Day after announcing the schedule for elections to urban local bodies in Jammu and Kashmir, the chief electoral officer Shaleen Kabra on Sunday announced the timetable for panchayat polls in the state, even as he assured that the government will provide a “security environment” to the contestants.
Addressing a news conference here, Kabra said that voting for 4490 panchayathalqas and 35096 panch constituencies will take place in nine phases from November 17 to December 11.
“The voting will take place on November 17, 20, 24, 27, 29 and December 01, 04, 08 and 11,” he said, adding that notifications for these phases will be issued on October 23, 26, 29 and November 01, 03, 06, 09, 12 and 14, respectively. He said that counting of votes shall take place on the day of voting itself.
“These elections are being held on non-party basis and therefore counting of votes will take place at the end of voting,” he said.
The ballot papers will be used during the panchayat elections, he said.
“Additional ballot boxes will be brought from the neighboring states,” Kabra said, adding that there will be two colours for ballot papers because sarpanchs have to be elected directly due to a recent amendment in the law governing panchayats in the state.
As many as 58, 12,429 voters are eligible to cast their vote in the panchayats spread over 316 blocks of the state, the chief electoral officer said.
Asked if the contesting candidates will be provided adequate security, Kabra said: “One does not provide security per-se to every person, it is the security environment which is to be provided. We have looked into this aspect and feel that free and fair elections, in an atmosphere which is peaceful, would be possible.”
Asked about security scenario in southern Kashmir areas vis-a-vis civic polls, the CEO said “we are hopeful that people will participate in the electoral exercise.”
“We have gone into details about security (in southern Kashmir areas) and are hopeful that people will participate,” he said.
Pertinently, the chief electoral officer had on Saturday announced a four-phased election to urban local bodies in Jammu and Kashmir from October 8.
The schedule for civic polls has been announced despite two principal mainstream political parties–National Conference and People’s Democratic Party–deciding against participating in the exercise, citing “assault” on Article 35-A which has been challenged in the Supreme Court.
The last panchayat election in the state was held in 2011 through secret ballot, Kabra said. “The panchayats elected in 2011 completed their tenure in July 2016.”.
He said that Kashmiri migrant voters will be able to cast their votes through postal ballot.
As already reported by Greater Kashmir, the migrant voters will first time cast their votes for urban local bodies of Kashmir after migrating to Jammu and other Indian cities in 1989-90.
In 2005 municipal polls, the migrants were registered as voters of the Jammu Municipal Corporation and other urban local bodies where they are living presently.
The CEO said that the election expenditure limit for sarpanch and panch contestants will be Rs 20,000 and Rs 5,000, respectively.
Giving details about steps being taken to ensure “free and fair polls”, the CEO said that general observers will be deployed to keep a close watch on every stage of the electoral process.
“All critical events will be recorded,” he said, adding that model code of conduct will apply to all the panchayathalqas, candidates, political parties and both the central and state government.
MCC COMES INTO FORCE ACROSS PANCHAYAT HALQAS
Meanwhile, the announcement of schedule for panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday has brought the model code of conduct, a set of guidelines for political parties and candidates, into force across the panchayathalqas, leading to fears that its extended imposition may hit developmental activities in the state.
The MCC, which comes into effect once the poll schedules are issued, shall end in a phased manner in accordance with the poll schedules and ultimately go on December 11, the last date of the nine-phased panchayat elections.
The election code in urban areas has already come into force on Saturday following issuance of schedule for the urban local body polls in the state.
The counting for the urban local body polls shall take place on October 20, ending the MCC from the specified urban areas.
Kabra said that provisions of the model code of conduct have come into force with immediate effect in panchayathalqas and be applicable to all candidates, political parties and the functioning of state and central governments vis-a-vis state, he said.
Asked whether MLAs and MPs can spend the constituency and local area development funds, the CEO said: “No fresh works can be sanctioned (during the MCC).”
As per the MCC guidelines, the ministers and other authorities shall not sanction grants/payments out of discretionary funds from the time the elections are announced.
Some bureaucrats and officials told Greater Kashmir that there is no logic in applying the MCC to state authorities because there is no elected government in place in the state.
“What is the fun of applying MCC to the state government when there is no elected government in place? It should not stop state authorities from sanctioning new projects,” a senior official said. “It should be applicable only to MLAs, MLCs and MPs.”
He said that the prolonged imposition of MCC could affect developmental works in the state, particularly in Kashmir.
“We have a very limited working season in Kashmir where September and October are very important vis-à-vis developmental works,” he said.