Cong yields to 73rd amendment as Govt assures implementation29 January 2011
The Daily Excelsior
JAMMU: Decks have finally been cleared for holding Panchayat elections in the State after more than a decade with a Cabinet Sub-Committee set up yesterday by the Cabinet reaching a consensus to start the polls under present Panchayati Raj Act and implement 73rd amendment in due course of time for subsequent phases of elections. The Congress Ministers, who had been proposing implementation of 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution before holding Local Bodies elections in the State (both urban and rural), finally vowed before the Government proposal to let Panchayat elections start under the Panchayati Raj Act of 1992 and take the steps for implementation of 73rd amendment including constitution of the State Election Commission (SEC) and Finance Commission, which have already been approved by the Cabinet subsequently. The Government has assured the Ministers of Congress, the major coalition partner in Omar Abdullah led Government, that 73rd amendment will be introduced in the Legislature and when approved implemented in the State. The possibility of bringing an ordinance for setting up the SEC and a notification for Finance Commission is also not ruled out but the election process would be set into motion by the present Election Department as constitution of the new SEC would take time and then entire process for the elections would have to be undertaken by it consuming a lot of time. While 73rd amendment pertained to Panchayat elections, 74th amendment is linked to Municipal elections. The Government has already decided that Urban Local Bodies elections will be followed by the Panchayat elections. The State has been losing several crores funds from the Centre due to non-existent of Panchayats and Municipalities as some specific development works are executed only through the Local Bodies. Omar Abdullah, who left for Srinagar this evening after beating the retreat will be visiting New Delhi for National Integration Council (NIC) meeting and then receiving Union Home Minister P Chidambaram on a day's visit here in first week of February, before taking a decision on Panchayat election timings in the Cabinet meeting in next few days. Soon after the Cabinet nod, the Election Department will announce a schedule for the Panchayat elections, which were likely to start in March or April. The elections were likely to be spread in over 10 phases due to security considerations. Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather said all issues relating to holding of Panchayat elections and apprehensions of the Congress Ministers, which had been raised in the NC-Congress co-ordination committee meeting also, were sorted out in the meeting of Cabinet Sub Committee amicably. 'All issues pertaining to Panchayat elections were discussed in the meeting and resolved amicably. There is no hitch left now in holding the elections', Mr Rather said. The elections will be held on non-party basis and three-tier system including Panchayats, Block Development Councils and District level Planning and Development Boards for 'effective functioning' of the rural bodies. The three-tier system comprised elections to Panchayats (Panches and Sarpanches), election of Panchayat Committees (Block Development Councils) and Zila Parishads (District Development and Planning Boards). The elections for Panches and Sarpanches will start with the present system while the new SEC could elect Panchayat Committees and Zila Parishads i.e. the Block Development Councils and District Development and Planning Boards. The necessity of setting up the Finance Commission would be felt after the elections and the Government would get enough time to constitute it by bringing a notification or legislation in budget session of the Legislature in March-April. However, to set up SEC, the Government would either bring an ordinance of wait for introducing a Legislation in the budget session. Minister for Agriculture, Ghulam Hassan Mir, a member of the Sub Committee, said the three-tier system would lead to effective functioning of Panchayati Raj system. 'The elections will be held under the existing system while the Government would incorporate 73rd and 74th amendments for the elections of Local Bodies subsequently. Already, majority of guidelines of 73rd amendment have been included for the Panchayat polls', Mr Mir said. Official sources told the Excelsior that after receiving the Sub-Committee report, the Cabinet will take a final decision on timing of Panchayat elections but they could start anytime in March or April. The elections will be conducted by the present Election Department. The Cabinet had approved constitution of the State Election Commission (SEC) under 73rd amendment of the Constitution for holding elections to Local Bodies (both Urban and Rural i.e. Municipalities and Panchayats). The ensuing Panchayat elections, which will be followed by Municipal polls, will be started by the existing Election Department and taken over by the SEC if constituted by then, sources said. Home Secretary and Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) B R Sharma said the Election Department was fully prepared to hold the Panchayat elections anytime now. It had published final electoral rolls for Panchayat elections on January 2 under which total number of voters for the polls across