Bridging the Valley: What is keeping back panchayats in Kashmir


Written by Bashaarat Masood
, Naveed Iqbal |

Upgraded: August 2, 2020 3: 02: 37 pm

jammu kashmir, j&k news, j&k sarpanch, Narendra Modi, mnrega, article 370, jammu kashmir bifurcation, kashmir news, indian express At Kralweth town in Baramulla. Among the works performed by the panchayat are this drain, a culvert, a couple of tiled paths, and fencing of the regional graveyard. (Express Image: Shuaib Masoodi)

On December 19, 2018, 48 sarpanchs from Jammu & Kashmir elected simply days ago gotten in touch with Prime Minister Narendra Modi They had contested the polls running the risk of militant attacks, with both the National Conference and PDP boycotting the elections that were held under Governor’s guideline, and 708 of 2,135 halqas in the Valley saw no contestants. The majority of had actually filed election documents as Independents.

The Centre had actually made big promises to them– consisting of transfer of Rs 2,500 crore a year to panchayats, and handing over decision-making powers relating to 19 departments/subjects in villages to sarpanchs and panchs. The PM asked to serve the people.

More than six months later, in July 2019, just about a fortnight before the Centre abrogated the unique status of Jammu & Kashmir, senior officials in the J&K administration helped with an interaction in between mediapersons and more than 2 lots sarpanchs, consisting of females, in Srinagar. One of the major points discussed was how the decentralisation of power through panchayats would develop a new political base at the grassroots.

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But, the bureaucracy has its own rate. 2 months later, in September 2019, Shafiq Mir, the president of the All J&K Panchayat Conference, in addition to some panchs who had actually fulfilled the PM in December 2018, stated empowerment still avoided them. 8 months post elections, in most cases, panchs were yet to be alerted, the release of funds was sluggish, and few departments spoke with panchayats or went to gram sabha meetings.


Absence of funds, assistance

With mainstream leaders barred from political activity, the Centre had actually hoped panchayat-level political leaders would fill the governance vacuum in J&K. Close to 2 years since the polls of panchs and sarpanchs, this grassroots democracy has been hobbled by absence of funds and assistance from the bureaucracy.

Among the people the panchs satisfied throughout a Delhi journey on September 4, 2019, post abrogation was Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

However it’s only now, just under a year later on, that this guarantee has materialised. On July 18 this year, the administration council under Lieutenant Guv G C Murmu authorized an insurance cover of Rs 25 lakh for each panch, sarpanch, Block Advancement Council chairperson, and chosen member of local bodies, in case of death in militancy-related incidents.

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On The Other Hand, over the last nine months, 2 sarpanchs– Syed Rafi on November 27, 2019, and Ajay Pandita on June 9, both from Anantnag– were killed in militant attacks.

The sluggish progress notwithstanding, in its huge gambit in J&K, the BJP– led federal government at the Centre continues to see panchayats as essential, both to press its development program and for the far ambitious aim of “bottom-up” revival of politics. This has actually acquired more seriousness given that the abrogation of unique status of J&K on August 5, 2019, when traditional political leaders were apprehended and barred from any political activity.

Practically a year considering that, The Sunday Express went to a panchayat each in South Kashmir, where militancy continues to pose a challenge to the state, and North Kashmir, which is fairly more tranquil. Kralweth in Kunzer Block in Baramulla district beings in the lap of Gulmarg in North Kashmir, and is home to middle-class and lower middle-class families. The population of Veerseran in Pahalgam Block in Anantnag district in South Kashmir, on the other hand, is more than two-third tribal and overwhelmingly bad– 95 per cent of its people live below the poverty line. In South Kashmir, 462 (58%) of 798 sarpanch seats stay vacant; in North, 218 (28%) out of 937 halqas do not have sarpanchs.

But, the dissimilarities end here.

Kralweth, Baramulla; North Kashmir

Kralweth is a sleepy cluster of four hamlets, surrounded by dense apple and cherry orchards, and around 6 km off the Srinagar-Gulmarg road.

Beig, who originates from a politically active household with his grandpa Saifullah having actually held the sarpanch post back in 1957, was one of the sarpanchs who satisfied the PM and Amit Shah after the abrogation of unique status. The 53- year-old remembers the PM’s pledge to them, of empowerment.

In the last 18 months given that the panchayat elections, the grass-roots democracy has actually brought Kralweth a culvert, a drain, few tiled paths, and fencing of the local graveyard.

Beig takes pride in showcasing these as his works, however states the federal government’s failure in carrying out the Panchayati Raj Act in letter and spirit is holding back all-round advancement in towns.

” Our greatest problem is that we have actually not been accorded the status that we were assured,” says Beig. “When we approach authorities, they don’t attend to our requests. Barring the Rural Development Department (RDD), all other departments neglect us. They do not show up at the gram sabhas, let alone doing anything after consulting us.”

