CM Announces 3-tier Panchayat Polls In April, Municipalities Next

16 October 2015
The Daily Excelsior
Sanjeev Pargal

Jammu: Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed today announced holding of Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir in April 2016 on due date with three tier system including constitution of Block Development Councils (BDCs) and District and Development Planning Boards (DDPBs) followed by Municipal polls, which have been delayed for past six years now. He said the Jammu and Srinagar Municipal Corporations will be given powers at par with three Municipal Corporations of New Delhi. He took a dig at the working of previous National Conference-Congress Government saying they only laid foundation stones and didn't show interest in completion of projects and cautioned the development panels to show performance otherwise there would be no use of them. He announced series of development projects for Jammu in the near future including two more Fly Over bridges, development of Sanasar, Mansar and Surinsar at par with Patnitop, Essel World like amusement park at Ranjit Sagar dam, development of border tourism at Suchetgarh and Chakan-Da-Bagh at par with Punjab's Wagah border, Mantalai as an International Yoga Centre, formal setting up of Tourism Development Authority (TDA) at Basohli, accelerating work on Bahu Fort ropeway, beautification of Tawi Riverfront, restoration of Mubarak Mandi heritage complex, promotion of Ranjit Sagar and Baglihar dam and Jai (Bhaderwah). Mufti Sayeed along with Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh made these and some other announcements while addressing public meeting at Basohli Morh in Lakhanpur town of Kathua district and a function to lay foundation stone of multi-storey parking at Jammu Bus Stand. He laid foundation stone of double laning of Lakhanpur-Ranjit Sagar dam 19 kilometers road, which will be constructed at a cost of Rs 43.49 crores. The Chief Minister's dig at the previous Government for only laying foundations and not following up them with projects came as the foundation stone for multi-level parking at Bus Stand, Jammu had also been laid by the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on September 2. In a significant announcement, Sayeed said the Government will also examine the issue of one-time settlement of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) refugees. Sayeed announced that the Government would hold Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir well in time in April next year so that new Panchayats were in place in July when existing Panchayats will complete their five years term. 'We will empower the Panchayats at par with other States. The upcoming Panchayats will not be the toothless bodies. There will be three-tier system of the Panchayats. The Panchayat elections of Sarpanchs and Panchs will be followed by the BDC and DDPB elections to give the powers at grass root level,' the Chief Minister said. The previous Government had held elections to Panchayats but not the BDCs and DDPBs. The existing Panchayats will complete their term in July next year. The Chief Minister's statement means that the Panchayat elections will be held in time. The 2011 Panchayat elections were held after nearly four decades. Mufti Sayeed also announced elections to Municipalities after completion of Panchayat elections. It may be mentioned that previous Municipal elections were held in January 2005 and the Municipalities had completed their term in March 2010. The previous Government made no attempt to hold the elections to the Municipalities. The January 2005 elections to Municipalities were also held under the regime of Mufti Sayeed after a gap of 26 years. Sayeed announced that Jammu and Srinagar Municipal Corporations will have powers at par with three Municipal Corporations of New Delhi. 'We will not only hold elections to Panchayats and Municipalities but we will give them powers also. The Local Bodies (both urban and rural) would be fully empowered. The powers enjoyed by these bodies in other States will also be given here,' he declared and said the powers would make these institutions autonomous and self-sustaining. Asserting that the Government was in favour of including both Jammu and Srinagar as 'Smart Cities', Mufti called upon Dr Nirmal Singh to take up the matter with the Central Government. 'Both cities had secured equal numbers and they deserve to be the 'Smart Cities'. I hope the Deputy Chief Minister will take up the issue with the Government of India for declaration of Jammu and Srinagar as 'Smart Cities', which will boost development of Jammu and Kashmir,' he said. It may be mentioned here that the Centre had allotted one 'Smart City' to Jammu and Kashmir out of a total of 100 for the country. As both Jammu and Srinagar had equal points, the Centre didn't allot any 'Smart City' to the State and has kept one slot vacant for J&K. The State Government, however, wanted declaration of both the Cities as 'Smart Cities'. On the demand for two more Fly Over projects in Jammu-one at BC Road and another at Canal road, the Chief Minister assured that both these projects will be taken up under Asian Development Bank-II scheme, which is scheduled to come very soon. He announced that border tourism will be development at Suchetgarh sector in RS Pura along the International Border (IB) at par with Wagah border of Jammu. Surinsar and Mansar tourist spots will be developed at par with Patnitop while water sports will be introduced in Ranjit Sagar dam. 