Governor orders Municipal elections in first week of May

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March 9: Governor N N Vohra today directed the Election authorities to hold Municipal elections in Jammu and Kashmir in first week of May, most likely in one phase, and use Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) for voting for the first time for which he was likely to amend the State Municipal Act on March 11 in the State Administrative Council (SAC) using his Legislature powers, vested with him under the Governor’s Rule.
The Governor would meet major political parties next week before the Election authorities announce the election schedule. He will take opinion of political parties on different aspects of the elections, which were being held in the State after over 11 years.
Official sources told the Excelsior that the Governor was understood to have conveyed his decision on holding the Municipal elections in first week of May to Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Shantmanu in an hour long meeting with him this morning. During the meeting, the CEO, who is Election Authority for Municipal elections under the Jammu and Kashmir Municipal Act, briefed the Governor and the SAC in detail about preparations set in motion for the elections and told them that all arrangements (for holding the elections) will be in place on March 28 with publication of electoral rolls.
Sources said the Governor hoped that the Election Department will be able to meet the deadline of March 28 for completion of election arrangements so that election schedule can be announced anytime after that date.
According to sources, the elections were likely to be held in first week of May as summer would pick up in Jammu after that while snowbound areas of Kashmir and Ladakh would also be clear (from snow) for voting. The Government also wanted the process of elections to be over by May 15 to give ample time to police to make preparations for Amarnath Ji pilgrimage, which would start on July 2 this year.
When approached for comments, Shantmanu said he briefed the Governor on arrangements for holding Municipal elections. He added that they would complete all requisite formalities for holding the elections on March 28 when final electoral rolls will be published.
Sources said there was broad consensus that election for all 78 Municipalities should be held in single phase only. However, a final call on the phase (s) would be taken after eliciting the opinion of police and para-military forces, which have to provide protection for the elections. But in any case, the elections were not going to exceed from two phases.
With Governor’s direction to the CEO to gear up the machinery for use of EVMs for the voting instead of ballot papers, this will be the first time when EVMs will be used for Municipal elections in J&K though they had been used for Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.
For the purpose, sources said, the Governor would have to amend Jammu and Kashmir Municipal Act, which presently provides for use of ballot papers for holding the elections. As all Legislature powers were vested with the Governor at present in view of the Governor’s Rule in the State for past two months, the Governor can amend the Act using his powers.
Sources pointed out that the Act was likely to be amended by the Governor in the SAC meeting on March 11 to enable the Election Authority to take measures for use of the EVMs in the elections.
According to sources, the Governor would meet all major political parties next week and brief them on holding the Municipal elections in first week of May and seek their suggestions. Similarly, he was expected to hold security review meeting with top police, civil and para-military officers on whether to go for single phase or two phase election.
There are a total of 78 Municipal bodies in the State for which elections will be held. They included two Municipal Corporations of Jammu and Srinagar, six Municipal Councils including Poonch, Udhampur and Kathua in Jammu region and Sopore, Baramulla and Anantnag in Kashmir region.
Rest 70 bodies are Municipal Committees including Leh and Kargil in Ladakh region.
The last Municipal elections were held in the State in January-February 2005. The elected Municipalities had completed their five years term in March 2010 but fresh elections to them were not held since then.
Sources said the CEO also briefed the Governor about preparations set in motion for holding Panchayat elections in the State in June-July.
They pointed out that the Election Authority would be ready for announcing election schedule for the Municipal elections anytime after March 28. However, if there was change of guard in the State by then and political Government was formed, the new Government can take its own decision on holding the elections.
An official handout said:- Shantmanu, CEO briefed Governor N N Vohra and members of SAC about the status of preparations for conduct of Panchayat and Urban Local Bodies elections in J&K, at the Raj Bhavan here today. Khurshid A Ganai and Parvez Dewan-Advisors to the Governor, B.R. Sharma, Chief Secretary, B B Vyas, Financial Commissioner Planning and Development Department, P K Tripathi, Principal Secretary to the Governor participated in the meeting. Khurshid Ahmad Shah, Secretary Rural Development and Panchayati Raj was also called in to discuss issues relating to the Panchayat elections.
Discussions were held with the CEO about the schedule of elections to all Urban Local Bodies in the coming months. The CEO informed that the preparations are well on course for conducting free and fair Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) elections in the State and that the electoral roll will be finalised before March 31.
The Governor noted that holding of timely elections to the Urban Local Bodies will enable the State to derive maximum benefit from the 14th Finance Commission Award which provides about Rs 5480 crore for the decentralized democratic framework: Rs 3463.73 crore and Rs 1305.64 crore for the rural and urban local bodies, respectively, and Rs 346.73 crore and Rs 261.13 crore as Performance Grants for rural and urban local bodies. It was also noted that the State had lost over Rs.169 crore for the non conduct of ULB elections and an allocation of over Rs.125 crore was lost in 2015-16 for want of duly constituted municipalities.
The Governor also reviewed the status of preparations with regard to conduct of Panchayat elections. It was noted that after the elections in 2011 the Panchayats were notified on July 14, 2011, with a term of five years. As per the law, the new Panchayats will have to be in position on or before July 14, 2016.
As per the J&K Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, the election to the Halqa Panchayat shall be held one month prior to the expiry of the term. In this context, the Governor asked the Chief Secretary to have an urgent meeting with CEO, Secretary Rural Development and other concerned to work out an Action Plan for the conduct of Panchayat elections in the State by June, this year, on the lines of the experience gained in the 2011 elections.
A Raj Bhavan spokesperson recalled that the Panchayat elections 2011 were held in 17 phases from April 13, 2011 to June 27, 2011. Keeping in view the need to establish Panchayati Raj Institutions in the State for securing effective participation of the people in the decision making process and for overseeing the implementation and developmental programmes, it was imperative to hold timely elections to the Panchayats.
Shantmanu, CEO, who has already been designated as State Election Commission for holding Panchayat polls, informed the meeting about latest status of the preparations underway for timely holding Panchayat elections.

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