Opposition attacks Jammu and Kashmir government on panchayats issue
The opposition Bhartiya Jants Party (BJP) and Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) have sharpened their attack on the Jammu and Kashmir government on the issue of powers to village councils and security to their heads, elected over 18 months ago.
State BJP chief spokesman Jitendra Singh Thursday said: "To provide adequate security to sarpanches and panches (heads and members of rural self-government institutions) is a state's responsibility, and by publicly expressing its inability to do so, the state's National Conference (NC)-Congress coalition government is abdicating its constitutional obligation as also admitting failure."
He said the state has sufficient mechanisms in place to determine the threat perception of individual sarpanches and panches, and if there is any lack of resources, it can seek the assistance of the union home ministry as it has done in the past.
Singh pointed out that sarpanches and panches in J and K have become victims of "dual" vulnerability.
"On the one hand, they are under constant threats from terrorist organisations, while on the other hand they have become a target of public wrath and resentment due to their inability to deliver because of lack of empowerment in the absence of implementation of 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Constitution," he said.
The amendments grant constitutional status to elected rural local bodies, giving them also the necessary powers. The two constitutional amendments also provide for direct elections to all seats in the panchayats and compulsory elections every five years, with mandatory reservation of seats for Dalits and Advisasis in proportion to their share of the population. There is also mandatory reservation of one-third seats for women.
Jitendra Singh questioned what he termed the duplicity of the ally Congress party, which is demanding implementation of 73rd and 74th Amendments in street protests through its youth wing, while its ministers in the state cabinet, under instruction from the central party leadership, has to toe the National Conference line.
A total of ten panchayat members, including panches and sarpanches, have been killed by militants in the state since elections concluded in June last year.
This, and the continuing threat from militants, forced about 500 elected village panches and sarpanches to resign in the state till date.
There are over 33,000 elected panches and sarpanches in the state.
While the state government has ordered elections to be held for four seats of the legislative council, the upper house in the state legislature, from the panchayats electoral college, the PDP has expressed surprise and said that the election was meaningless without empowering panchayats.
PDP leader and former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said in Jammu Thursday that at a time when panchayat members were agitating for real empowerment, the government has announced elections for legislative council seats.
"Electing legislative council members from the quota of panchayat is not a real issue. The main issue is delegating powers to the panchayats to set up a vibrant Panchayati Raj system in the state to decentralise power at the grass-root level," he said, regretting that the government had "brazenly eroded the sanctity of all democratic institutions in state".
State Rural Development Minister Ali Mohammad Sagar, who is senior leader of the National Conference, said there were enough provisions in the state laws for empowering panchayats. He said further incorporation of provisions was also possible.
The Jammu and Kashmir enjoys special status by virtue of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, and also has its own laws and constitution.