the State stood at 47.4 lakh. Minister for Health and Floriculture and Congress leader Sham Lal Sharma, who had been insisting on holding elections to Panchayats after implementation of 73rd amendment to give 'power to people', said most part of 73rd amendment has been approved by the Cabinet and the proposals have to be placed before the Legislature for approval. The proposals could also be implemented through an Ordinance and ratified by the Legislature later. However, Mr Sharma said, the Congress has no problems with the Government starting the election process with the present system including the existing Election Department and subsequently switching over to new system including the State Election Commission and Finance Commission as the elections will be spread over to several phases and could last more than three to four months. He said today's mandate of the Cabinet was confined to 73rd amendment as the Government was going to hold Panchayat elections initially while 74th amendment, which pertained to Municipal bodies, will be taken up later. The Congress now has no problems with the holding of election, he added. The Congress including PCC (I) chief Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz had first raked up the issue of 73rd and 74th amendments for Panchayat and Municipal elections through public meetings and subsequently in NC-Congress co-ordination committee meeting, which is headed by him. The Congress wanted the elections to be held only after 73rd amendment of the Constitution of India is incorporated in the Panchayati Raj Act. The Cabinet had yesterday set up a Sub Committee to take up the issue, which met today itself and resolved the matter. The Committee was headed by Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather and comprised Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Ali Mohammad Sagar, , Agriculture Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir, Health Minister Sham Lal Sharma, Revenue Minister Raman Bhalla and PHE-Irrigation and Flood Control Minister Taj Mohi-ud-Din. The Sub Committee met for over two hours this morning. The Committee would submit a detailed report to the Cabinet shortly, which will announce timings of the election followed by announcement of schedule by the Chief Electoral Officer. The Panchayat elections were last held in 2000 and most of the Panchayats had ceased to exist by 2005. The Municipal elections were held in January-February 2005 and term of the bodies expired in March 2010. The Election Department had published final rolls for Panchayat elections on January 2 after an extensive exercise of revision across the State. The exercise was conducted after a lot of efforts despite disturbed conditions in the Valley. An approximate 47.4 lakh voters will be eligible to exercise their right to franchise in the Panchayat elections across the State. Jammu district has topped with highest number of votes (5,66,273) while Srinagar district has lowest number of 15061 votes in the State. With the publication of final rolls, the Election Department was now fully prepared to hold the elections any time within the mandatory gap of an announcement and polling dates. According to official sources, the Election Department has already overcome the problem of purchasing ballot boxes from Punjab. Since the Panchayat elections will start under the State Act, ballot boxes and not Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) will be used for them. During the revision of electoral rolls for Panchayats, 2,18,563 new voters were added. The figures might go up slightly by about 3,000 as the data after the revision of final electoral rolls from two districts of Bandipora in Kashmir and Leh in Ladakh was awaited. As many as 1,04,006 voters were deleted from the Panchayat rolls due to deaths or change of address while 29,298 voters applied for modifications in their names. With the publication of final electoral rolls, the number of voters for Panchayat elections across the State stood at 45.37 lakh (45,37,283) but the Election Department was expecting them to touch around 47.4 lakh after the inclusion of figures for the districts of Bandipora and Leh, which were awaited. Prior to revision, there were about 46 lakh voters for the Panchayats. In 2000 elections to Panchayats, there were 35.23 lakh votes. This way, there would be an increase of 12.2 lakh votes in the Panchayat polls now. After the summary revision, the highest number of voters was in Jammu district at 5,66,723 while the lowest were in Srinagar district with 15,061. Kathua district has 3,27,733 electorates while Samba district has 1,76,231 voters. Udhampur accounted for 2,79,075 votes while Reasi had 1,60,810 voters. Twin border districts of Poonch and Rajouri would now have 2,47,119 and 3,16,527 electorates. Ramban has 1,48,690 voters, Kishtwar 1,23,346 and Doda 2,13,375. In Kashmir Valley, Baramulla district has highest number of 4,37,431 electorates followed by 4,19,668 in Anantnag, 3,35,604 in Budgam and 3,30,905 in Kupwara. Ganderbal has 1.21 lakh voters, Pulwama 2,63,398, Kulgam 1,93,044 and Shopian 2,43,044. Bandipora's figures were awaited. Kargil district in Ladakh region accounted for 71,765 electorates. The figure of Leh district was awaited. The process for summary revision of Panchayat elections in Leh was delayed as the administration was busy in flood relief work after devastating cloudbursts in August.