'We will also explore the possibility of construction of Ess Ell World like amusement park near Ranjit Sagar dam. Tourism will also be developed in Basohli with formal announcement of Basohli Development Authority,' he said, adding all these measures were aimed at making Jammu as an independent tourist destination. Asserting that seven-month-rule is too small a period to judge any Government's performance, Mufti said: 'still we have done a commendable job by making the administration responsive to the needs of the people.' He assured to deliver justice in all its manifestations to all manner of people and regions of the state. Referring to the recently-concluded autumn session of the Legislature, the Chief Minister said the distasteful events of the first few days pained him. He, however, said the unanimous resolution passed by the Legislature that conveyed a message of peace and harmony across the country and the subcontinent was one of the highlights of the short session. Speaking after inaugurating recently upgraded 18-hole golf course on outskirts of Jammu City, Mufti Sayeed, in an apparent reference to the beef controversy said attempts were made to vitiate the atmosphere in the state and 'erect walls of hate' between Kashmir and Jammu regions which the people of the state had thwarted. He also appreciated opposition leader and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah for bringing a peace resolution in the Assembly during the recent session, which was intended to send a message that people of Jammu and Kashmir want to co-exist as per the secular ethos of the country. 'Attempts were made to vitiate the atmosphere in the state. The attempts to erect walls of hate (between Kashmir and Jammu) were made. However, the people of the state thwarted such designs,' he said at a function, in an apparent reference to the beef controversy. Crediting the people of Jammu for showing maturity and helping erase the 'walls of hate' that were being created between the two regions, Sayeed said, 'the business fraternity of both the regions including the two Chambers of Commerce & Industry united and said that they were inter dependent on each other so they came forward to show unity.' 'My dream is to dismantle the walls of hate that exists,' the Chief Minister said. Appreciating Omar Abdullah, Sayeed said, 'Opposition leader Omar Abdullah brought a peace resolution in the Assembly during the recent session which was unanimously passed by the House to send a message to the rest of the country that people of the state wanted peace and were peace loving people who wanted to live as per the secular ethos of the country.' Sayeed said opposition has the full right to oppose the government and it was their duty to do so. 'We did the same when we were in opposition, their (opposition's) role in important and they have full rights to do so,' the Chief Minister said. The PDP patron said he had formed the coalition with BJP to end injustice with all the three regions of the state - Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh. 'We formed the coalition to end the injustice with all the regions of the state, injustice with Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh', he said. He referred to Yoga as highly beneficial and said an International Yoga centre will be developed in the state. 'I am not sure how many of you do it, but Yoga is best thing and we would develop Mantalai as the international Yoga centre', Sayeed said. Vowing to turn the corner on developmental front in Jammu, Sayeed said the projects, which had been on 'sleep mode', are now being taken up for execution. In a veiled warning to the panels set up for overlooking developmental projects in J&K, Mufti asked the administration to 're-consider their continuance' if they are not performing well. He said core sectors of development like connectivity and infrastructure building will primarily determine how fast we can propel our state towards economic prosperity. 'The government will take up projects only after ensuring availability of funds,' he said in a no-holds barred manner. Describing infrastructure and reliable road connectivity as vital cogs-in-the-wheel of development, the Mufti pitched for proper utilisation of funds under State Plan and the Centrally-Sponsored Schemes. Referring to his meeting with RBI Governor in the summer capital recently, Sayeed indicated broadening the scope of cooperative network by making essentialities like oil and pulses also available to the public on affordable prices. 'In my meeting with the RBI Governor and NABARD chairman, I have also pitched for capital infusion for revival of our four ailing District Cooperative Banks so that cooperative financing benefits the poorer sections of the society,' he said and added that multitude of people in the state are still living in abject poverty. Lauding Centre's support for providing adequate funds for road and rail connectivity in the State, Sayeed assured the people of maintaining the quality of roads. He said once the double-laning of the road up to Ranjit Sagar Dam is completed, it will provide access to one of the most beautiful resorts of Jammu region. 