Panchayat, municipal elections in J&K unlikely to be held before Lok Sabha polls: Official

SRINAGAR — Panchayat and municipal elections in Jammu and Kashmir are ”extremely unlikely” to take place before the upcoming Lok Sabha polls as the Centre is yet to amend the law for extending reservation to Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in local bodies, a senior official said.

Although the Administrative Council headed by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has taken a decision for extending the benefit of reservation to OBCs in panchayats and municipal bodies, the Centre will have to either pass an ordinance or bring a bill in Parliament for it.

”It is extremely unlikely that the panchayat polls will be held before the Lok Sabha elections in Jammu and Kashmir. Besides amending the act, the quantum of reservation has also to be decided,” State Election Commissioner B R Sharma told PTI.

Lok Sabha elections are due in April-May.

Sharma said the commission was performing its statutory duty of revising and updating the electoral rolls in the Union territory.

According to officials, besides the issues related to OBC reservation, the commission will have to wait till the wards to be reserved are identified.

The other major task likely to be carried out before holding the panchayat and municipal polls will be delimitation of the wards to address the skewed distribution of electors.

The housing and urban development department is actively pursuing a communication from the office of the chief electoral officer, which, among other things, suggested transfer of mandate to conduct the municipal electoral processes to the State Election Commission (SEC) in accordance with constitutional provisions.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the chief electoral officer (CEO) is the authority to hold urban local body (ULB) elections in addition to Lok Sabha and assembly polls, while the SEC — headed by a state election commissioner — is mandated to conduct elections to Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI).

In a letter to the housing and urban development department last month, the CEO’s office said consequent to the appointment of a full-time state election commissioner, the mandate to conduct the municipal electoral processes needs to be transferred from the CEO to the SEC.

”For this, the election authority under the municipal acts needs to be changed from chief electoral officer to the state election commissioner. The constitutional provisions also mandate this,” the letter read.

The five-year term of most of the municipalities, including the Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) and the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), ended in November last year, while the term of panchayats expired on Tuesday.

The term of the SMC ended on November 5 and the JMC’s ended on November 14.

The tenure of block development councils (BDCs) and district development councils (DDCs) is ending in October 2024 and January 2026, respectively.

The last ULB and panchayat elections were held between October and December 2018 after a long delay.

The CEO’s office, in its letter, also referred to various petitioners who have objected to the large-scale difference in the electoral base of each seat of the two municipal corporations and demanded a fresh delimitation of all bodies.

”…there is a large difference in the elector bases of different wards wherein there are wards with elector bases in the range of 2,000 to 3,000 on one side and 12,000 to 15,000 on the other extreme.

Similar variance is there in most of the municipal councils and committees also. This skew in the representation strength of each ward can be addressed by a fresh delimitation exercise,” the letter stated. — (PTI)