Amid shutdown and communication blockade in the Kashmir valley post abrogation of Article 370, the election authority on Sunday said the polls to choose chairpersons to the block development council in Jammu and Kashmir will be held on October 24.
Chief electoral officer (CEO) Shailendra Kumar announced the schedule for elections to 310 block development councils (BDC) at a press conference in Srinagar.
The notification for the election will be issued on October 1 while October 9 will be the last date for filing of nominations, Kumar said. The date of scrutiny of nominations is October 10 and the last date for withdrawal of candidature is October 11.
“After panchayat elections last year, we will be conducting second tier of these elections—the block development council. The elected panches and sarpanches will be electors in these elections and they will choose the chairperson of block development councils,” Kumar said.
“This will then facilitate the constitution of district development boards. The BDC chairpersons will be members of every district development board. The MLAs and MPs of the respective areas are also members of these boards, who then choose chairpersons of their respective boards,” he said.
“Polling will be held on October 24 from 9am to 1pm while the counting of votes will begin at 3 pm on the same day. The process of elections will be completed by November 5,” Kumar said.
Panchayat elections in the state were held in November-December last year in which 23,629 panches and 3,652 sarpanches were elected.
“Out of 316, there are two blocks in Kulgam and Srinagar, where there are no elected panches and sarpanches and thus there will be no election there. Four more blocks which are reserved for women but are without any woman panch or sarpanch will also not go to polls,” he said.
“We have established 310 polling stations for a total of 26,629 electors of which 18,316 are male and 8,313 female. There will be use of ballot boxes in these elections,” he said.
Kumar said the elections will be held on party lines. When journalists pointed out that the leaders of many mainstream political parties were under detention, Kumar said,“Whenever any candidate or political party approaches us for facilitating a level playing field for everyone, we will facilitate it. We will be responsive to all kinds of complaints,” he said.
Asked if the detained party leaders will be allowed to campaign, he said: “It is not a big election. There will be no fierce door-to-door campaigning. It is a small electoral process…”.
He, however, said that two panches–one each from Baramulla and Kupwara districts –have been detained under Section 107 of CrPC.
Kumar said nearly 24 per cent (12,766) of the posts of panchs and sarpanchs are vacant due to various reasons, including resignations, deaths and non-conduct of the polls during the exercise held last winter.
“In Jammu and Kashmir, a total of 12,776 seats are lying vacant. In Jammu, 18,089 panches and sarpanches were elected while 166 posts are now vacant. In Kashmir, a total of 7,528 panches and sarpanches were elected while there is a vacancy of 12,565 of which 12,054 are those where elections could not be held,” he said.
Kumar said the home department will be providing adequate security for the election process.
When asked about any challenges post Centre’s decision to abrogate Article 370, he said: “There is no challenge which needs to be highlighted. The government will provide adequate security in districts where it is needed,” he said.
“The home department told us that they have adequate security arrangements and they will provide enough security for conducting elections,” he said.
The elections will be held in the aftermath of the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status by the central government and division of the state into two Union territories. Kashmir was put under strict curbs and communication blockade on August 5 ahead of the abrogation of Article 370. Mainstream politicians including three former chief ministers of the state and separatists were put under detention.
Though restrictions have been eased in the Valley, a spontaneous shutdown continues against the Centre’s decision whereas mobile and internet services continue to remain snapped.