Against the backdrop of boycott call by separatists, terror threats and major logistical challenges in snowbound areas, J&K is set to go for the nine-phase panchayat poll from Saturday amid tight security arrangements.
The panchayat elections are being held in J&K after a gap of seven years. The last elections were conducted in 2011 and the panchayats had completed their five-year term in 2016.
“As many as 47 blocks — 26 in the Kashmir division and 21 in the Jammu division — mainly in snowbound parts of the state will go to the polls in the first phase. In this phase, the polling will be held on 536 panchayat halqas and 4,048 panch wards, deciding the fate of 6,378 candidates comprising 427 for the posts of sarpanch and 5,951 for panch,” said a senior official of the state election department.
For the first phase, a total of 1,886 nominations — 713 in Kashmir and 1,173 in the Jammu division — were received for sarpanch halqas while the number of nominations for panch wards was 6,763 comprising 2,383 in Kashmir and 4,380 in Jammu.
The official said, “apart from security challenges, it will be an uphill task for us to conduct elections in snowbound and remote parts having zero or no accessibility. Given the tough geographical terrain and logistical challenges, the polling parties have been dispatched to all snowbound areas in advance while men and machinery in inaccessible snowbound areas are being ferried through choppers, particularly in Ladakh, Kashmir and parts of Kishtwar district in the Jammu region.”
In the Ladakh region, at least 10 blocks, including six in Leh and four in Kargil, will go to the polls in the first phase. In these blocks, there are around 33 panchayats having at least 110 polling stations. For seven panchayats, the administration will have to requisition helicopters to ferry the polling staff to their respective polling stations.
“We are fully prepared and have put in place all security arrangements to ensure smooth conduct of polls. Whatever is required has been done on ground,” Dilbag Singh, Director General of Police, J&K, told Kashmir Post while responding to a query on security situation in the backdrop of the poll boycott call given by joint resistance leadership of separatist groups in the Kashmir valley.
Pertinently, at least 12 panchayat buildings have been set on fire in the Valley during the past two months. At least 16 panchayat members were killed in Kashmir during the five-year term of last panchayati raj institutions, from 2011 to 2016, in the state.
The state has a total of 316 blocks having 4,483 panchayat halqas and 35,029 panch constituencies with a voter base of 58.54 lakh.
Meanwhile, Ahead of the panchayat elections, the poll activity in the militancy-hit Kashmir valley has been minimal and restricted to filing of nomination papers only. Unlike the elections to the urban local bodies held in October, the panchayat polls are being held on a non-party basis even as two major political parties are staying away from the process.
The National Conference and PDP have already announced their decision to boycott the urban and panchayat polls on the issues of Article 35A, Article 370 and security scenario, particularly in the Valley.