Jammu and Kashmir administration is likely to announce the schedule for by-elections to 13,000 panchayat seats later this week, with preparations well under way in both divisions of the union territory.
The government may announce the dates around October 9, when the ongoing Back-to-Village programme—in which the bureaucrats visit villages to address the public grievances at the door step— is likely to end. This would be the first electoral exercise in J&K after August 5, 2019, when the special status of J&K was abrogated and the state was split into two UTs.
For the government, conducting by-elections is a challenge amid rising attacks on political workers, especially those from the BJP. Earlier, the J&K administration had announced that the panchayat by-elections in the newly formed UT would be held in eight phases from March 5, but the by-elections were delayed due to security reasons. Later, Covid19 pandemic caused further suspension of all such activities.
“Back-to-Village programme is ending on October 11. We are expecting an announcement on panchayat bye-elections on October 9 and the program may be ended that day only,” a senior government official said . The department of information and public relations has also asked the journalists to collect passes for election coverage within three days.
As per official data, around 11,500 panchs and 890 sarpanch seats are vacant in Kashmir, while 185 panch and 124 sarpanch seats are vacant in Jammu division.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Governor of J&K Manoj Sinha, while addressing a gathering in Kud area of Jammu, stressed on the importance of institution of panchayat. He said that the panchayats and people of the UT are the sole executors of the development work and the administration would act as a facilitator.
“People of J&K would decide their own priorities and the administration would facilitate to ensure that all the work is done,” said Sinha.
In 2018, regional parties, including the NC and PDP, had boycotted the panchayat elections, when 83.5% turnout was recorded in Jammu division while Kashmir Valley, which also included Ladakh then, recorded 44.4% turnout.