The Jammu and Kashmir government on Tuesday sought to put long drawn political wrangling around the panchayat issue to rest saying "doors are open for any amendment to democratize the institution" and reiterated "the polls have no bearing on Kashmir problem".
"We never said that the panchayat polls mean the Kashmir problem is over. Our chief minister (Omar Abdullah) never related the polls with the Kashmir problem. India and Pakistan accept Kashmir as an issue so do we," said state law, parliamentary and rural development and panchayati raj minister Ali Muhammad Sagar in the state assembly.
Sagar was replying to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party's (PDP) accusations of politicizing panchayat polls and risking lives of grassroots representatives by relating it with the Kashmir issue.
At least seven panches and sarpanches have been killed by unidentified gunmen in the valley since last year's polls that elected 34,000 grassroots representatives. The killings and threat letters had triggered mass resignations.
"There are disruptive forces out to derail the process of democracy. We have always battled such forces to uphold democracy," said Sagar.
The government has taken a series of measures recently to instill a sense of security among elected grassroots representatives. "There will be area domination by security forces in vulnerable areas. Security will be assessed of representatives and intelligence will be shared on daily basis," said Sagar.
Assuaging the unhappy coalition partner Congress demanding incorporation of 73rd and 74th amendments from Indian Panchayati Raj Act, Sagar said, "The government is open to incorporate any amendments, if they are aimed at better functioning and further democratization. We will not shy away from suggestions made by any political party," said Sagar.
The two amendments were major demands of the National Conference's coalition partner Congress. Opposition PDP too had joined the bandwagon to incorporate the same accusing the government of putting hurdles in empowerment of the panchayats.
It became a source of friction between the coalition partners recently when chief minister Omar Abdullah recently ruled out any chance to incorporate the amendments saying "the state has its own constitution and only the state assembly will make amendments after a thorough debate".
Tuesday's statement, however, reflected a change of heart in the government, aimed at mending fences with the coalition partner, by showing willingness to bring more changes to the J-K Panchayati Raj Act.
Sagar said the government is taking all measures to empower panchayats. "Fourteen departments have been identified to work in tandem with the panches and sarpanches. The role of panchayat, functionaries from the government and departments list has been sent to grassroots representatives," said Sagar adding, "a number of workshops is being conducted in this direction".
The minister said second and third tier polls will be held soon. "It will pave way to fill positions at the village development council and the block development council levels," said Sagar.