Struggling to acquire the promised rights and responsibilities, Kashmir valley’s sarpanches and panches in a rare Deh Majlis (open-air meeting) has asked the state government to share money earned from village forests to make the grassroots institution economically viable.
“The government through the forest department and the State Forest Corporation earns millions of rupees as revenue annually from the timber taken away from our villages. We have passed a resolution in the Deh Majlis, which is a village assembly, asking government to share money with us,” said sarpanch Mohammad Maqbool during the meeting convened at Gogaldara in north Kashmir’s Tangmarg block of Baramulla district on Thursday afternoon.
There is a provision of levying taxes on various village resources under the J&K Panchayati Raj Act 1989.
The resolution passed at the far off village in north Kashmir has become first such significant resolution passed by a state panchayat since the elections held in April last year.
Around 33,000 panches and sarpanchs were elected last year in 16-phase polls. The highest ever percentage of 82 percent voters participated in the elections held after a gap of 30 years.
Since then the Panchayti Raj system in the state is struggling to gain real ground with the government dragging its feet on block and district level polls.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, however, recently promised to hold these elections soon, though constitutionally these should have been conducted within 40 days of the poll results.
Asserting its power for the first time despite reservations by local MLAs on power sharing, the Gogaldara panchayat has vowed to protect the forests and take a share from the government revenue, generated from the green wealth. “Nobody will be allowed to cut green trees in the area, which has hundreds of acres as forest land,” said the joint statement of the panchayat.
The Deh Majlis, which is Kashmir’s version of Graham Sabha, in its resolution, demanded that the government must establish a primary health centre, agriculture zone, sheep husbandry centre, animal husbandry centre in the village.
“Appointment of staff at local health dispensary should be made by August 1, failing which the local panchayat will lock the dispensary,” said the resolution.
The panchayat criticized the revenue, health, ICDS, social welfare, CAPD, forest , wildlife officials for not attending the programme.
“In spite of the fact the official were intimated about the programme, they avoided to attend it. This shows the government officials are not interested in empowering panchayats. It gives an indication that these officials hardly care about the Panchayati Raj,” said Raja Muzaffar Bhat, convener of the J&K RTI Movement and chairman Centre for Rural Development.