No local body representatives in J&K from January 9; no Assembly since 2018

Almost 30,000 panches, sarpanches to complete five-year terms on January 9; disbursal of ₹25 lakh panchayat fund will also cease; next local body elections only after delimitation, says senior Union government official

Updated - January 08, 2024 06:39 am IST

Published - January 07, 2024 09:28 pm IST - NEW DELHI

File picture of Kashmiri villagers waiting to cast their votes during Panchayat elections at Lohouri Check Budgam, 30 km from Srinagar

File picture of Kashmiri villagers waiting to cast their votes during Panchayat elections at Lohouri Check Budgam, 30 km from Srinagar | Photo Credit: NISSAR AHMAD

The people of Jammu and Kashmir, who have not had any Assembly representation since 2018, will cease to have any electoral representation at the grassroots level as well from January 9. The five-year term of almost 30,000 local representatives is set to expire on that date, and there is no clarity on when the next election for municipal bodies and panchayats will be held, as the Union government has decided to first conduct a delimitation exercise.

Panchayat elections were last held in the erstwhile State of J&K in late 2018. A total of 27,281 panches (panchayat members) and sarpanches (village headmen) were elected, and took oath on January 10, 2019. There are 12,776 vacant sarpanch and panch seats in J&K.

Redrawing boundaries

A senior Union government official told The Hindu that elections can only be held after a delimitation exercise is completed. On December 28, 2023, the Panchayati Raj department sent letters to all block development officers in J&K, directing them to submit detailed proposals to redraw the boundaries of municipal wards and panch constituencies in such a way that each will have an equal number of electors, as far as possible. The letter added that the “matter may be treated as election urgent”.

Also read: SC verdict on Article 370 — Over 12,000 panchayat seats vacant in J&K since 2018

Anil Sharma, chairman of the All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference pointed out that, from January 10, the disbursal of the ₹25 lakh funds allocated to each panchayat will also cease, as the terms of the public representatives expire.

Minimal democracy

“From January 10, there will be only half a dozen Members of Parliament and 20-odd District Development Councils representing J&K electorally. One of the MPs is a nominated member in the Rajya Sabha. We can in no way be compared with the parliamentarians. From January 10, government will not find people to hoist the tricolour in the remotest parts of the UT,” Mr. Sharma said.

J&K has been under Central rule since June 2018 when a coalition government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) collapsed, and the Assembly was dissolved. The last Assembly elections were held in 2014. After the special status of J&K under Article 370 of the Constitution was removed by the Parliament in August 2019, the former State was bifurcated and downgraded into the two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh, the latter without a legislative Assembly.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah has said that a call on restoring the Statehood of J&K will be taken after Assembly elections are held in the UT. The delimitation of the Assembly seats was completed last year and the electoral rolls have been revised twice. On December 11, the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission of India to hold Assembly elections in J&K by September 30, 2024.

Panchayat funds

With regard to the panchayat fund, Mr. Sharma added that as the redrawing of panchayat boundaries is on, the administration should ensure that population figures are also taken into account before disbursing the money. “If a panchayat has 2,500 population, then also it is entitled to the same funds as that of a panchayat which has 1,000 people. This discrepancy should be addressed by the government,” Mr. Sharma said.

In September 2018, the Union government transferred the functions of 29 subjects to the panchayats under the 73rd amendment of the Constitution, including the functioning of primary health centres, primary schools, and anganwadi centres. J&K had partially adopted the recommendations after the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, providing a constitutional status to the panchayati raj institutions, was passed by the Parliament in 1993.

In 2020, the Union Cabinet approved the adaptation of the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989 that was amended by the Ministry of Home Affairs the same year. This paved the way for the creation of District Development Councils in the UT, whose members are directly elected by the people; the elected members of the legislative Assembly have no say in this process. “The move will help establish all the three tiers of grassroot-level democracy like in other parts of the country,” Union Minister Prakash Javadekar had said at that time.

Before 2018, urban local body elections were last held in 2005 and panchayat elections in 2011.

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