Jammu and Kashmir is all set to witness its first elections since being reorganised as a union territory last year with the maiden District Development Council (DDC) polls beginning on Saturday, officials said. They said by-elections to 12,153 panchayat constituencies are also taking place along with the DDC polls. Out of these, 11,814 are in the Kashmir valley and the rest 339 in Jammu.
Campaigning for the first phase came to an end on Thursday and officials said elaborate arrangements have been put in place for the smooth conduct of the polls and special measures taken in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. As many as 1,475 candidates are in the fray for the first phase of these polls, they said. The eight-phase elections are seen as a triangular contest among the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), the BJP and the Apni Party floated by former finance minister Altaf Bukhari.
The PAGD — an amalgam of several mainstream political parties, including NC and PDP, seeking the restoration of Jammu and Kashmir's special status which was revoked by the Centre last year — has been accusing the Bukhari-led party of being a B-Team of the BJP. There are 280 DDC seats in the union territory - 140 each in Jammu and Kashmir regions, the officials said, adding 14 constituencies have been earmarked in each of the 20 districts of the union territory.
Out of 1,475 candidates, 296 are contesting the first phase of the DDC polls, they said, adding 172 of them are from the Kashmir valley and 124 from the Jammu region. In the first phase of the DDC elections, 43 constituencies will go to polls — 25 in Kashmir and 18 in Jammu, the officials said.
For the by-elections to panchayats, 899 candidates were in the fray for the Panch seats and 280 for the sarpanch seats, they added. A total number of 2,644 polling stations have been set up and there are be 703620 electors for this phase, the officials said.
Voting for the first phase will take place from 7 am to 2 pm, they said. State Election Commissioner K K Sharma has directed for setting up of special polling stations for Kashmiri migrants at Jammu and Udhampur so that they can effectively exercise their right of franchise. Those registered in Jammu will vote at the designated polling stations at Jammu and those at Udhampur would be voting at polling stations set up in that district, he said.
He said necessary COVID protocols have been put in place for ensuring the safe polls. Sanitisation of polling stations and counting centres would be done before the polling date and afterwards as well, officials said.
Availability of all protective and sanitisation equipment like sanitisers, non-contact thermometers, face-masks, face-shields and PPE kits have been provided at the polling stations as well as for the staff and the voters, they added. Sharma interacted with deputy commissioners of all districts of Jammu and Kashmir through video conferencing which was also attended by the respective CMOs and senior officers of state election commission. He said foolproof method mechanism has been devised for the postal ballots from absentee voters especially COVID-19 patients in home and institutional isolation and quarantine.
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