Govt De-Links Panchayat Polls From Kashmir’s Political Issue

PRIs’ Sole Objective To Develop Villages: Sagar

Srinagar - Jammu and Kashmir government Tuesday sought to de-link the establishment of Panchayati Raj system from the state’s political dimension asserting “it should not be linked with politics or Kashmir issue.”

“Kashmir problem is an admitted fact which needs political solution and Panchayats have nothing to do with it,” minister for Rural Development, Law, Justice, Parliamentary Affairs and Panchayati Raj, Ali Muhammad Sagar, told the Legislative Assembly while winding up a short discussion on empowerment and strengthening of Panchayats in the state.

"We never said the panchayat polls mean the Kashmir problem is over. Our chief minister (Omar Abdullah) never related the polls with the Kashmir problem. India and Pakistan accept Kashmir as an issue, so do we," Sagar told the House. The statement was particularly welcomed by indomitable independent member from Langate constituency, Engineer Abdul Rasheed, who thumped his desk in applause.

The discussion was held in the backdrop of the killing of some elected representatives of village bodies and the spate of resignations by hundreds of sarpanches and panches in the wake of an enhanced threat perception. It had led to allegations and counter-allegations between the coalition parties and opposition Peoples Democratic Party on the one hand and within the ruling combine on the other.

Asserting that holding of Panchayat elections after about two decades to establish Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) was a landmark achievement of the government, Sagar sought cooperation of the members to take the process to its logical end. He said holding

of panchayat polls was a collective decision of all parties to make the rural people partners in development and nobody would be allowed to derail the process.

Sagar said establishment of PRIs had the “sole objective of development of villages and it should not be linked with politics or Kashmir issue.” He said nobody should try to take political benefit from the PR System which would vitiate the situation.

He said the government could consider suggestions to strengthen PRIs and was ready to incorporate “all such good provisions of 73rd amendments” in the J&K Panchayati Raj Act which may help to further strengthen these basic units of democracy.

The amendments were major irritant between the National Conference and its coalition partner, Congress. The chief minister had categorically ruled out any possibility of incorporating the amendments, saying “the state has its own constitution and only the state assembly will make amendments in its Act after a thorough debate.” 

Sagar’s latest statement reflected a change of mind in the government aimed at mending fences with Congress by showing willingness to bring more changes to the JK law.

On the security of Panchayat members, Sagar said measures had already been taken to create a congenial atmosphere to install a sense of security in them. The Unified Command meeting chaired by chief minister, Omar Abdullah, has decided to sensitize all the vulnerable areas. Security of members would be assessed and intelligence shared on daily basis," he said, adding the government could not provide security to individual members.

On the release of funds to Panchayats, he said the centre had approved Rs. 600 crore in 13th Finance Commission for this purpose. Of this, Rs 166 crore has been released to Panchayats and Rs 2.30 crore has been earmarked as budget supplement for Panchayats in this year’s plan. He said the chief minister had formed a committee headed by the chief secretary to look into the areas where powers could be delegated to Panchayats.

He said 14 departments had been identified for supervision of their functioning by Panchayat members. Provision of honorarium to Panchayat members is under the active   consideration of the government. He said nearly 34,000 panches and sarpanches had been elected in the state.

The minister said second and third tier polls would be held soon. "It will pave the way to fill positions at the village development council and the block development council levels," he said.

Incidentally, the government’s clarification to de-link the panchayat polls from the state’s political issue contradicts the stand India has taken at the United Nations. It has come barely a day after India’s first secretary at the country’s UN mission, Prakash Gupta, joined issue with Pakistan’s deputy permanent representative, Raza Bashir Tarar, over the latter’s assertion that de-colonization agenda of the UN would be incomplete without resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.”

Exercising his right to reply, Gupta said, "The people of Jammu and Kashmir have repeatedly expressed their free will and peacefully chosen their destiny in accordance with democratic practices and they continue to do so."

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