As Govt prepares for BDC polls: 61% of panch, sarpanch berths vacant in Kashmir

Srinagar, Oct 1: For the first time since the 2018 Panchayat elections in Kashmir, the government has revealed that 61% of the total Panch and Sarpanch berths across the valley are lying vacant.

Last Sunday when the state chief electoral officer Shailendra Kumar shared the details of the upcoming Block Development Council (BDC) polls, he also mentioned about the vacant panchayat seats.

The Jammu and Kashmir government held panchayat elections in Kashmir last December for which the Centre complimented the state administration for the “successful” polls.

However, number show that approximately 61% of panch and sarpanch seats across 10 districts of Kashmir are lying vacant.

In the Valley’s 137 blocks, there are a total of 19,582 panch and sarpanch seats. But only 7,528 of these positions were contested and subsequently, according to the data Kumar revealed at a press conference her on Sunday. Kumar said that 12,054 (61.5%) of panch and sarpanch berths – almost double the number of elected representatives – are still empty.

The number of vacant seats in Kashmir is far more than in Jammu and Ladakh, where just 103 and 24 positions, respectively, are vacant.

In Jammu’s 148 blocks, of the 181,82panch and sarpanch positions, 18,089 were contested and subsequently filled. Similarly, in the 31 blocks of Ladakh, of 1,630 positions for panchayat representatives, 1,606 were filled.

In response to a question, Kumar said a decision on filling vacant positions will be taken after polls for constituting block development councils (BDCs) are completed. Interestingly, the electoral college for the BDC polls comprises those holding panch and sarpanch positions.

The nine-phase elections were held in November-December 2018, amid unprecedented security arrangements after militants threatened participants with dire consequences. The elections, which began on November 17 and concluded on December 12, did not see any violence.

The electoral exercise was held seven years after the last panchayat polls in J&K, and nearly a month after urban local body elections in the state last year.

Kashmir had recorded 44.4% electoral participation in the panchayat polls, compared to 86% participation in Jammu.

During the entire election process, there was a complete information blockade about candidates and the political parties they belonged to. The candidates were non-existent on the ground, and in official communications each of them was identified by a number instead of a name. There was no canvassing and the contestants in the fray didn’t hold a single rally.

Meanwhile, during the press conference, Kumar said the BDC polls and counting of the votes will take place on October 24. This will be the first electoral exercise to be held in Kashmir after the Centre read down Article 370 of the constitution and approved the bifurcation of the state into two union territories.

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