by Tahir Bhat
SRINAGAR: In his maiden interaction with media, Jammu and Kashmir’s Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam said the “unprecedented” arrangements are in place to ensure the four-phase Urban Local Body polls starting October 8. Right now 400 companies of paramilitary forces are on the move towards Kashmir to ensure incident-free exercise and the governor’s administration has taken care of the security concerns of all: the employees for conducting polls and the contestants who will seek security.
“Security arrangements have been done at unprecedented scale. 400 companies of central forces will be deployed for these polls in addition to what we already have in the form of police and other paramilitary forces,” chief secretary BVR Subrahmanyam said. He said the state government did not expect such a large chunk of central forces because the set up is under pressure as various states are going for elections. “This is being done in spite of the fact that there is a lot of pressure for security forces requirements in other states that are going for elections. This shows that a very important exercise is being conducted.” He said the state government was not sure of this support and it involved hectic discussions. “This is more than adequate to conduct the elections,” he added.
The Chief Secretary said the government will provide security to all the candidates who request for it and facilitate their campaigning as well. “We have arranged accommodation for the candidates who want it at various places across the valley,” Subrahmanyam said. “We have arranged 300 hotel rooms in Srinagar.” The government will provide vehicles for the campaign of candidates too.
The Chief Secretary said that there are 4,490 Panchayats across the state and as many Sarpanches. The total number of Panches in the state would be around 35,000. There will be around 39,500 elected representatives in our Panchayats. This, he said, will be a huge number as part of a “vibrant democracy”.
Subrahmanyam said there are 79 urban local bodies and about 1200 wards – 600 each in Kashmir and Jammu region. The Urban Local Body (ULB) polls will be conducted in four phases starting October 8, whereas the panchayat polls will be held in nine-phases from November 17.
The Chief Secretary said the elections to Panchayat and UBL, due since 2016, are very important and significant. He said the state is losing a huge amount by not having the twin bodies in place. Against the allocations of Rs 4335 crore under the Fourteenth Finance Commission, Jammu and Kashmir got only Rs 435 crore. The net loss was to the tune of Rs 3029 crore in Panchayat set up and Rs 1306 crore in ULB set up.
“This huge chunk of funds allocated to the State under the 14th Finance Commission award has been withheld as no elected Urban and Rural Local Bodies are in place in the State,” the Chief Secretary said.
Subrahmanyam said this is not a small amount. “Excluding the centrally sponsored schemes, the state has a capex (capital expenditure) of Rs 2000 crore and the amount we are losing in local bodies in almost double than that,” he said. “Under the next finance commission award, a Panchayat w3ill have funds available up to even one crore rupees against Rs 20-30 lakh that is available right now.”
Chief Secretary said Jammu and Kashmir has a most comprehensive and robust Panchayati Raj Act in place and the government is initiating some far-reaching changes that will make Panchayats even more powerful decision-making bodies with extended reach. The State Government is also planning additional devolution of resources to the Panchayats under MGNREGA, PMAY, NRLM, ICDS, NHM, and other similar flagship programmes to undertake targeted development at the grassroots level. “As per rough estimates each Panchayat would be entitled to a cumulative allocation of Rs 50 lakh to Rs 1 crore per annum,” he said. “Panchayats would be also vested with taxation powers on Bus Stands and Mobile Towers to generate additional resources locally.”
He said each Panchayat will have an accountant for keeping books while an Ombudsman will be appointed for transparency and accountability.
Subrahmanyam said there was no link between the timing of holding panchayat elections in the state and deferment of hearing of the PIL challenging Article 35-A before the Supreme Court.
“There have been multiple postponements of the hearings of Article 35-A in the Supreme court before and after the panchayat elections were announced,” the Chief Secretary said. “It is just accidental that the case is listed in January and the panchayat elections are to be completed before that.”
The chief secretary said the Governor’s administration is going to be consistent in its stand before the apex court that an elected state government should fight the case.
“The stand of the governor’s administration is going to be consistent in the Supreme Court that there are many serious complex issues which have to be discussed as far as Article 35-A is concerned and these should not be discussed when Governor’s rule is in place,” he asserted. He was responding to the question seeking an answer about why governor’s administration is not discovering a new reason for hearing in the PIL other than 35A.
“These should be discussed when an elected government is in place, which will take a solid position in the Supreme Court. So, there is absolute clarity that Governor’s rule is not about deciding Article 35-A,” he said.
The Chief Secretary said the employees who will perform poll duty will get an additional one month salary. He said this is unprecedented and has not been done anywhere across India, so far.
Besides, the Chief Secretary said the government is considering a hike in the wages of Special Police officers working in Jammu and Kashmir in next few days. He said their takeaway has been doubled from Rs 3000 to Rs 6000 which will be improved. He said he cannot give the exact details of the hike unless the State Administrative Council approves it. SAC is governor’s cabinet.
Offering details of the security situation in which some SPOs were recently killed, the Chief Secretary said: “The resignations compared to total number of SPOs who are above 30,000 is negligible.” He said all the SPO’s have been instructed about their security.
Subrahmanyam said that problems of security restricted to only certain areas in South Kashmir and in the north and central Kashmir situation are not worrying.
Asked about the post-election security plan for the candidates, Subrahmanyam said, “We have even plans for those who win as they will be at a higher risk.” Asked about the voters’ security, the Chief Secretary said: “That is being handled on the law and order front. There are threats… we are confident that we can handle it.”
Asked if holding polls was prudent in view of the boycott by two major political parties in the valley, he said there was no question of thrusting the elections on the people.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm on the ground. Two national parties (the BJP and the Congress) are participating. If you go to Jammu, you will see the street-level campaigning,” he added.
Subrahmanyam said more than 700 forms have been taken by prospective candidates for the first phase of urban local bodies, which will be held on October 8. The last date for filing nomination for the first phase is Tuesday.