Under the Panchayati Raj Act, representatives of 20 departments that cover a town have to be present at gram sabha conferences where jobs are to be chosen following assessment. To extend electrical power supply into the interiors of the town, Beig needs more poles. Even officers from industries or education departments never go to these conferences.

Given his stint in politics and public life, Beig says he has actually likewise concerned think that bureaucracy has actually been a limitation to advance in J&K. “I satisfied the L-G a few days ago and presented him a list of works to be done in my block.”

Since January 2018, the Kralweth panchayat halqa has actually handled 14 works. “During the last one year, we have received five installments under the Fourteenth Financing Commission. The total quantity disbursed is Rs 16.48 lakh,” states Ali Mohammad, the panchayat secretary, including that even while the labour part is covered by the MNERGS, this is far less than the Rs 19.68 lakh they need to complete the tasks.

Apart from the sluggish circulation of funds, the panchs rue powerlessness in choosing top priority works.

Beig has spent his entire life in Kralweth, in a house located by a fresh-water stream with Chinar trees in the yard. With his household having resided in fear of militant attacks due to its participation with politics, Beig states he was reluctant to fill the kind when panchayat elections were announced in2018 It was only after some town senior citizens sat him down that he sent the kind. “Even then, we didn’t inform anybody about it,” he says.

Of the 1,800- odd votes in the village, 1,700- odd were surveyed, with Beig getting as lots of as 1,500- plus.

Veerseran, Pahalgam Block, Anantnag District, South Kashmir

ALMOST 90 km from Srinagar, Veerseran, in Lidder Valley, is a village that neglects the river that gushes through Pahalgam before joining the Jhelum. With about 62 percent of its population tribal, the panchayat, which has 445 homes, is reserved for Scheduled Tribes.

” Nearly 95 per cent of the people here fall Below Poverty Line, with the working population participated in farm labour or construction work. The majority of people do not have any constant earnings,” says 55- year old Gul Mohammad Kohli, the sarpanch of the village.

jammu kashmir, j&k news, j&k sarpanch, Narendra Modi, mnrega, article 370, jammu kashmir bifurcation, kashmir news, indian express Sarpanch Kohli (best) in Veerseran village in Anantnag. Panchayats can’t replace chosen governments, he says. (Express Picture: Shuaib Masoodi)

Kohli, 55, much like Beig of Kralweth, was not keen to object to the panchayat elections, however was coaxed by well-wishers. Earlier in the PDP, Kohli won the panchayat elections as an Independent because the NC and PDP had actually boycotted surveys. He has since then signed up with the Apni Party led by Altaf Bukhari.

In 2018-19, the panchayat granted 9 works, that include three toilets, one roadway and a number of drains. “All these works were carried out under MGNREGA, and payments for the product component– about Rs 8-10 lakh– is still pending,” he states.

Driving a classic red Maruti 800, he points to the panchayat office that has actually remained under lock and essential permanently. “It was handled lease in 2012, but rentals have not been paid,” Kohli says, including, “Land is readily available, the government needs to make the workplace functional.”

Another difficulty Kohli encounters is while engaging with the bureaucracy.

” There is no accountability,” he says, noting that federal government officers do not react to his calls.

Under the J&K Panchayati Raj Act, as many as 20 departments are needed to get the approval of the gram sabha before carrying out operate in the area. “However the Rural Advancement Department is the only one which transfers MGNREGA funds into the joint account of the sarpanch and the panchayat secretary,” Kohli states.

Even More, when a gram sabha is convened, no bureaucrat from the block or the district attends. “Nobody cares,” he states. His town needs filter water pipelines, electrical power poles, however there is no one to take note of the demands, he includes.

” There was dissatisfaction amongst all following the abrogation of J&K’s unique status, but then the pledge of advancement promised. However there has actually not been much difference,” states Kohli.

When asked about Central leaders loading expectations on sarpanchs and panchs, he states, “When you pertained to my house, I provided tea since I might manage it. If I do not have the resources to take care of the requirements of people, what can I do?”

Panchayats can not replace an elected federal government, he says. “In the panchayat, we go over problems and have a view. Huge choices can just be taken by a chosen federal government,” he includes, referring to subjects such as residence, delimitation, etc.

When asked why other departments would not consult the gram sabha, Sheetal Nanda, Secretary, Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, stated, “The whole Panchayati Raj system in J&K is a year and a couple of months old.

Nanda stated a minimum of 21 topics or departments fall under the jurisdiction of the panchayats and the sarpanchs are empowered to take choices under these topics within their towns. These include: agriculture, animal husbandry, sheep husbandry, gardening, education, forests, irrigation, and markets, among others.

She included that some schemes under the Integrated Child Advancement Solutions are being executed through the panchayats, and that the federal government had just recently chosen that mining rights “approximately a specific degree” be provided to them. Another department that has begun operating in tandem with the panchayats is Jal Shakti or what was formerly called the Public Health Engineering department.

However prior to anything else, Veerseran sarpanch Kohli states he needs a workplace.

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