On October 17, the Union government amended the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Rules, 1996, paving the way for selected District Development Councils (DDCs), a new third tier in the panchayati raj installment of the Union territory which was about August 5, 2019. The movement to create still another tier of government in the erstwhile country, at the lack of a legislature (the previous state assembly was dissolved at November 2018), and even while a contentious delimitation practice to redraw constituencies is on, has raised the hackles of the prior political establishment, which sees this as yet another move by the Centre to tighten its grip on the affairs of Jammu and Kashmir.
The 20 DDCs, each consisting of 14’territorial constituencies’, are going to have five-year term, together with the chairperson chosen from among elected members of the council. Legislators and chairpersons of obstruct development councils (BDCs)–another non-intersecting tier of the panchayati raj setup that came into being in late 2019–are also members of the DDC. Each of DDC members, whether they had been directly chosen in the 14 constituencies, are going to be able to vote in DDC meetings. But just directly elected members might vote to select or remove the DDC chairperson/ vice-chairperson. In effect,that may deny (potential ) MLAs and BDC chairpersons a condition in the matter.
The DDCs will manifestly curtail the powers of elected representatives of a potential legislative meeting in J&K. Before the withdrawal of its status and its own downgrade to some UT on August 5 final year, each district had district development and planning boards composed of the chief minister (for Jammu and Srinagar capitals), cabinet ministers and MLAs. “Presently, the function of MLAs/ MPs is almost over since they’ll have no voting rights [from the DDCs],” states G.N. Monga, vice-president of their Congress in J&K. Monga represented panchayats from the erstwhile legislative council. Even Ghulam Hassan Mir, senior vice-president of this J&K Apni Party, using rumoured BJP support, said the government had not bothered to consult political parties to develop a consensus about the key democratic exercise. Another J&K leader, requesting anonymity, said:”If they’re serious about democracy, why not hold elections to the legislative assembly? The [real ] intent is to minimise the part of elected representatives and function [J&K’s] events from Delhi.”
The previous J&K meeting was dissolved on November 21, 2018, five months after the collapse of this BJPPDP government. Since that moment, J&K was below basic rule, creating a deep political vacuum. Political action went into deep freeze following the abrogation of Article 370 and the detention of dozens of political leaders, including three former chief ministers, under the Public Safety Act, which allows for imprisonment without trial for up to 2 decades. Since her launch on October 13, there is an awareness of resumption of political action.
On October 15, leaders of mainstream parties–NC, PDP, People’s Conference, People’s Movement, CPI(M) and Awami National Conference (ANC)–fulfilled at Farooq Abdullah’s Gupkar Road house in Srinagar and declared the’People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration’, a forum that will push the recovery of J&K’s unique standing and statehood. This past year, on August 4, these parties had signed the’Gupkar Declaration’, which involves protecting J&K’s independence and distinctive standing.
The ANC’s Muzaffar Shah accused the BJP-led Centre of amending legislation and taking decisions without understanding of Kashmir affairs. He cited the instance of the current imposition of land tax in Jammu and Srinagar and its subsequent withdrawal after protests. “Bureaucrats are running the series and they have no clue how to take care of the problem in Kashmir. “Besides, you are attempting to do things in someone else’s house. This will ruin the region,” explained Shah.Union home minister Amit Shah’s recent assurance that the Centre will reestablish statehood into J&K has enthused practically no one here since they know that statehood, even though revived, will emerge sans the specific position that came with Article 370. Muzaffar Shah states all 3 regions of J&K–Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh-want their special status restored. “The fundamental [need] is restoration of Article 370 and 35A, which are abrogated against the wishes of 3 regions.”
On the other hand, beneficiaries of this new order are pleased with the DDCs and the sidelining of legislators. Molvi Tariq, president of the J&K Local Bodies Panch Sarpanch Association and a former BJP member, states empowering panchayat members will reinforce grassroots democracy. But even Tariq, that claims to represent some 2,000 elected panchayat members, points to shortcomings in the new system. For instance, he states, BDC chairpersons should have voting rights in DDC chairperson/ vice-chairperson polls, and MPs Shouldn’t Be permitted
To go district planning committees,which make non-plan budgets for a district. Otherwise, says Tariq, just NC and BJP MPs will occupy the top post in the district planning committees.
Notifying the 14 constituencies in their respective districts in time for elections scheduled later this season. A panel of top officials, headed by J&K principal secretary (home) Shaleen Kabra, will draw the roadmap for those elections. Both members of the panel include the director general of J&K police and divisional commissioners. Sheetal Nanda, secretary (rural development and panchayati raj), states that the election date is expected to be announced shortly by the chief electoral officer. The polls will be held in the DDC constituencies and voters will elect a member to the council. While the alliance was quick to predict the ED’s movement as”vendetta politics” by the Centre, Abdullah decided to put on a brave face. “Our fight for restoration of Article 370 and 35A will continue whether or not Farooq is on platform. Our resolve will never change even when I am to be hanged. It is the struggle of the people of J&K,” he explained.