'We are thankful to the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi for funding projects under Central schemes. We will ensure good quality roads for which we have fixed a Defect Liability Period that binds the contractors to maintain the roads for at least three years,' he said and also referred to the huge strides made by the state in rail connectivity, especially linking areas as far and wide as those from Banihal in Jammu to Baramulla in Kashmir division. Sayeed exuded confidence that Jammu bus stand modernization project will be completed within the stipulated timeline of two years. 'I am personally monitoring projects to ensure their execution in a time-bound manner,' he stated. The six-floored structure will go a long way in provide much-needed relief from heavy vehicular traffic by accommodating 1,300 cars and providing access corridor to 80 buses and a taxi stand. Describing Jammu-Srinagar National Highway as the lifeline between the two capital cities, Sayeed lamented the unreliability of the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway since 1947. He said with the intervention of the Central Government, the vital stretches of the road have been drastically improved. He said the Government has engaged a top firm for preparing a concept plan and a detailed project report to herald Ranjit Sagar Dam as a major tourist destination. 'Till such time the plan is prepared, I have asked the Tourism Department to develop the place as a beautiful resort that can attract tourists, especially from neighbouring states of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh,' he said and added that a School of Skill Development will also be established for promoting the famed Basohli Art. On Shahpur Kandi Canal, the Chief Minister said the government will examine the revival of the project and address the concerns of the neighbouring Punjab government so that we are able to harness the agricultural potential of large tracts of uncultivable land through a regular water supply for irrigation purposes. He recalled that Chief Secretary BR Sharma had recently met his Punjab counterpart on the issue and the Government will go ahead with Shahpur Kandi Barrage after addressing concerns of Punjab. Mufti said he has been told by the Deputy Chief Minister that the Bus Stand project will now be completed in next two years. It's a good thing to give it a time-frame', he said, adding that the parking space would accommodate more than 1,300 vehicles. He also called for setting up of two Information Technology Parks in the state. 'I have requested them to set up call centers in Jammu as well as in Kashmir. I was sitting with some influential people who have a say in the Government of India, I asked them to give us two IT Parks in Srinagar and Jammu', he said. Sayeed added that the Public Private Partnership should be promoted in the state that would help generate finances for various projects in the State. An official handout said: Mufti called for Jammu's emergence as a top-end tourism destination that will solely depend on how we diversify our travel-related infrastructure and facilities. 'Jammu will be heralded as an independent leisure and adventure destination on the tourism map of the state,' he asserted. The Chief Minister made these observations after inaugurating the state-of-the-art Back 9 Hole Jammu Tawi Golf Course and an impressive Clubhouse, here this afternoon, at a glittering function, which was also attended by a large number of avid golfers. Flanked by the Deputy Chief Minister, Dr. Nirmal Singh, Minister for Education, Naeem Akhtar and Minister of State for Education, Information & Culture, Priya Sethi, the Chief Minister went around the Clubhouse, which is laced with all modern-day facilities of health club, spa, gymnasium and change rooms. Comparing the ambiance of Jammu Tawi Golf Course to that of Royal Springs Golf Course in Srinagar, the Chief Minister said he was pleasantly surprised to see this golf course for the first time. Nestled between serene Trikuta Hills and river Tawi, the Sidhra Golf course, designed by Col. K. D. Bagga, is beautifully spread over 1385 kanals of land, matching global benchmarks in the field of golfing. With fairways of nearly 275 metres, five big and small water-bodies and a 3200-metre-long water channel, Jammu Tawi Golf Course is equipped with underground sprinkle systems, clubhouse and 6500-metre-long pathways. Hazard area in the shape of beautiful lakes and artificial bunkers make the course interesting and extremely challenging for golf aficionados. Outlining his objective to diversify tourism sector, Sayeed revealed his blueprint to venture into adventure, heritage and golf tourism that holds great potential to attract upmarket travellers in Jammu region as well. 'J&K is a perfect destination for golfing. By creating a circuit, we will be able to provide experience to the golfers in two distinct geographical regions of the state,' the Chief Minister said, asking Secretary Tourism to hold golf events at Sidhra Golf Course this winter. The Chief Minister also stressed upon formulating a plan for maintenance, operations and marketing of golf courses and favoured pay and play structure so as to make the courses self-sustained assets. 