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BY: Dar Javed

A thriving and vibrant electoral democracy has been India’s distinct and durable identity. In the UT of Jammu and Kashmir where elections for DDC councils are underway and where enthusiastic voters are blighting up cold chilly mornings only to assert their voice and choose the person who BELIEVES in DEVELOPMENT and strengths democracy at grass root, thereby giving a message that  elections in J&K can lead to participatory politics and meaningful dialog.

The district development council elections are being held in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time after the Central government amended the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Raj Act, 1989, after the abrogation  of Article 370 and 35 A . Till date 6th phases of elections concluded successfully. This election is first of its kind where many young youth are participating in electoral process. People of Jammu and Kashmir  are going to elect Urban local bodies, District development councillors, Sarpanches and Panches. 280 DDCs have been delimited.

TURN OVER: For first phase elections voting began at  07:00 Am on 28 Nov 2020 . Despite cold weather people from all walks of life came out and the cold weather had a marked effect on voter enthusiasm. A turn out of 51.76% was recorded in the first phase on 28 November ,64.02% in Jammu division and 40.65% in Kashmir division. In the second phase 48.02 % was recorded in union Territory. Bandipora district recorded the highest in Kashmir valley with 69.66 % voter turnout. Till completion of second phase a total of 1.45 lakh people including 62,117 women turned up to cast their votes in valley (Kashmir hence exercised their franchise. In third phase, over 50 percent turn out was recorded, the highest turnout of 75 percent was recorded in Reasi area of Jammu.

The centre amended the Jammu and Kashmir panchayat Raj act 1989 on October 17 . The amendment paves way for creation of District Development Councils (DDCs) in the UT. The DDCs will have jurisdiction over the entire district excluding those areas designated as municipality or municipal corporations. This amendment by Ministry of Home affairs reads out that every district will be divided into 14 territorial constituencies to elect members for the body. The DDC shall consist of the directly elected members from territorial constituencies in the district, members of the Legislative Assembly representing a part or whole of the district whose constituencies lie within the district and the Chairperson of all Block Development Councils of the district.

DDC elections in Kashmir provide a way to people of UT to assert their voice, opinion and choose the person whose priorities and ideas match them most. This time people are participating wholeheartedly and are not coming under any pressure. The old myth of Kashmiri people not joining political process has been broken as more and more people, mostly youth are taking lead and joining electoral fray. This time people, mostly youth and women, are contesting and hence breaking the dominance of old traditional parties.

The most important thing that is happening is that people in large numbers are participating, and VIKAAS is the only mantra that is being focused upon.

The Election Commission of India’s experience in conducting largest and fair elections is unparalleled in world. It has been conducting elections in Jammu and Kashmir as well. This time also the State Election Commission made sure people participate in large numbers and hence making democracy strong. The inclusion and participation of Jammu and Kashmir people mostly Kashmiri youth, women, Pak refugees into election process is taking democracy to grass root level and strengthening democratic institutions.

First time that elections are open for West Pakistan refugees. I quote an NDTV report: Tears well up in the eyes of 87-year-old Lal Chand and his 82-year-old wife Trivita as they hold up their inked fingers after casting their votes in the third phase of District Development Council (DDC) elections at a polling station in Jammu on Friday. “Today, our wish to vote once in our lifetime was fulfilled,” said the couple in unison. Mr Chand and his wife are West Pakistan refugees who fled to India during the Partition in 1947.

Set to become a new layer of governance at grass root level in Jammu and Kashmir, The District development councils (DDC) will oversee the functioning of Halqa panchayats and Block development councils (BDCs). DDCs will act as a new unit of governance hence making democracy strong at grass root. The system shall replace the old structure of district planning and development boards hence giving more powers to village panches, sarpanches and block development councils to take governance at doors. it will prepare and approve district plans and capital expenditure. Earlier the board used to work under MLA, MP headed by a cabinet minister.

Third tier governance model will end the old culture of governance and will pave a way for Panches, sarpanches, Block Development Councils and district development councils to have their say and inputs. Thus this will end corruption and nepotism because panches and Sarpanches along with  block development councils know  their respective villages, blocks better and will help governance reaching people directly. These administrative changes have irked some valley based mainstream politicians because it will end favouritism and will pave way for development.

  • Dar Javed is Junior Research Fellow at Design innovation centre CUK and hails from LOLAB. He can be reached at [email protected]

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