Garo Hills to hold first-ever civic polls, despite violence


Shillong: The Meghalaya government is all set to conduct the first-ever municipal elections in its three districts of Garo Hills despite violent protests from the Joint Action Committee (JAC) against the polls.

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Elections to the Tura, Williamnagar, Baghmara and Resubelpara muncipal boards will be held Friday, in the face of the JAC decision to continue with its shutdown till Oct 30. The shutdown began Wednesday, paralysing Garo Hills region.

The JAC is opposed to holding the civic polls to the Tura, Williamnagar, Baghmara and Resubelpara municipal boards, fearing the elections would dilute the power and functions of the Nokma – the clan head of the village.

On Aug 27, 2004, the government conducted civic polls to the Resubelpara Municipal Board. However, courts declared the polls null and void as these were not held in conformity with the provisions of section 15A of the Meghalaya Municipal Act.

JAC supporters set on fire government and private vehicles, taxation office and two wooden road bridges in the three districts Thursday, an official said. Protesters also set on fire a Congress party office in Williamnagar, the district headquarters of East Garo Hills.

“JAC supporters lobbed petrol bombs at a police mini-bus, taxation office and Congress Bhavan in Williamnagar. They also burnt two wooden bridges at Nengkhra and Rongreng,” East Garo Hills Deputy Commissioner Pravin Bakshi told IANS.

Fire tenders, however, doused the fires at the government office, the Congress office and the two bridges before the structures were totally destroyed.

No one has been arrested for these incidents but police have registered two cases against the JAC for arson and violence, he said.

In Tura, the district headquarters of the West Garo Hills, JAC supporters set on fire two private-owned vehicles and two-wheelers. Police arrested five JAC members suspected of involvement in arson.

“Police have registered cases against them,” Deputy Commissioner Sanjay K. Goyal said.

A government vehicle was also ablaze by JAC supporters in Baghmara, the district headquarters of South Garo Hills.

The JAC defended its agitation.

“We will continue with our democratic protest against holding of the municipal elections. The elections to the four municipal boards are illegal and it tantamounts to violation of the Sixth Schedule of the constitution as it will erode the function and powers of the Nokmas,” JAC spokesman Tengsak G. Momin said.

He said JAC supporters will picket all polling stations to prevent electorates from exercising their franchise to elect the ward commissioners.

An estimated 65,000 voters will decide the fate of 241 candidates in the fray.

“We are all set to hold the first-ever municipal elections. Polling personnel are already stationed in their respective polling booths,” Chief Electoral Officer Prashant Naik told IANS.

Security personnel have been deployed in election bound areas to ensure free and fair polls, Naik said, adding that electronic voting machines (EVM) will be used during the elections.

Urban Affairs Minister Prestone Tynsong said the primary objective in holding the civic polls is to provide people with an elected body in the four municipal boards of the Garo Hills.