Govt cancels BDC elections on Core Group recommendations

Govt cancels BDC elections on Core Group recommendations

15 October 2012
The Daily Excelsior
Sanjeev Pargal

Jammu: The Government today decided to cancel election process of the Block Development Councils (BDCs), which had been set into motion on October 3 with issuance of notification, on the basis of recommendations made by National Conference-Congress Core Group that the elections should be held only after implementation of reservations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women. A decision to cancel the elections, which were scheduled to be held on November 7 and hold them after implementation of reservation was taken at an emergency meeting of the State Cabinet held in Srinagar, the summer capital of the State, this evening under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. Official sources told the Excelsior that since the election process once set into motion can neither be postponed nor withheld, the Government has decided to cancel it by bringing an ordinance very soon. The ordinance had to be issued by the Governor on request of the State Cabinet. It was required to be approved by the Legislature within six months. Sources said the fresh elections for chairpersons of 143 BDCs including 77 in Kashmir division and 66 in Jammu province would now be held only after implementing the provision of reservations for SCs, STs and women. For reservations, the State Panchayati Raj Act was required to be amended in the Legislature. However, the Government could also issue an ordinance for reservations as the Legislature session was scheduled to be held in February-March next year unless the Government called a special session. The ordinance has to be approved by the Legislature. In any case, there was a possibility that the BDC elections now could take enough time as, after implementation of reservations, the administration in every district had to undertake the exercise for identification of the blocks to be reserved for SCs, STs and women based on the population as per latest census figures. 'The entire process was time consuming', sources admitting while declining to give time frame for the first ever BDC elections in the State, which had to form second tier of Panchayats. After the BDC polls, the elections were to be held for third tier i.e. the District Development and Planning Boards. Sources said the Rural Development Department would write to the Election Authority, which happened to be Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Umang Narula under the State Panchayati Raj Act, to cancel the election. The CEO had set the election process for BDC chairpersons into motion on October 3 and issued notification inviting nominations on October 10. October 17 was last date for filing nomination papers while October 20 was last date for withdrawal. The election and counting were scheduled on November 7. According to sources, the Government would determine percentage of reservation for SCs, STs and women before going in for amendment in the State Panchayati Raj Act. While the women were expected to get 33 per cent reservation accounting for 47 blocks, the SCs would get 8 per cent reservation (11 blocks). The reservation for STs would be determined as per their population based on latest census figures. Sources said nearly 50 per cent blocks could be reserved for SCs, STs and women. There was a provision for reservation to SC and ST women from the quote of 33 per cent reservation of women. The Government would work out these modalities before carrying out amendment in the Panchayati Raj Act, sources said. Sources said the Cabinet also decided to include major provisions of 73rd amendment of the Constitution of India in the State Panchayati Raj Act. A 10 members Core Group of National Conference and Congress would identify the provisions, which would be incorporated in the State Act. A large number of candidates had filed nomination papers for the posts of Chairpersons in 143 blocks including 77 in Kashmir division and 66 in Jammu province. All these nominations would stand cancelled once the ordinance for cancellation of election process was issued. According to sources, the administration in every district had to identify the blocks to be reserved for SCs, STs and women based on their population as per the latest census. These blocks then had to be notified and objections invited. Only after the blocks were declared reserved for particular categories that the election process could be set into motion once again. The identification of blocks for reserved categories would start only after the State Panchayati Raj Act was amended for providing reservations. Under the Existing Act, there was no provision of reservations and all posts of Chairpersons for 143 blocks were open to all. Sources said it was the statement of Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Ghulam Nabi Azad, a former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, which led to cancellation of the elections. Mr Azad, in an exclusive interview to the Excelsior, had described the election process without reservations to SCs, STs and women as meaningless and irrelevant. Various other political parties including BJP, NPP and JSM had also batted for reservations to SCs, STs and women during just concluded session of the Legislature. An official handout issued by the Government said 'the State cabinet which met in Srinagar under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah decided to bring an ordinance for cancellation of general elections of Chairpersons of Block Development Councils. 'The Panchayat elections were held in 2011 which was a historic milestone in the democratic history of the State after more than three decades. About 80% of the electorate exercised their right to franchise in this process. In the last one year, the government took series of actions to empower Panchayats and strengthen the Panchayati Raj system in the State by giving an effective role to the elected representatives at the grass root level'. The handout said over the last couple of months there had been a latent demand from various stake holders as well as the opinion leaders who have been associated with the governance of Panchayats in different parts of the country, for bringing in certain changes in the State's Panchayati Raj Act in a bid to further strengthen Panchayats and also make reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women. 'Taking cognizance of divergent views on the issue, the Chief Minister constituted a Core Group of the alliance partners (National Conference and Congress) comprising Minister for Finance Abdul Rahim Rather, Minister for Rural Development Ali Mohammad Sagar, Minister for Forests Mian Altaf Ahmad, Minister for Industries and Commerce Surjit Singh Slathia and Political Advisor to the Chief Minister Devender Singh Rana from National Conference and Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand, Minister for Health Sham Lal Sharma, MLA G.A. Mir, MLC Ravinder Sharma and Bashir Ahmad Magrey from Congress to study and evaluate these views and suggest a pragmatic and workable roadmap', the handout said. It added that the Core Group held series of meetings and consultations in the last one week to consider the various opinions that have emanated in the past couple of months. The Core Group made certain recommendations which were considered in a high level meeting chaired by the Chief Minister yesterday and attended by PCC (I) chief Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz along with other members from National Conference and Congress wherein a decision was taken that the State Cabinet should be apprised of the recommendations made by this Core Group for a suitable decision in the matter. 'The State Cabinet which met here today after due diligence and thoroughly studying the recommendations of the Core Group and after considering the opinion of different people, decided that to strengthen the resolve of the Government for a robust Panchayati Raj system, certain changes have to be incorporated in the J&K Panchayati Raj Act, thereby creating a steel-frame of democracy at the grass root level. 'In order to bring these changes in a transparent manner after due diligence and deliberations with all the stake holders, the Cabinet today decided to bring an ordinance for cancellation of general elections of Chairpersons of Block Development Councils'.