected but were not administered to take oath due to the lack of quorum and the panchayat could not be constituted. Officials say that technically they cease to be panchayat members.
Panchayat members who cannot take the oath told News18.com that they feel deceived. “We left our families and played with our lives by contesting elections only to strengthen grassroots democracy but we have been made scapegoats,” said Sajid Raina, a panchayat member from Pulwama who couldn’t take oath.
These panchayat members are not receiving any sort of salary or government benefits. “This is a cruel joke played on us to show the world that democracy exists here. We stood in the shadow of gun and decided to participate in the elections, but what was the use?” said Raina.
This issue was also raised with Home Minister Amit Shah, who was on his first visit to Kashmir last month. “We had put forth a demand that an amendment be made so that we can take the oath,” said a panchayat member. But people present in the meeting quoted state’s chief secretary, BVR Subramanyam, as saying that the government is planning to hold elections in August.
“Holding elections seems to be the only apparent way to solve the issue of these panchayats,” said Nazir Sheikh Mohammad, director, Panchayati Raj of the state, adding, "However, there has been no official announcement regarding the polls yet."
Shah on Monday moved a statutory resolution to extend President’s rule in the state for another six months, stating that elections there will be held by the end of this year. Official sources suggest that the government is going to test waters by holding elections in these panchayats first.
Meanwhile, under these circumstances, the government is expected to appoint administrators for these panchayats so that funds can be allocated. Six months have passed but no administrator has been appointed yet, official sources said.