A year after Kashmir's successful panchayat polls, the state witnessed its first confrontation between agitating panchs and sarpanchs with the local authorities in south Kashmir's Anantnag district when the grassroots representatives were not allowed to hold a conference on panchayat empowerment.
Around 200 panchs and sarpanchs from Anantnag and Budgam districts were allegedly barred by deputy commissioner Kifayat Haider from holding a conference at local Dak Bungalow.
"We had sought written permission from additional district development commissioner on April 21 to conduct the conference. A copy of which is with us. Against Rs. 3,000, we booked the hall. But today when we arrived at the venue, there was a huge police presence and we will not allowed to hold the conference," alleged Shahnawaz Sultan, a resource sarpanch from central Kashmir's Budgam district who spearheads Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Movement.
The sarpanchs and panchs amalgam claims it was a conference to educate the public representatives and empower them about their rights.
"The state government is opposing unification of all panchs and sarpanchs at one platform," said Muhammad Latief, a panch from Anantnag district.
Panchs and sarpanchs, who were elected last year on a non-party basis elections, accuse the state government of being slack on the implementation of the three-tier panchayat system, with local council and district council elections not being held even a year has passed since the elections held in April-June last year.
"We were told 14 government departments will function through sarpanchs but we have no role right now. It seems the polls were held to get Central money like Rs 365 crore for NREGA and divert it," alleged Ghulam Ahmad Raina, a sarpanch from Chadoora.
Ruling National Conference spokesperson Sadiq Ali denied that the government has issued any direction to the stop the conference.
"There is no instruction from the government. We are for empowerment of panchs and sarpanchs and chief minister Omar Abdullah has already started a process. It might be local decision taken by the deputy commissioner, who is also district magistrate keeping in view law and order situation," said Ali.
Talking to Hindustan Times, Anantnag DC Haider said, "No permission was issued to them. I was told that unknown outsiders were holding a conference. I asked them to prove their antecedents by showing identity cards or any letter pad, which they failed. So we did not allow them. Local panchs and sarpanchs too informed us that they do not know them," said Haider.
The panchs and saranchs, meanwhile, filed a written complaint before the chief judicial magistrate for not being allowed to conduct the conference. "The magistrate has issued directions to the local police officer to investigate the matter," said Sultan adding, "This is being done to elected representatives. It's anybody's guess how other would be treated in the state."
Around 33,000 panches and sarpanches were elected last year in 16 phase polls in the state. The highest ever percentage of 82% voters participated in the elections held after 30 years.