by Masood Hussain
SRINAGAR: The last phase of the municipal polls is slated for Tuesday, October 16, 2018. The vital question being asked everywhere is: will Kashmir improve its overall tally?
In the first phase, Kashmir polled 8.2 per cent with Srinagar’s three peripheral wards participating to the tune of 6.2 per cent. The major push came from Kupwara and Handwara where voters participated in good numbers.
In the phase-II, the tally improved by a decimal and reached to a cumulative 8.3 percent in both the phase. Srinagar participated to the level of 2.2 per cent and overall Kashmir’s poll participation was 3.4 percent. The better voting was reported from Sumbal belt in Bandipora.
In the penultimate session when most of Srinagar was scheduled to vote, the cumulative percentage tumbled to 6.7 per cent in all the three phases. In Srinagar, only 1.8 per cent registered voters reported to the polling booths as the overall Kashmir average was 3.49 per cent. It was Uri that polled in better numbers and in fact, more votes came from small border Uri township that the capital city of Srinagar.
As the final phase is going to be held on Tuesday, it remains to be seen what the EVMs will get.
The final phase involves eight municipal bodies including the remaining 25 wards of Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC). Only 24 wards are being contested by 112 candidates as in case of one ward, a candidate has already won the seat as nobody opposed him.
The other municipality that will witness contest is Ganderbal in the city’s immediate periphery on way to Ladakh. It has 17 wards of which the fate of five wards has already been decided as the candidates won without an opponent or were left vacant. It has 38 candidates in the fray on 12 wards.
The election follows the trend that was reflected in three earlier phases: most of the towns lack an election. In fact, the final phase involves 132 wards but polls are required only in 36 wards – 24 in Srinagar and 12 in Ganderbal. Though this phase is spread six districts, only two will have to go for polls. As many as 44 wards are vacant as no nomination came. In 52 wards, one candidate each filed papers and was declared a winner.
In Pulwama district, there are three municipalities that were scheduled to go to polls on Tuesday, But neither of three is having polls – either fir lack of candidates or lack of opposition.
In the highway Pampore township, the municipality has 17 wards. Authorities say, five candidates were elected unopposed as they were not challenged by anybody. In the remaining 12, not a single nomination came. Residents said those who won include three migrant Kashmiri Pandits who contested on BJP mandate and two locals, one of whom is actually a migrant to the town from other district.
In the neighbouring Khrew, the municipality has 13 wards. All the seats are vacant because no nomination ever came to the presiding officer. This does not require any contest as the exercise did not take off.
The district headquarters, Pulwama also has a 13-ward municipality. While two candidates won unopposed, not a single application or a nomination came for the 11 other wards. This helped authorities not to initiate any exercise at all.
The town that is mostly in news these days is Shopian, a district that was carved out of Pulwama. Its municipality has 17 wards. Officials said they did not receive even a single nomination in five wards. In the remaining 12 wards, one candidate each was elected unopposed. They are all migrant Kashmiri Pandits who came filed the form, were declared winners and left Jammu for celebrations, locals said.
Baramula district has Pattan municipality covered by the last phase. It has 13 wards. Officials said they did not get a single nomination in two wards. In the remaining 11 wards, one candidate each reported to the presiding officer and were declared winner in absence of an opposition.
The south Kashmir Anantnag district has Dooru municipality also scheduled for the last phase. Falling in Verniag bet, it has 17 wards and is one of the oldest municipalities of the belt. One ward received no nomination at all and is vacant. In the remaining 16 wards, one candidate each reported with nomination and were declared winners.
Kashmir was quite tense during the run up to these polls. But after the first phase was over, the tension has gone down substantially. Even the separatists had to change their ‘calendar’ and declare strike in those areas which are bound by the elections. They, however, did not clarify if the area where there is no polling, should observe the strike or not. In the last two phases, people have avoided to observe strikes in such area.
This, however, has not impact the security arrangements that the authorities are routinely making. Srinagar is under thick security blanket and all the candidates are in secured accommodations.
It was apparently on request of these candidates that the election authorities permitted polling from 6 am, almost half an hour ahead of the sun rise. The candidates are in tight security to the extent that people hardly have seen them and do not know their names either. This has made these elections interestingly different.
An official spokesman quoted state’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Shaleen Kabra saying that the final phase of the Municipal Polls-2018 voting will take place at 308 polling stations in Srinagar and Ganderbal tomorrow on 16 October 2018. The polling time, he said, will be from 6.00 am to 4.00 pm.
Kabra said that 156 candidates are in the fray for 37 wards of 2 Urban Local Bodies for the 4thPhase comprising a total electorate of 250794 electors. He said the additional poll staff is being deployed at polling stations with large number of electors.
Giving details, the CEO said that 12 wards are going to polls in Municipal Committee Ganderbal with a total electorate 8491 voters. He said 38 candidates are in the fray for Ganderbal MC and voting shall take place at 12 polling stations.
Kabra said 24 wards of Srinagar Municipal Corporation are also going to polls tomorrow with a total electorate of 241043. He said 113 candidates are in the fray for these 24 wards and 295 polling stations have been established for the purpose.
The CEO said also re-poll shall be held at Polling Station No: 9 Bachidarwaza of Makhdoom Sahab (Ward No: 41) tomorrow where 5 candidates are in the fray with a total electorate of 1260.
He said the overall poll percentage in the first three phases has been 41.9% across the State.
The CEO said that Basic Minimum Facilities (BMF) have been ensured in all the polling stations across the State for voting. He said Photo Voter Slips have already been distributed among the voters to inform them of their polling station.
Kabra said senior government officers have been appointed as General Observers to oversee the smooth, fair and orderly conduct of polls. “Expenditure Observers are also keeping a watch on the expenditure by the candidates,” he said and added that for the poll day Micro Observers have been deployed in polling stations, particularly those considered sensitive/ hypersensitive.
“Besides, the Zonal and Sector Magistrates have been deployed to ensure smooth conduct of polls as well as monitoring the entire process,” CEO said and added that the Deputy Commissioners are undertaking Videography of all critical events related to the poll process.
Kabra said Control Rooms have been established in all the Municipal Bodies across the State to respond promptly to any complaints of violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) as also to disseminate information to the public. He said adequate security arrangements have been made for smooth conduct of polling across the State.
He said the government has also declared the holiday on the day of poll in the municipal areas going to polls so as to enable the voters to cast their vote. He said as per standing guidelines, the Central Government offices shall not be closed but the employees who are electors of the poll going wards and desire to exercise their franchise shall be offered reasonable facility- by way of coming late to office / allowed to leave office early / short absence.
The CEO urged voters to exercise their right to franchise in order to choose their local self-government to address to their local needs.
Pertinently, Municipal Elections-2018 are being held in four phases, covering 79 municipal bodies with an electorate of about 17 lakh electors. A total of 3372 nominations have been filed for 1145 wards. Days of the poll are 8th, 10th, 13th and 16th October for these four phases.