September 2018 News

Jammu And Kashmir Prepares For Civic Polls Amid Arson, Terror Threat

20 September 2018
Neeta Sharma

Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir administration is preparing for the upcoming civic polls on a war footing despite increasing incidents of arson in the Valley, a boycott call by separatist leaders and two major political parties deciding to abstain. The state election body will source electronic voting machines (EVMs) from Punjab and ballot boxes from Haryana for the electoral contests ahead. While the municipal polls will be held in four phases through October 8 to 16, the panchayat elections are scheduled for the first week of November. 'We have sourced about 20,000 ballot boxes from Haryana for a very nominal fee,' Jammu and Kashmir Chief Electoral Officer Shaleen Kabra told NDTV. 'The state will pay around Rs. 8-10 per day for every box used, plus transportation costs.' The EVMs will be brought in from Punjab, he added. Urban body elections in the state will be conducted in four phases. Although September 25 is the last date for filing nominations for the first phase of polling, not a single candidate had obliged in the Kashmir region until Tuesday. Jammu was doing better, with 22 nominations being filed until then. The panchayat elections, on the other hand, will have 35,096 constituencies going to the polls in nine phases in Kashmir and Leh, and eight phases in Jammu. 'As south Kashmir is the most vulnerable of these regions, we will ensure additional security arrangements there. We have staggered polling in sensitive zones, so maintaining law and order can be easier,' a senior officer said. Moreover, officials have been instructed to videograph everything about the polls, from filing of nomination papers to storage of ballot boxes, to ensure complete transparency. A senior officer from North Block said seven panchayat ghars - buildings where local body members meet to perform official duties - have been burnt down by miscreants until now. 'Some local elements are trying to sabotage the democratic process, but we are providing polling stations with adequate security,' he added. As many as 40 schools were burnt down in 2016, in the wake of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani's death in an encounter, but the state administration was able to stem such incidents with the help of the local community. While the PDP and National Conference decided to keep away from the upcoming polls to protest against the purported threat to Article 35A of the Constitution, separatist groups have asked the 'freedom-loving people' of Kashmir to observe a complete boycott. Article 35A, which was incorporated in the Constitution by a 1954 presidential order, accords special rights and privileges to Jammu and Kashmir citizens and bars outsiders from acquiring immovable property in the state. The security of the candidates contesting in the local body polls has also become a great concern. Intelligence agencies have warned of increased violence during this period.