Panchayat Polls

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The election of thousands of Panches and Sarpanches to village bodies was trumped as percolation of ‘democracy’ down to the grassroots level, but the elected ones are frowning.

The 16-phase Panchayat elections, held after 33 years in the backdrop of the separatist call for boycott, witnessed high voter turnout this year.

Seventy nine percent of the rural voter population elected thousands of Sarpanches and Panches to the village councils. Around 50.68 lakh voters elected 4130 Sarpanches (2164 in Kashmir and 1966 in Jammu) and 29,719 Panches (15,959 in Kashmir and 13,760 in Jammu). The entire exercise cost the government more than Rs 100 crore.  A Kashmiri Pandit woman was elected Sarpanch in a Muslim-dominated village in north Kashmir.

Lawmakers believe that the rise of Panchayat essentially means a threat and a competition to the MLAs, especially when block councils are constituted. The Panchayats are expected to get not less than Rs 1000 crore a year, and if they are fully empowered, it can cross Rs 2500 crore annually.  Questions remain about the capacity and accountability of the Panchayats.

The accountability part seems missing in the law that offers enormous authority to a Panchayat. Given the socio-economic background of the Panchs and Sarpanchs, it is also possible that they will play second fiddle to the officials who are supposed to assist them in planning and implementation of various schemes.

The promises made at the time of elections of giving funds and powers the Panchayats seems to have fallen flat on the ground. A lot of the Sarpanches and Panches said they feel as powerless as the people they were supposed to serve. They said the government did not release funds for the development works in their respective villages. And despite promises made by the government, they have not been given any authority to execute any of the public works. Earlier this year dozens of Sarpanches and Panches from north Kashmir staged demonstrations in Srinagar against the alleged corruption and highhandedness of government officials.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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