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Thursday, June 23, 2011

FROM JAMMU & KASHMIR: The big Kashmir panchayat hoax!

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Balraj Puri
Balraj Puri is senior journalist and political commentator based in Jammu.

The state seems to show a lack of trust in the way it has amended its panchayati laws, empowering itself instead of passing power on to the people

Illustration: Vikram Nongmaithem
JAMMU AND Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has constituted a high powered committee headed by Chief Secretary Madhav Lal for formulating a roadmap for the transfer of vital functions and finances to the panchayats, to which elections are being held from April 17. The elections are being conducted in several phases and are yet to be completed. Why was this done before announcing the elections? Why is the roadmap not publicly debated or at least discussed in the assembly, whose session has just ended? Till the roadmap is released, we have to keep our figures crossed. As it is, the present Panchayati Raj Act is merely an instrument of further centralisation of power rather than a genuine measure of empowerment of the people. Here, I raise some questions that the high-powered committee should consider.

The previous panchayati election was held in 2001.There was hectic discussion between political parties, including the coalition parties in the state government, on reforms in Panchayati Raj before the election. The Congress party and the opposition parties of Jammu had demanded that the new panchayats should be formed after Jammu and Kashmir adopts the 73rd amendment to the Indian constitution, which would have made panchayats a genuine instrument of decentralisation of power. The 73rd amendment as such is not that important. The state, after studying its working in other states of country, could have adopted even a better law than elsewhere if the objective was the empowerment of the people. The J&K assembly enacted a law to constitute an election commission to conduct the election. But, by that time, the code of conduct had been enforced, which means the commission would work from the next elections. The coming election would be conducted by the election department of the state government.

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