October 2019 News
90% Of BDC Voters Missing In Three Kashmir Districts2 October 2019
Times of India
Srinagar: Block Development Council chairpersons are to be elected in Jammu Kashmir on Oct 24 by sarpanches and panches of the respective blocks, but over 90% of these posts of would-be electors lie vacant in two districts in the Valley. Pulwama, for instance, should have had 1,710 electors for its 11 blocks, but there are only 132 of them on the electoral rolls, the remaining seats (92.3%) being vacant. Similarly, in Shopian, vacancy's 90.8% with just 82 electors where there should have been 889. Kulgam isn't much better, with 89% vacancy. This bizarre situation is because the 2018 panchayat elections in the state were boycotted by the two main parties in the Valley, the National Conference and the PDP. As a result, for most seats there just weren't any candidates. And deaths and resignations since then have reduced the numbers even further. Overall, the Valley's 10 districts have 19,578 posts of sarpanches and panches. Only 7,029 of these are in place, meaning 64% of potential electors for the BDC chairpersons elections are absent. There are vacancies in the Jammu and Ladakh regions too, but these are just 1.6% and 2.8% of the total posts of sarpanches and panches in these regions (see graphic). JK has had a history of low voter turnout, especially since 1989. In the Lok Sabha elections in May this year the voting percentage in Anantnag parliamentary constituency was 8.7% - not vastly different from the 5.7% voter turnout during the 1989 parliamentary elections. In Shopian and Pulwama districts of Anantnag, less than 3% of voters cast their votes in May. Until the mid-1980s, over 60% of voters had voted in most constituencies in the Kashmir region. However, in the case of BDC polls, it is not that voters may not turn up to vote, it's that nearly two-thirds of voters don't exist. The absence of most of the electorate is not the only peculiar thing about the impending BDC polls. The boycott in 2018 also created a situation where some blocks in the Valley saw most winning candidates being those backed by migrant voters voting from special camps outside the state. Thus, in blocks like Hermain, Zaina Pora and Kaprin in Shopian district, most of the electors for the BDC polls are Kashmiri pandits. In some of these cases, they belong to a single family, for instance with the husband being the sarpanch and the only elected panch being his wife. In such cases, the election of the BDC chairperson will effectively get reduced to a nomination by the concerned family. The information in this report is all from the website of the chief electoral officer of JK and the state's rural development department. The press note issued by the CEO on Sep 29 for the BDC chairpersons' elections noted that of the 316 blocks in the state (137 in Kashmir, 148 in Jammu and 31 in Ladakh), elections couldn't be held to two since there were no electors available. There were four others in which seats have been reserved for women, but there are no women sarpanches or panches. Opposition parties having been protesting against the holding of elections at a time when most of the electorate is not in place, but the state's electoral authorities have argued that holding bye-elections for the vacant posts would mean having to revise the state's electoral rolls since there would have been some change in it and there is no time to undertake such a revision.