Azad exhorts Kashmir to empower Panchayats


Jammu : Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad Sunday exhorted the Jammu and Kashmir government to empower the panchayats elected in June last year and also hold the block development council (BDC) elections soon.

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“The panches and sarpanches elected in Jammu and Kashmir should enjoy the same powers as their counterparts in the rest of the country,” said Azad while addressing a gathering to pay homage to martyrs in Bishnah town, about 25 km south-west of Jammu.

The panchayat elections were held in Jammu and Kashmir in different phases from April to June in 2011. But, there are differences among the ruling coalition partners, the National Conference (NC) and the Indian National Congress, over empowering panchayats by adopting provisions under the 73rd and 74th amendments of the Indian Constitution.

While the National Conference, which leads the coalition, is opposed to adopting these amendments, the Congress party and opposition parties are in favour of changes..

The 73rd and 74th amendments grant constitutional status to elected rural local bodies. The amendments provide for direct elections to all seats in the panchayats, compulsory elections to panchayats every five years, mandatory reservation of seats for Dalits and Adivasis in proportion to their share of the panchayat population, and mandatory reservation of one-third of seats for women.

Ghulam Nabi Azad also urged the state government to hold block development council (BDC) elections soon as they were postponed by the cabinet Oct 16, 2012. A notification to this effect was already issued, scheduling polls for Nov 7.

The members for various BDCs were to be elected through paper ballots by sarpanches and panches (village headmen and council members) in each block of the state.

An official statement issued Oct 16 after the cabinet meeting said: “The state cabinet which met in Srinagar Monday under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah decided to bring an ordinance for cancellation of general elections of chairmen of BDCs.”

The cabinet also approved incorporating the provisions of the 73rd Amendment of the Indian Constitution in the state’s Panchayati Raj Act. The NC argued that since the state had its own constitution which had laws for empowering panchayats, the central laws were not needed.