Struggle of JK Panchayat Conference in strengthening PRIs

Date:



 
Dr Raja Muzafar Bhat  
 
The Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) that we see in operation in Jammu & Kashmir has a great struggle behind it. This system was first introduced by Maharaja Hari Singh in the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir in 1935.

The key objective of establishing this institution was to assist the state in village affairs. Mostly this institution was given the role of settling local disputes of the people.

On seeing the effectiveness of this institution, the Maharaja’s regime amended the Panchayat act of his government in 1941 to make it broader and assign more activities to this institution.


In 1947 the Maharaja regime ended and all powers were transferred to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah as Chief Emergency Administrator of Jammu & Kashmir. When he took over as Prime Minister of J&K, he made some more amendments in the Panchayati Raj system of governance giving some more roles to these institutions.

Although there was no formal legislation governing Panchayati Raj in J&K. Some changes were brought in around 1951 and 1958, but the panchayati institution were kept confined within village level affairs only. 
The Panchayat means some members and a sarpanch.

All these members were selected by Govt and not elected at all.This practice continued till late eighties. In 989 government of Jammu & Kashmir came with a formal legislation known as Jammu & Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act 1989.This Act provided the three-tier Panchayati Raj system in the state, viz  Halqa Panchayat, Block development council (Block-Simiti ) and  District planning  and  development board or Zila- Parishad. The most important provision in this act was Panchayati Adalat (a judicial role of Panchayats) with powers of settling all non-criminal local disputes locally. The Panchayati Raj Act 1989 could not be made operational on the ground due to outbreak of militancy around early 1990. Infact National Conference came to power in 1996 again but they could not dare to hold panchayat elections as situation was not at all conducive for it.


Panchayat Elections  


Under the J&K Panchayati Raj Act 1989, the first Panchayat election was held in Jammu & Kashmir in 2000, however, most of the seats remained vacant because of the threats from militants particularly in Kashmir valley. After the completion of its term in 2005 ,no elections were held in the state until 2011.In April-May 2011 then state government led by Omar Abdullah took an initiative and conducted Panchayat elections in the entire state. These elections by and large were  successful and almost all seats were filled with a huge participation of people.

Around 80 % polling was registered across J&K. But the election process was done only up to  Halqa Panchayats  and the elections for second and third tier were not conducted due to political reasons as MLAs didn’t feel comfortable with this system of governance. Infact there was no constitutional binding for Govt to conduct fresh elections after the expiry of each term of the Panchayats.

The three tier PRI system was never completed  despite the provision being in place in J&K Panchayati Raj Act 1989. Fearing the threat of power sharing with Panchayats the local state politicians never wanted to see this institution strengthened.

Struggle by AJKPC

In fact, the real struggle for a three tier PRI system In Jammu and Kashmir started in the year 2012   with the group of Sarpanches led by  Shafiq Mir a Sarpanch from  Poshana village in district Poonch. 

He was the first person who organized various Panchayat associations and organizations under one umbrella called All J&K Panchayat Conference (AJKPC).

Since then there was no looking back for the leaders of this organization. AJKPC led by Mir stood like a rock in all the odd times when militants started targeting the sarpanches and killing them to resign from the Panchayats in 2012.

Following the dictate, hundreds of Sarpanches and Panches resigned from their posts fearing life. At this point of time when there was a deep sense of insecurity among the Panchayat members AJKPC led by Shafiq Mir came out and asked the Panchayat members not to resign. 

On seeing the gravity of the situation, on September 27th 2012  then all powerful Congress leader Rahul Gandhi invited the group of Sarpanches led by Shafiq Mir to Delhi and held two days long deliberations with them in presence of the then Union MOS Home Jitendra Singh.

Lot of brainstorming was done to find out the ways to build confidence among the Panchayat leaders of Jammu & Kashmir  who were on resigning spree at that time.

Finally  it was decided that Mr Rahul Gandhi himself would visit Kashmir and meet the Panchayat members. On 4th October 2012 Rahul Gandhi reached Srinagar and met with the Panchayat leaders at SKICC Srinagar to build their confidence and assured them all help to empower the Panchayati Raj Institutions-PRIs.

Though Rahul Gandhi wanted to extend 73rd amendment of the Indian constitution to Jammu & Kashmir but the National Conference was reluctant to implement this constitutional amendment. Although NC was having a coalition Govt with Congress in J&K during that point of time.


Meeting with PM Modi
 In the year 2014 PDP-BJP Govt came to power in J&K. in the first stroke this government dissolved all Panchayats prematurely. However, by that time All J&K Panchayat Conference -AJKPC had turned into a very strong voice and it started its struggle again. Around 40 member delegation of  this organization reached New Delhi and met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi  on November 5th 2016 .

AJKPC demanded the fresh Panchayat elections be held in J&K along with implementation of 73rd amendment of Indian constitution regarding Panchayati Raj Institutions-PRIs .

This was the time when the whole valley was shut after the killing of a prominent militant leader Burhan Wani in July 2016 . This was a very bold decision of the organization during that time because it was the step seen as against the winds. 

This proved a significant meeting with PM Modi and he gave his full support to this demand and assured them to hold fresh elections in the state though the local PDP -BJP Govt was not ready to conduct the elections fearing bloodshed.

Finally, in 2018 after the collapse of PDP-BJP government, Panchayat elections were announced by PM Modi.

However this time, not only militants and separatists, the mainstream political parties like NC and PDP also gave an open boycott call against these elections .

At this point of time AJKPC was the only organization led by Mir which  stood in the ground and announced to contest these elections. 

Despite all these pressures and boycott calls, elections were held with 74 % polling as claimed by the government. Following this, in 2019 first time second tier elections for block development councils were also held soon after the abrogation of article 370 .

This time too there was a complete boycott of these elections by almost all political parties . However, 100 % Block Development Councils were elected.

Encouraged with the results, next year in 2020, the union government announced to hold third tier Panchayat elections in Jammu & Kashmir.  Interestingly, this time, all political parties fearing ground slipping under their feet jumped into these elections and the third tier came into being.

Conclusion


For setting up Panchayati raj system of governance in J&K, the credit goes to the J&K Panchayat Conference led by Mr Shafiq Mir who fought for the establishment of this institution in all the odd times. Infact the Panchayati Raj Institution-PRI members right from village panchayat to district development council (DDC) face lots of challenges vis a vis proper protocol and salary issues from Govt but the funding to villages has increased drastically. Each village panchayat gets Rs 23.50 lakhs along with share from DDC & BDC grants plus MGNREGA & 14,15 FC funding. This would not have been possible had these institutions not been set up.

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