The second phase of elections for District Development Council (DDC) are currently underway in the newly formed union territory (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir.
The polls for the first phase have already been conducted successfully on 28th November, when an impressive voter turnout of 51.28% was registered, considering the freezing sub-zero temperature and an ongoing pandemic.
The abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35-A has brought relief to numerous people, who otherwise had lived an isolated life in the heavenly land of Jammu and Kashmir. These people are the refugees from West Pakistan, Valmiki Samaj (Dalits), and Gurkhas - all of whom will cast their votes for the first time in 70 years!
Until last year, people of these communities, amounting to more than 4 lakh voters, did not enjoy any voting rights, reservations in government jobs, and could not buy land or property even after living in J&K since partition.
A total of 1427 candidates belonging to various political parties are contesting these elections. The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, Bharatiya Janata Party, and Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party are the major competitors. The recently formed People’s Alliance consists of Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference, Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party and Sajjad Lone’s J&K People’s Conference.
Voting for 280 constituencies in total 20 districts (14 in each district) will take place in 8 phases from 28th November to 19th December, 2020, and the counting will be conducted on 22nd December. About 169 companies of central armed forces have been deployed for the overseeing of elections.
The union territory of Jammu and Kashmir is currently being run under the administration of the Lieutenant Governor who works under the interests of Union Government (Ministry of Home Affairs). Recently, on 17th October an amendment was brought in the J&K Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, through which a new unit of grass root governance in the form of District Development Council (DDC), together with District Planning Committee (DPC) were established in all the districts. This system replaced the the erstwhile system of District Planning and Development Boards.
The job of the DDC is to prepare and approve district planning and capital expenditure. It consists of 14 elected representatives from each district, the MLAs, and the chairpersons of all Block Development Councils. Its CEO will be an IAS officer who will be called District Development Commissioner. The term for a DDC will be of 5 years, and it will conduct meetings at least four times a year.
The DPC will consider and guide the formulation of development planning of each district, and thus will finalise the budget accordingly. It will include chairperson of DDC, MPs, chairperson of Municipal bodies, and district development commissioner.
The key difference in the new system of governance is that a district level of government body will be there which will consists of directly elected representatives.
This body will work in tandem with the lower levels, that is, Block Development Council, and Village Panchayat, thus bringing robustness in the idea of democracy at grass root level.