More power to local bodies in J&K ahead of polls

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Srinagar

Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday said local body polls in Jammu and Kashmir will be of historic significance in many ways and help re-establish the long overdue grassroots democracy.

In a statement, the home minister said the central government will provide all support, including the deployment of Central forces in sufficient numbers, for smooth conduct of panchayat and urban local body polls.

“The local body elections will have a historical significance in many aspects. The local body elections will re-establish the long overdue grassroots level democracy in J&K,” he said in a statement.

The urban local body elections are being held after 2005 and Panchayat elections after 2011. Provision of direct elections for Sarpanches of the Panchayats has also been restored to ensure accountability. These elections will also pave the way for making available nearly Rs. 4,335 Crores of 14th Finance Commission Central grants to the duly constituted local bodies. But for these elections, people of J&K would have been deprived of these funds meant for their welfare. Local bodies are also being vested with the significantly enhanced devolution of powers in line with best practices in the country. This will enable them to address most of the local issues in their jurisdictions.

“The functions and functionaries of all the 29 subjects transferred to Panchayats under the 73rd Amendment of the Constitution of India will also be transferred to the Panchayats of J&K including institutions like Primary Health Centers, Primary Schools, Aganwadi Centers to name a few,” he in a statement said.

The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act was passed by the Parliament in 1993. The amendment provided a constitutional status to the Panchayati raj institutions. The act was enforced upon all the state governments, except Jammu and Kashmir.

The polls to elect 4,130 sarpanches (village headmen), 29,719 panches (panchayat members) and 1,145 ward commissioners in Jammu and Kashmir will be held next month.

Singh said the elections will also pave the way for making available nearly Rs 4,335 crore of 14th Finance Commission central grants to the duly constituted local bodies.

The home minister said financial powers of panchayats are being enhanced 10 times from Rs 10,000 to Rs 1 lakh. Similarly, they are being increased from Rs 25,000 to Rs 2.5 lakh for block councils.

The central and the state government funds will further supplement ‘own funds’ of the panchayats under various schemes such as MGNERGA, PMAY, ICDS, mid-day meal etc.

Singh said in addition to the selection of eligible beneficiaries for various schemes, panchayats will also be involved in the implementations of key national schemes such as National Health Mission, Samagraha Siksha, the mission for development of horticulture.

“On an average, every panchayat will now get around Rs 50-80 lakh per year at its disposal for implementation of such schemes. To further strengthen the panchayats, additional posts are being sanctioned for an accountant, data entry operator, block panchayat inspector etc,” he said.

Urban local body elections were last held in 2005 and panchayat elections in 2011.

The National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party have decided to boycott the elections, saying the central government is yet to clear its stand on Article 35A of the Constitution, which was challenged in the Supreme Court.

“The Leh and Kargil Autonomous Hill Development Councils (LAHDC and KAHDC) have been strengthened and empowered to become the most autonomous councils in the country to address various issues being faced by people living in the remote areas of Ladakh region. The LAHDC & KAHDC have been given more powers to levy and collect local taxes. Control has been given over the functioning of various departments as well as the Government employees working for the subjects that are transferred to them,” the statement said.

“All such properties like public buildings, public roads constructed by LAHDC & KAHDC shall now belong to the council. Funds allocated to these councils from the State Budget can now be carried forward for the next year. The Panchayats in Kargil and Leh will also follow the directions of these councils. Chief Executive Councillor will also be the Chairman of all Tourism Development Authorities. These Councils will also have a Deputy Chairman for better functioning,” the statement added.

Considering the crucial role being played by the Special Police Officers in anti-militancy operations, MHA has enhanced their honorarium from existing Rs 6,000 per month to 9,000 on completion of 5 years and Rs 12,000 on completion of 15 years.

The statement said that MHA has approved a scheme of Rs 5.5 Lakh financial assistance to nearly 5,764 West Pakistan Refugees settled in J&K. Amounts due to the eligible beneficiaries will be transferred in their bank accounts. The State Government has designated Divisional Commissioner Jammu as the nodal officer for effective and speedy disbursement of the amount to all eligible beneficiaries.

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