'Golf courses need constant maintenance of its greens, fairways and sprinkling systems. Given the gift of natural landscape and lush green meadows, tee offs have an exciting future in the state,' he added. He also asked Director Tourism Jammu to fast-track measures for development of Mantalai as an International Yoga Centre. He also emphasized upon formulating Sunday, off-day and weekday packages to woo leisure tourists to the City of Temples. Speaking on the occasion, Deputy Chief Minister Dr. Nirmal Singh said the coalition government's agenda of alliance is coalition's guiding principle for good governance in the state. 'This Government assures the people that all regions will be developed in an equitable manner,' he said, while referring to several projects launched by the Chief Minister today, which include multi-tier parking-cum-commercial project at Jammu and foundation of double-lanning of Lakhanpur-Thein Road leading up to Ranjit Sagar Dam. Describing golf course as an essential part of any developed city, Education Minister Naeem Akhtar said the project was conceived by the Chief Minister during his first tenure between 2002 and 2005. He also mentioned his association in conceptualizing this prestigious project during his tenure as Secretary Tourism. 'Golf is no just related to tourism, it actually enhances the profile of the entire city,' he said, adding that he was very happy to see the sprawling greens and fairways of the Sidhra Golf Course. Earlier, Secretary Tourism gave a brief overview about the projects executed by the Tourism Department and also the ones in the pipeline. Also present were Legislators, Devender Singh Rana, Rani Bloeria and Ramesh Arora, Divisional Commissioner, Jammu, Dr. Pawan Kotwal, Secretary Tourism, Farooq A. Shah and Director Tourism, Jammu, R. K. Verma. Describing Jammu as Dar-ul-Aman, which gave shelter to people from all regions during turmoil, Nirmal Singh said the people have voted for the first time for a truly representative government in the state. He said people under PDP-BJP government will witness a new phase of good governance and fair and transparent administration. He hailed the vision of the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and the Chief Minister's desire to fast-track the development works in Jammu region. 'Right from day one, the government is planning to promote Jammu as an independent tourist destination and fast-track execution of infrastructure projects,' he stated. On rolling out Jammu bus stand modernisation plan, the Deputy Chief Minister said no meeting of JDA Board of Directors had been held for the past three years. 'After we took over, we followed all codal formalities before approving the contract for the project in our BoDs meeting held on September 19 this year, after which a Letter of Intent was issued to the executing firm,' he said, adding that funds have been earmarked for execution of the project, which is slated to be completed within the next two years. In his address at Lakhanpur, Ch. Lal Singh said double-lanning of Lakhanpur-Thein Road will launch the majestic Ranjit Sagar Dam on the tourism map of the state. He also thanked the Chief Minister for announcing a new Tourism Development Authority for Basohli, the Gateway of Tourism in the state. 'Mufti Saab has become a legend in his life time and is an institution in himself, who has a vision for equitable development of the state,' he added. Describing J&K as an epitome of multiculturalism, the Health Minister said attempts made by certain fringe elements to incite and vitiate the peaceful atmosphere in the state has been foiled by our mature and right thinking citizenry of J&K. Giving details of different connectivity projects in Kathua district, the R&B Minister Altaf Bukhari said the 19-km-long Lakhanpur-Thein Road has been taken up under CRF and will be completed in a time-bound manner. He highlighted several other road connectivity projects in Kathua district including Keerian-Kandyal Bridge (Rs.159 crore) under Inter-State Connectivity Project, upgradation of Hatli Link Road (Rs.40.52 crore) and construction of double-lane bridge over Ujh, Jathana (Rs.45.54 crore) under CRF, besides macadamisation of roads in Kathua district at a cost of Rs. 26 crore under the State Plan. The Chief Minister also visited the Central University of Jammu at Samba where he inaugurated the new blocks of Directorate of Distance Education and the Professors' Residence. The Vice Chancellor of the university, Prof. Ashok Aima, briefed the Chief Minister about the streams being taught in the university. He informed the Chief Minister that students from other parts of the country, including South India are pursuing their studies in the university. Later the Chief Minister also interacted with some of the students. He emphasized that university should focus on offering job-oriented and market-driven courses to the students to ensure their placement and enhance employability. Also present were Legislators, Rajesh Gupta, Rajeev Jasrotia, Kuldeep Raj, Ashok Khajuria, Satpal Sharma, Vibodh Gupta and Sardar Charanjeet Singh, Chief Secretary, B. R. Sharma, Divisional Commissioner, Dr. Pawan Kotwal, Deputy Commissioner, Jammu, Simrandeep Singh, Deputy Commissioner, Samba, Sheetal Nanda, and senior other civil and police officers.