Shafiq Mir, Chairman All J&K Panchayat Conference, tells Hirra Azmat
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): What is the role of Panchayat after the abrogation of article 370?
SHAFIQ MIR (SM): There is no change in the role of Panchayats after the read down of Article 370. Since there is no elected government in place, we are the only public representatives. Only Panchayats are working like a bridge between the government and the public. Whatever issues and grievances, the public faces presently, it is being delivered through us to the central government.
KL: In the upcoming Panchayat polls are you contesting as independents or as affiliated with parties?
SM: In the upcoming district development council elections, we will be fielding independent candidates on all 280 DDC seats for which the preparation for the elections are at the final stage.
KL: Are you going to conduct any rallies or any form of public canvassing? Have you outlined areas?
SM: Yes, we will conduct some rallies where ever required. We cannot yet divulge the details as there are candidates from the sensitive areas. Depending upon the security situation and candidate preferences, we will conduct rallies accordingly.
KL: How do you counter the notion that Panchayats have sided with the BJP led government and betrayed the common people?
SM: We have nothing to do with BJP, but since the BJP is in government, we have no choice but to meet them. We have to meet the government no matter which party is in power. However, unfortunately BJP tries to politicize this institution.
KL: How are the Panchayats ensuring that “Back to village programme” is a useful and successful exercise?
SM: The projections made under three programmes of back to the village were neither started nor have received any funding so far. Second, the back to village programme is just a useless exercise and it has completely undermined our position among the masses. The right way was to get all the recommendations from elected representatives instead of conducting a Gram Sabha through officers. It has demoted our position among the public. What is the role left to us then? Are we mere spectators? We have highlighted the issue more times than we can count, but nobody listens.
KL: Many Panches and Sarpanches have claimed that adequate funding has not been received? How far is this true?
SM: As far as the funding is concerned Panchayats are still waiting for the claims made by the government. Only the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act component is being followed. The funding has not come the way it should have been. For example, as the BDC chairman under the constituency development fund, Rs 25 lakh should have been allocated to my office. Yet, nothing has been received so far. Under the fifteenth finance commission too, no funding has been earmarked for us.
KL: What have you done to ensure more and uninterrupted funding for Panchayat?
SM: Many times we took up this issue but all in vain.
KL: We have seen Panchs being shot dead? How are you addressing the security concerns of the Panchayat members?
SM: We are concerned about the security of Panchayat members and the government is making arrangements. They are sanitizing areas; some people have been kept in protective zones. But still we are concerned. We are not satisfied so far. We demand the government should ensure a peaceful atmosphere for conducting the elections.
In fact, the security threat increases to panchayat members when they are politicized. I have always been saying panchayats should not take part in political activities.
KL: What is the relevance of the recent amendments to J&K Panchayati Raj Act? Have they empowered the Panchayat members?
SM: The recent amendment in the act has weakened Pachayati Raj Institution not empowered. In fact, by making an amendment in Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, the government has opened a door for the entry of politicians in this institution at the third stage but we will not allow them to enter in our institution. After abrogation of Article 370, the political parties have been left jobless, so they are now thinking of jumping on the bandwagon. That is why we have decided to field independent candidates.
KL: Is the educated and younger generation inclined towards Panchayat institutions?
SM: Unfortunately, our educated generation is not interested in the process. It is because they don’t see any attraction in this institution. The institution should be empowered first in order to attract the younger generation towards Panchayat Raj Institutions.