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DDC members up in arms against Admin’s amended warrant of precedence

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Cutting across party lines, top leaders say, “Don’t demean public representatives”

Jammu/Srinagar: Cutting across party lines, the newly elected district development council (DDC) members Tuesday boycotted a two-day training-cum-workshop here and staged a protest in support of their demand for better status and monthly honorarium, forcing the Jammu and Kashmir LG to cancel his inaugural session.

Various political parties including the BJP, the Congress, Peoples Conference, National Conference and the CPI(M) came out in support of the agitating DDC members and urged Lt Governor Manoj Sinha to ensure they have adequate powers to mobilise government departments and address public grievances.

The maiden DDC elections to 280 seats — 14 each in 20 districts — were held in November-December last year and the chairpersons and their deputies in all the 20 districts were elected last month.

The DDC members staged the protest after the union territory administration amended its warrant of precedence, placing the DDC chairpersons equivalent to administrative secretaries, vice chairpersons to vice-chancellors of universities and the DDC members to district magistrates.

The members, affiliated with political parties including the BJP, the NC, the Congress, the PDP, the CPI(M), the Peoples Conference, the Peoples Movement and independents from across the Union Territory, gathered as per the schedule at the Convention Centre here for the training programme to be inaugurated by the Lt Governor.

However, they boycotted the programme and staged the protest in the lawns against the administration demanding better protocol and monthly honorarium, including ministerial status for the DDC chairperson and minister of state (MoS) status for vice chairpersons.

The protest continued till late afternoon, forcing the administration to put off the training programme as repeated attempts by senior government functionaries failed to persuade the agitating members.

As per the government order, the DDC chairpersons would get monthly honorarium of Rs 35,000 including Rs 1,500 travel allowance and Rs 500 telephone charges. Vice chairpersons will get Rs 25,000 including Rs 1,500 travel allowance and Rs 500 telephone charges and members will get Rs 15,000 including Rs 1,500 travel allowance and Rs 500 telephone charges.

Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Secretary Sheetal Nanda was seen making repeated attempts to hold dialogue with the slogan-shouting protesters, who termed the government order a “crude joke” and sought the intervention of the Centre and the Lt Governor.

“We have unanimously decided to boycott this programme and lodge our protest. We want the administration to review its wrong decisions and accord ministerial status to the chairperson, MoS status to vice-chairperson and members to a status as given to MLAs,” DDC chairperson and senior BJP leader Bharat Bushan told reporters.

Budgam DDC chairperson Nazir Ahmad Khan said the government has played with their honour by lowering their status and left them red-faced before their electorate.

“The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) chairpersons are conferred with the cabinet status and members are enjoying MOS status. The Srinagar and Jammu mayors also enjoy the MoS status, while we, representing the entire district, given a status of an administrative secretary,” he said.

Khan said the government issued the order of precedence deliberately ahead of the training programme to put a seal on it.

“We will not accept it…the situation in Kashmir is grave where we have to live under constant threat and get accompanied by our personal security officers (PSOs) and feed them as well. We spend Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 per day,” he said, adding this is not an issue of any party but “we have joined hands to protect our honour”.

Another DDC chairperson Ghulam Mustafa Khan said, “If we were not given our rights, how come we protect the rights of our people who have voted for us. The government has disgraced us.”

He said the monthly honorarium announced by the government would encourage corruption.

DDC member Taranjeet Singh demanded the immediate intervention of the central government and the LG.

“We will continue our protest till our demands are met,” he said.

Extending support to the DDC members, Jammu and Kashmir BJP president Ravinder Raina urged the LG to ensure they have adequate powers to mobilise government departments and address public grievances.

He also wrote a two-page letter to the LG suggesting him to come out with a comprehensive model for virtual devolution of powers.

“….As JK has adopted the Puducherry model of empowerment and self-government, I, therefore, request your good self to consider the protocol of DDC Chairpersons equivalent to that of a Minister of a State, Vice Chairperson to that of a Deputy Minister,” he said.

Taking a dig at the government on the issue, Congress chief spokesperson Ravinder Sharma said the government has failed to respect mandate of the people and honour its commitment.

“…they should be given adequate honorarium, telephone and transport facilities with provisions of fuel besides adequate security,” he said.

Senior CPI(M) leader M Y Tarigami also advocated adequate power and facilities to the DDC members.

Peoples Conference president and former minister Sajad Lone tweeted, “DDC protocol powers disappointment – humiliation. Problem is the new stakeholder created by the union Govt post August 5- BUREAUCRAT Ever powerful. He/she will never facilitate democracy. will c (sic) anybody elected by people as a threat. This is simple analysis. And no rocket science.”

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