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Govt amends Panchayat law to set up District Development Councils in J&K, elections soon

Officials said the Central government's move to establish these councils is aimed at enhancing grassroots-level democracy across J&K.

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Srinagar: The Central government has amended Jammu and Kashmir’s Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, to establish District Development Councils (DDCs) in all districts in the union territory.

This is the first time such councils have been established in the country, senior government officials said.

According to the amendment, every district in J&K will be divided into 14 territorial constituencies to elect members of the body in the maiden DDC elections to be held later this year.

Officials added the move was the final step in the implementation of the 73rd Amendment, which envisages the Gram Sabha as the foundation of the Panchayat Raj system and empowers Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women.

Top government sources said the move has been made keeping in mind the upcoming DDC elections. Officials said the central government’s move to establish DDCs is aimed at enhancing grassroots-level democracy across J&K.

“For each district there shall be a District Development Council, having jurisdiction over the entire district excluding such portions of the district as are included in a Municipality or Municipal Corporation constituted under any law for the time being in force,” states the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaptation of State Laws) Fourth Order, 2020, which was issued on Friday night.

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MLAs can’t elect or remove chairperson or vice-chairperson

The order further states that each DDC will consist of the directly elected members from territorial constituencies in the district, the Members of the Legislative Assembly representing a part or whole of the district whose constituencies lie within the district and the Chairperson of all Block Development Councils of the district.

The order also states that all members of DDCs, whether or not elected by direct election from territorial constituencies in the district, shall have the right to vote in the meetings of the council. However, for the election or removal of the chairperson and vice-chairperson, only directly elected members shall have the right to vote. This means that MLAs will have no voting rights in the latter case.

The order further states that each district will have a District Planning Committee, which will include the MPs and MLAs of areas within the district, chairperson of the DDC, chairpersons of the town area committees or district municipal committees, along with a few other government officials.

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Reservations for women, SCs and STs

“Not less than one-third of the total number of seats reserved under sub-section (4) shall be reserved for women belonging to the Scheduled Castes or, as the case may be, the Scheduled Tribes. One-third (including the number of seats reserved for women belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes) of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election in every District Development Council shall be reserved for women,” the central government order further said.

“This is the first time that such bodies are being established. The aim of the bodies and the move is to enhance grassroots level democracy in Jammu and Kashmir, “ said senior IAS officer Sheetal Nanda, who is Secretary to Government Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj.

The officer has been at the helm of affairs in government policies and programmes, including Back to Village, that the administration states are aimed at better governance in J&K.

“The rural population will be able to elect their DDCs through direct election. All rural areas in each district will be governed by the DDCs,” said Nanda, who did not offer comments on when the election will take place.

However at least two government sources said the DDC polls will probably take place later this year, after considering the weather and law and order conditions. Officials also said elections on vacant panch and sarpanch seats will also be held soon.

The move is likely to garner sharp reactions from political parties in J&K, who might feel inclined to boycott any form of elections in protest of the abrogation of Article 370 by the Central government in August 2019. Sources in the National Conference and the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party said the parties were examining the amendments before issuing any statements.

Also read: Gupkar Declaration a blessing in disguise for the Modi govt to set things right in Kashmir


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