Panch Politics

The Chief Minister Omer Abdullah succumbed in & Congress high command by passing the personal relations, prevailed upon the issue of empowerment of panchayats. The much awaited Block Development Council elections were again postponed in an emergency cabinet meeting held on 15th of October 2012 which also approved the crucial ordinance that shall ensure reservation of SCs / STs & Women in Block Development Councils, a mandatory provision in 73rd & 74th amendment of article 243 of Indian Constitution. Omer Abdullah had opposed the demand saying that implementation of the amendments in Jammu & Kashmir is like “Surrendering left over sovereignty under article 370 to Delhi”. He had even succeeded in persuading the Rahul Gandhi who during his recent visit to the valley publically told at Panchayat conference that the “Implementation of 73rd and 74th amendment was the prerogative of the State Government”. Congress is known to run with hares and hunt with hounds. Here we shall be analyzing as what are the possible implications of 73rd and 74th constitutional amendment in Jammu & Kashmir State.

The Indian Constitution is federal in nature, with parliament and state legislatures having the constitutional status under article 246, which explicitly demarcates the respective domain of each. The local self Government i.e Panchayat Raj System is basically a state subject and the article 243 which defines constitution, composition and powers of panchayats, empowers and directs the state to enact the laws at state level. As the article 243 had no mandatory provisions, the state local bodies were week and ineffective on account of variety of reasons, including failure to regular elections, prolonged suppression, inadequate devolution of powers and functions. As a result the Panchayat Raj System had failed to perform as vibrant democratic units of self government. Hence the need for 73rd and 74th amendments to article 243 of Indian constitution, which were passed by the parliament in 1992.

The key mandatory provisions of the amended article 243 of Indian constitution are establishment in every state, the rural local bodies (Panchayats) at the village, intermediate and district levels with compulsory direct election after every five years to all the seats at all levels, reservations for STs / SCs, women, and indirect elections to the position of panchayat chairpersons at intermediate & district levels. In addition, the act also mandates the constitution of two state level commissions, an independent election commission, to supervise and mange election to local bodies, much as the election commission of India manages state assembly and parliamentary elections and also a state Finance Commission, established every five years, to review the financial position of local bodies and recommend the principles that should govern the sharing of funds between state and the panchayats. The article also mandates the constitution of District Planning committees to consolidate the plans prepared by both rural & urban local bodies. Panchayat & municipalities are required to be informed in advance as what they might be expected to receive by way of tied & untied funds under various budgetary heads for implementing various schemes. And each tier of Panchayat Raj system shall prepare plans for its areas which in turn shall be “Consolidated” by the District Planning Committees (DPC) as mandated by article 243 ZD of the Indian constitution. As such the amended article does not provide District Planning Committees to prepare plans of their own.

The 73rd & 74th amendments of article 243 are directly applicable in all states conferring constitutional status to the District panchayats making them independent democratic units of self Governments and making India more federal with governance at national level, state level & the district level. In J & K state Article 370 of Indian Constitution specifies that except for Defence, Foreign affairs and Communication, the Indian parliament needs the state legislature’s concurrence for applying all the laws. Hence the application of 73rd and 74th amendment in Jammu & Kashmir is prerogative of state Government.

Panchayat Raj system in J & K.

The Jammu & Kashmir has its own constitution with article 16 directing the state that it shall take steps to organize the village panchayt and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary enabling them to function as units of self government. Though in Jammu & Kashmir the history of Panchayats can be traced back to J & K Panchayat regulations by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1935. But it was only in 1989 that Jammu & Kashmir Panchayat Raj Act came into existence. The act defines the constitution, composition, powers and functions of the panchayats at village level, block level and district levels. Most of the provisions of the act are discretionary with powers vested with the state Government to nominate the Chairperson & Members of the District Development Boards making them more so like Government Departments than independent democratic units of self Government. Neither the election after five years is mandatory, nor there is provision for Independent Election Commission and the Finance Commission. The act does not provide reservation of ST / SC’s and women .

The Nation Conference under duress, seems to have agreed to adopt all the provisions of 73rd & 74th amendments of Constitution of India. In case, the Jammu & Kashmir Panchayat Raj Act 1989 is amended as per the mandatory provisions of 73rd and 74th amendments of article 243 of Indian Constitution, Jammu & Kashmir shall become a federal state with constitutional status of governance at state level and at District level. The land of Jammu & Kashmir has the most diverse people with mix of religions, languages, cultures living in different regions and sub-regions. Each cultural group has a committed affiliation with different political parties. Almost all the political major political parties shall be in power in Districts of their influence. The elected Chairpersons of the District panchayats i.e District Development Boards shall be virtually the Chief Ministers of the Districts and the state Government shall be left virtually with little authority in the District administration. This shall bring the real political and economical empowerment at Regional / Sub-regional level and will be the first step toward what is termed by Peoples Democratic Party as “SELF RULE”.

The writer, a retired (IFS), is a member of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, New Delhi. He can be reached at:[email protected]

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