Short of setting a deadline, the Congress on Saturday said the Jammu and Kashmir government should strengthen panchayati raj institutions within a definite timeframe.
"We (Congress) will set a timeframe for incorporating provisions of the 73rd amendment in the state act for the empowerment of panchayats," said Jammu and Kashmir Congress in-charge Ambika Soni in an interaction with the media after one-day convention of the party.
"The issue of settlement of refugees should be addressed within this timeframe and I will speak to chief minister Omar Abdullah about it," Soni said. It was her first visit to the state after being given the responsibility of the state. Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president Saif-ud-din Soz and union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad addressed the convention.
Though panchayat elections were held after about three decades in the state, the provisions for reservation to Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and women in block development councils (the second tier of the act) and district development boards (the third tier) had not been incorporated in the act.
It has remained a sticking point between coalition partners - National Conference (NC) and Congress - for the past two years. "It won't be an election issue," Ambika said.
The NC has been reluctant to accept these provisions. Many areas in the Kashmir division don't have SC and ST population. The government had, in October 2012, cancelled elections to the BDC by issuing an ordinance after the Congress exerted pressure on it. The elections were cancelled even when the chief minister had earlier stated in the assembly that the BDC elections would be held at any cost.
The Congress is of the view that if a provision for reservations is not made in the Act, there is no guarantee that it will be done in future and it has the potential of hurting the party at the national level.
On being asked if the central leadership is soft on the issue as the chief minister has been saying that he is in touch with the central leadership of the party, Soni said: "I am a nominee of central leadership and I am speaking on behalf of the party."
Azad bats for Zubin's concert
Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said the proposed concert of Zubin Mehta in Srinagar on October 11 should be held and the Jammu and Kashmir government shouldn't cow down before any section.
Separatists have been opposing the concert but the government has decided to go ahead with it.
In reply to a question, Azad said there was nothing wrong about the CM's comment on the media with regard to the Kisthwar violence. The CM, in his Independence Day speech, had said that such incidents happened in other parts of the country but it was not covered widely like it was done in case of Kishtwar.
The Congress condemned firing along the LoC and killing of five soldiers by the Pakistani forces. It urged the Jammu and Kashmir government to devise a plan for declaring area within the radius of 8 to 10 km along borders in the state as backward. People residing there should be given same benefits as those given to residents of backward areas.
The party urged the Congress-NC coalition to accept the demands of various categories of refugees, including those from PoK, those displaced in 1947, and 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan, who are residing in different parts of the state.
The Congress said it was committed on the question of empowerment of panchayati raj institutions and provisions of the 73rd amendments be incorporated in the Panchayat Act to empower them in real sense.