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Amid beefed-up security, all eyes on polls today

Srinagar, Oct 7: Amid a barrage of forces manning almost every second street in the Valley, three Municipal Corporation Wards in Srinagar and over 20 municipal committees in several districts across Jammu and Kashmir will go to polls in phase I of Urban Local Bodies Elections today (Monday).

The polls, unique in many ways, are seeing 2990 candidates, of which only 207 are from Kashmir, in the fray for the four phased ULB polls.

The day arrives amidst a massive security bandobast across the valley in addition to scores of detentions of youth and separatist leaders and activists especially in the south of Kashmir.

Sources say that around 400 people, many of whom include alleged stone pelters, have been detained to ensure “peaceful” polling.

Government forces, for the last one week, also intensified checking and area domination as part of an elaborate plan for the smooth conduct of local body polls.

“An elaborate security plan has been put in place for the smooth conduct of the polls,” a senior police official said.

He said forces have intensified vehicle checking, frisking and area domination in the city as well as in the other areas of the valley in the run up to the polls.

Many check-points have been placed in the city where vehicles are being checked. Sniffer dogs are also being used to check vehicles.

“We are making sure that no untoward incident happens,” he said.

Director General Police, Dilbagh Singh Sunday said that all arrangements are in place to ensure free, fair, transparent and peaceful conduct of the first phase of municipal elections. He also made it clear that restrictions will not be imposed anywhere in Kashmir valley.

DGP Dilbagh Singh, as per Kashmir News Service, said: “Government forces comprising police and paramilitaries have been deployed in strength across Jammu and Kashmir particularly the parts of valley scheduled to go for polls tomorrow (Monday). Restrictions will not be imposed in any part of Kashmir valley.”

Calling upon people to come out to vote without any fear, DGP said “people fight for rights but in Kashmir people are granted opportunities to exercise their right to franchise without fighting for it.”

He urged people to come out without any fear to cast their votes.

Meanwhile, reports emanating from different parts of Srinagar and towns of Kashmir valley said that frisking of commuters and checking of vehicles has been intensified across Kashmir particularly the areas scheduled to go to polls on Monday.

Monday’s elections will be followed by the second phase on October 10, third phase on October 13 and last phase on October 16. The counting of votes will be done on October 20.

As many as 244 candidates have been elected unopposed, majority of them from Kashmir valley where candidates braved militant threats to take part in the democratic exercise.

Two mainstream state parties – National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party – have boycotted the polls over the challenge to the validity of Article 35-A of the Constitution.

CPI (M) and BSP are the other two parties which have also stayed away from the municipal polls, leaving the BJP and the Congress in a direct contest.

“A total of 2,990 candidates are in the fray for the four-phased elections. Majority are trying their luck from Jammu province with 2,137 candidates, 787 from Kashmir and 66 from Ladakh region,” an official of the state election commission told PTI.

As many as 3,372 candidates have filed their nominations for the four-phased elections. The last election to the municipal bodies in the state was held in 2005 through secret ballot and the term of five years expired in February 2010.

There are 16,97,291 eligible voters in the 1,145 wards across the state. Kashmir valley has the highest number of wards with 598 and an electorate of 10,32,498, while Jammu province has 521 wards with 6,44,568 voters. Ladakh region has 26 wards with electorate of 20,225.

The official said 231 candidates were elected unopposed in Kashmir and 13 in Jammu region. Two wards, one each in Kulgam and Pulwama districts of south Kashmir, did not attract any nomination apparently due to the militant threat, even as the police have arrested about 500 OGWs over the past one week across Kashmir as part of the security plan to ensure free and fair elections, officials said.

“About 450 to 500 OGWs of militants who were issuing threats and hatching conspiracies to sabotage the election process were arrested over the past one week, Director General of state Police Dilbag Singh said.

He said the Police and other security agencies were fully prepared to face any kind of situation for smooth conduct of the polls.

In first phase, 1,283 candidates are in the fray with 1,010 from Jammu, 207 from Kashmir and 66 from Ladakh for 422 wards (247 in Jammu, 149 in Kashmir, 26 in Ladakh), the official said.

The second phase will seal the fate of 1,094 contestants in 218 wards in Jammu region and 166 wards in Kashmir valley, the official said, adding that 61 candidates got elected unopposed in this phase.

In the third phase, a total of 411 candidates are trying their luck – 242 in 56 wards of Jammu province and 169 in 151 wards of Kashmir valley, the official said. Forty nine candidates got elected unopposed in this phase, the official said.

Similarly, 202 candidates are in the fray for the fourth and final phase under which are 132 wards. Fifty two candidates were elected unopposed in this phase.

Out of the total 1,145 wards of municipality and Local bodies, 90 wards have been reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC) and 38 for Scheduled Tribes (ST), which include 31 and 13 wards reserved for SC and ST women respectively, he said.

In addition to this, 322 wards have been reserved for Women belonging to the open category, the officer said.

The Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) has the highest number of electors with 6,63,775 persons in 74 wards, followed by Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) with 75 wards and 4,00,301 electors, he said.

The official said Jammu Municipal Corporation has the highest number of contestants with 447, whose fate would be sealed in the first phase on October 8, while 274 candidates are in the fray for Srinagar Municipal Corporation which is going to polls in all the four phases.

Inspector General of CRPF, Kashmir, Ravideep Singh Sahi said the “environment” in the entire Kashmir Valley is under control and the endeavour is to create a sense of security so that the people come out to vote.

“We have made elaborate arrangements for the security. Whatever force was required for the elections, has come and they are being deployed. They have been here for some time and they are adequately familiarised with the area. We have started area domination, check-points have been installed in various areas and we are working in close coordination with the police and army,” Singh said.

Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik Saturday took a detailed review of the security situation in the state ahead of the first phase of the municipal elections.

The meeting was attended by Northern Army Commander, Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh, GOC 15 Corps, Lt Gen A K Bhat, and top officials from police, CRPF and civil administration.

The meeting discussed security arrangements made for the smooth conduct of the forthcoming elections to urban local bodies and panchayats and the need of a safe environment for the elections