Local Leaders Demand Panchayat Elections in Troubled Kashmir

A delegation of All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference calls on India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in New Delhi on November 05, 2016
A delegation of All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference calls on India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in New Delhi on November 05, 2016

As the Kashmir unrest continues, a group of village leaders have urged the Indian government to immediately arrange Panchayat (village council) elections in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

They believe that the empowered Panchayats will be able to solve local problems and ensure development in the state.

A 30 member delegation of the All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference met India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, on Saturday to discuss the situation in J&K.

The All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference is an apex body of Panchayat leaders of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The organization represents 4000 village Panchayats of Jammu and Kashmir, with 4000 Sarpanches and 29000 Panches. The delegation was led by the Chairman of the All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference, Shafiq Mir.

Members of the delegation briefed the Indian Prime Minister on development issues concerning the state, and said that benefits of central assistance to the state have not reached the villages due to non-empowerment of the Panchayats. They also submitted a memorandum.

The village leaders urged the Prime Minister to consider extension of the 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Constitution of India – which pertain to local bodies – to the state of J&K.

They also demanded that elections to Panchayats and Urban Local Bodies in the State be held at the earliest. They said that elections held in 2011 had witnessed enthusiastic turnout of voters.

Extension of these Constitutional Provisions to the state would empower the Panchayats to undertake basic development activities in the rural areas, they said. Members expressed hope that this would accelerate the development process in the state, and enable the people of the state to take benefit from various Central Government schemes.

The delegation apprised the Prime Minister of the prevailing situation in the state. They strongly condemned the burning of schools in Kashmir by anti-national elements.

Meanwhile, leading human rights organization Amnesty International India has demanded that the J&K government should bring to justice those responsible for the burning of schools in Kashmir and end the occupation of schools by Indian security forces.

Since July, Amnesty says, at least 25 schools have been completely or partially burnt across 10 districts of Kashmir and three schools were set on fire on 29 and 30 October.

Kashmir has been facing a series of violent incidents since the killing of a 22-year-old rebel leader Burhan Wani by the Indian security forces on July 8 in an encounter which many believe was avoidable.

Nearly 100 people have died and thousands injured in the conflicts between the supporters of Burhan Wani and the Indian security forces in Kashmir.

Amnesty reports that security forces have used arbitrary and excessive force in response to the protests and hundreds of people have been blinded or otherwise injured, by pellet-firing shotguns. Hundreds of people, including children, have been placed in administrative detention.

The Prime Minister assured the Panchayat delegation that his government will look into their demands. He stressed that growth and development of J&K is high on his agenda.

He added that development of the villages where a majority of people live, is vital to the overall economic development of the state. He reiterated stress on a humanitarian approach, and said that ‘Vikas’ (development) and ‘Vishwas’ (trust) will remain the cornerstones of the government’s development initiatives for the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Photo courtesy: Press Information Bureau

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Rakesh Raman