First-ever district development council polls in J&K from November 28
The Jammu and Kashmir poll panel on Wednesday announced an eight-phase election to 20 district development councils (DDCs) beginning November 28, in the first major electoral exercise since the abrogation of Article 370.
J&K election commissioner KK Sharma announced the schedule for the first district development council (DDC) polls that will be held between November 28 and December 29. They will be held in eight phases--on November 28, December 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16 and 19 from 7 am to 2 pm.
“DDC polls are being held in 20 districts for the first time. Each district has 14 constituencies. Thus, 280 constituencies, 140 each in Jammu and Kashmir divisions will go to poll,” Sharma said. Constituted under the J&K Panchayati Raj Act, the DDCs will have a five-year term.
The government had in October amended the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act to provide for setting up of DDCs in each district, which will have directly elected members.
Bypolls for the vacant seats of sarpanch, panch and urban local bodies (ULBs) will also be held simultaneously. This time around 935 sarpanch halqas in Kashmir and 153 in Jammu will go to poll.
In the Panchayat bypolls ballot boxes will be used. General observers, who will be assisted by micro-observers, will also be appointed.
Expenditure ceiling set
“For DDC polls, a limit of ₹5 lakh per candidate has been set. For sarpanches the limit is ₹1 lakh, and for panches it is ₹30,000. All candidates will maintain a separate bank account to meet poll-related expenditures, which will be scrutinised,” Sharma said.
“The DDC elections will be held via electronic voting machines (EVMs) on party basis while postal ballots will be used for sarpanch and panch bypolls to be held on non-party basis,” he informed.
Sharma said apart from Kashmiri Pandits, this time postal ballot facility will also be made available to senior citizens, the differently abled and Covid patients. The model code of conduct comes into effect from Wednesday.
“West Pakistan Refugees (WPRs) will also be entitled to exercise their right to vote for the first time. Before October 31, 2019, they were only eligible for Lok Sabha polls,” he said.
Sharma said subsequently polls will also be held for 234 vacant ULB seats . Counting of votes for sarpanch and panch by polls will be held on the same day of polling in the evening while counting of votes for the DDC polls will be held on December 22.
Chief electoral officer HK Singh also announced the schedule for polls to vacant seats of the ULBs said, “The polls will also be held in eight phases on November 28, December 1 , December 4, December 7, December 10, December 13 , December 16 and December 19.”said.
The administration will hold elections in snow-bound and remote areas in the first two phases.“Counting of votes will take place on December 22 and by December 24 the process will be completed. Voting hours for ULB polls will also be from 7 am to 2 pm,” said Singh.
The election process will be held to fill over 13,000 vacant panchayat seats and it will be seen as an attempt to restart the political process in the region once again. As per official data, there are around 11,500 panchs and 890 sarpanch seats are vacant in Kashmir, while 185 panch and 124 sarpanch seats are vacant in Jammu division.
A watershed moment for us, say West Pak Refugees
West Pakistani Refugees Action Committee chairperson Labha Ram Gandhi said, “It is a watershed moment for us. Finally, the voting rights have been given to us after over 72 years of discrimination and neglect by the successive Kashmir-centric regimes.”
Gandhi said around 15 to 20 candidates from West Pakistan refugees will contest the ensuing elections. Gandhi, who represents 1.25 lakh refugees, belonging to scheduled caste and backward classes, he said.
West Pakistan refugees were not considered residents of the state after 1947. They could not apply for jobs and or seek admission in professional courses. The refugees, who had fled Sialkot, had settled in Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts.