Srinagar: Gulham Mohammad Ganai, a sarpanch of PatanShirpura Bagel village in Baramulla district, cannot recall the number of times he has had to visit the Jammu and Kashmir secretariat in the last nine months. Sitting outside the office of the rural department last week with some papers in his hand, he was seen rehearsing a few lines for the official sitting inside.
Ganai, 59, is one among 730 people who are yet to be notified as sarpanchs of their respective villages, after being elected during the J&K panchayat polls held in November-December 2018. All 2,182 sarpanchs from Kashmir had, along with others elected across the state, received a certificate from the Election Commission of India acknowledging their new positions and were imparted training too.
But until notified, these people cannot officially hold the post of a sarpanch, start work, receive government funds or even get their monthly salary of Rs 2,500.
“If they did not want to allot us as sarpanchs, why did they do this drama of conducting elections?” Ganai asked.
The order to notify sarpanchs had come in December, soon after the poll results were announced. “But 730 names weren’t there. Is this how the authorities plan on empowering their sarpanchs? What is the point of Home Minister Amit Shah meeting a delegation of sarpanchs? I doubt if the government really wishes to hear our problems,” he said.
The panchayat elections were held across Jammu and Kashmir from 17 November 2018 to 11 December 2018.
Sarpanchs can’t be notified until their panchayats elect panchs
Explaining the delay in notifying sarpanchs, Sheetal Nanda, Secretary to Government, Rural Development & Panchayati Raj, said it happened since there “were no panchs from those areas”.
In a panchayat, the sarpanch is the mukhiya (head). There are 5 to 11 panchs — who are heads of wards — and work in association with the sarpanch in running the panchayat administration. A village is divided into 5-11 wards, each headed by a panch.
“It is a joint effort. To have a full panchayat, along with the sarpanch, there has to be panchs. The 730 sarpanchs represent their wards alone with no panch to assist them. Hence, we couldn’t constitute the panchayat and officially notify them as sarpanchs,” Nanda said.
The solution, Nanda said, is re-election to appoint panchs which will be held soon after polls to the block development councils — that are to be completed by the end of October 2019.
In panchayat elections, people cast two votes — one for the sarpanch and another for the panch of their ward. Both are direct elections. The re-elections will be carried out only to elect panchs.
“There will not be any re-election for sarpanchs. Once panchs of all wards are elected, we will notify the 730 sarpanchs. But until they are notified, the sarpanchs will not get any benefits,” Nanda said.
Calling this reasoning “delaying tactics”, the sarpanchs said it was high time the problem was sorted.
“The government is now going to hold elections to block development councils, while the sarpanchs’ problems have been kept pending,” said Gulwar Bhat, a sarpanch from Tral who has been notified but is extending support to the 730 elected sarpanchs waiting for notification.
He said the authorities should have conducted the panch re-elections first, before going for the block development council polls.
‘Unable to show our faces to locals’
The sarpanchs say they are now “left in the lurch”, after contesting the elections despite threat to life from militants.
Ganai said he participated in the elections because he was “convinced” that the government would bring money and development to the region.
“We were urged to contest the panchayat polls by the government. Local residents did not want to take part in it. Who wants a bullet to their head? But I dared. All 730 of us had dared. Today, we have been left in a lurch,” he added.
Ganai contested unopposed in his village and garnered 800 votes.
“We are stuck from all sides. The militants, the local residents and now the government. We had faith in the government and thought people will eventually have faith in us when they see development in their villages. Now, we are unable to show our faces to them. They taunt us and say that we should never have trusted this government,” he said.
He also rued how locals now call them “traitors”. “The militants will shoot us anyway for siding with the government and participating in the election process. The government has abandoned us too.”