ON Wednesday, the Union Cabinet approved the adoption of the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989. The move will help establish the three tiers of grassroots-level democracy in Jammu and Kashmir like in other parts of the country. This system was not available in J&K before the revocation of Article 370. Once implemented, this will help the people of Jammu and Kashmir elect their representatives at the village, block and district levels. After holding elections for all the three levels, the centre plans to set up District Development Councils (DDC) which will become new units of governance in J&K. The members of this council will be directly elected by voters in the Union Territory. The term of the DDC will be five years. The Additional District Development Commissioner of the district shall be the Chief Executive Officer of the District Development Council. The DDCs will replace the District Planning and Development Boards (DDBs) that were headed by a cabinet minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.
However, the move is being viewed with deep mistrust by the local political class who think empowering DDCs is designed to supplant the local politics in the region. The PDP has come down hard on the arrangement, saying it is a step to deny people of J&K the right to frame their own laws. The party has termed it as a step to depoliticize Kashmir and hand the control to bureaucrats and security agencies. The National Conference has expressed similar apprehensions.
Such opposition, however, to the move is least of the centre’s concerns. For the past one year, New Delhi has gone ahead with its project in Kashmir with a single minded devotion. It has passed order after order and tinkered with and made changes to entire edifice of the existing socio-political structure. Now changes to the grassroots empowerment laws is taking place at a time when when there’s no knowing about the elections to be held to the union territory’s Assembly. There’s also no knowing about when or if the centre will restore the statehood. Though the home minister Amit Shah, in a recent interview, indicated an early restoration of the statehood, it is difficult to believe that the centre will do so in near future. That’s until perhaps the union government is certain that its new laws for the union territory can be undone by a future dispensation. So, there’s likely going to be more wait till J&K has been fully insulated against such a prospect. Meanwhile, the DDCs can be set up as an alternative to an elected government. But while they have their uses and will go a long way to enable grassroots empowerment, they can hardly replace an elected government.
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