ammu and Kashmir has vital geopolitical significance. For this, active Panchayati Raj is a perfect path to attach the local people with the governance by ensuring their community participation. The efficient Panchayati Raj is the treatment of all ecological problems as well. As being the Himalayan erstwhile state the dynamic Panchayat Raj system could also serve in attaining sustainable development in the region with the help of local assistance and participation.
The Panchayati Raj that was widely commenced in 2011 in the erstwhile state was criticized by all the people because it was solely the lower tier that was elected. At that time the Panchayats were not coming under the 73rd constitutional amendment due to the special status under Article 370 of the Indian constitution. Although some of the amendments were brought in the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act 1989. Because of these amendments, some of the Provisions of the 73rd constitutional amendment were included in the state Panchayati Raj Act of 1989. These amendments were the provision of the election commission to hold the elections of the Panchayat, the Finance commission, the 33 percent reservation for the women, the Panchayati Raj ombudsman Act 2014. Notwithstanding, these legislative measures the Panchayati Raj failed to promote community participation and profound impact at the grassroots level. These institutions were only restrained to the agencies of some centrally sponsored schemes. To see the wretched condition of Panchayati Raj of the erstwhile state, the All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Conference an organization came into existence. It is the body of the Panches and Sarpanches. This organization since its formation demanded the application of the 73rd constitutional amendment in the erstwhile state for the empowerment of Panchayati Raj in Jammu and Kashmir. At that time the government was blocking their demands because the erstwhile state government quoted that the complete implementation of the 73rd constitutional amendment would encroach the special status under article 370.
Nevertheless, on August 05, 2019, the Union Parliament modified article 370, and the erstwhile state and state reorganization bill 2019 was passed in the Parliament which resulted in the former state being bifurcated into two union territories Jammu and Kashmir with the legislature and the Ladakh a Union territory without legislature. During the abrogation of article 370 debate in the Parliament the explanation of institutionalization of Panchayat Raj in the Jammu and Kashmir was profoundly quoted to boost the transit of abrogation of article 370. Therefore, the Panchayati Raj of the erstwhile state was one of the spine reasons that were said in the Union Parliament in favor of constitutional change on 5 August 2019. In between, the DDC has an equal number of elected members; regardless of how big or small a district is in terms of geography or demography. So, the Srinagar district, which has a population of over 12 lakh, has 14 members, as does Kishtwar, which has a population of less than 2.5 lakh. Doda covers nearly 9,000 square kilometers, while Ganderbal covers just 250 square kilometers. This has violated the provision of the 73rd constitutional amendment that says constituencies for the district level shall be made according to the ratio of the population (Haseeb, Drabu, 2020). DDC is all that exists in the name of representative politics (or the panchayats or municipalities). Other than a somewhat restricted developmental role for the DDC, there does not appear to be much space for democratic politics through these councils (Rekha, Chowdhary 2020 a). The BJP started using the mandate to claim that (a) it has got approval for the changes that it brought in August 2019 (b) that the people have voted for development and rejected separatism and (c) that it is the victory of democracy ( Rekha Chowdhary 2020 b).
The report also unveiled the narration of DDC member Gulzar Ahmad (PDP) who said that he was embarrassed by meeting his people because he has nothing to help them. Another narration cited in the report said it was impossible for DDC members even to get an electric transformer repaired (Kashmir 8th report of the concerned citizen group mainstream weekly April 24. 2021). I did not see on the ground the development which was committed by the prime minister on the day Article 370 was abrogated ( Altaf Bukhari, Greater Kashmir 3, August 2021).
While talking with the elected chairpersons of the block development council, it was reported that there was a tussle between the government officials and the elected members. One of the BDC chairpersons said that even though the BDCs are elected in the erstwhile state, they still have not sufficient powers. The block officials significantly sidelined them in the working business (Interview with BDC member. No doubt the funds were earmarked by the administration 21 Lakh for Halqa Panchayat, 25 Lakh for the block developmental council, and 10 cores for the district planning development. But the predicament cited by the elected representatives is that the erstwhile administration has allocated these funds sector-wise. This results in that the officials of rural development are spending these funds according to the assigned guidelines of the administration. The allocation of the funds is not the lone approach to strengthen these Panchayati Raj institutions. This is public money and it needs to be spent in a transparent way with an effective social audit system.
The Panchayati Raj institutions are also called community institutions so the participation of the local people in these institutions is the backbone in empowering them. These institutions are called the local self government institutions in the 73th constitutional amendment. There is no sufficient autonomy given to these Panchayati Raj institutions in deciding the local affairs and planning at the local level; everything comes from administration. According to the 73th constitutional amendment the power of the elected panchayats to prepare the micro plans in 29 subjects in open Gram Sabha according to the local needs and aspirations of the local people and area. In Panchayati Raj, the planning starts from the bottom which is not seen in the current Panchayati Raj in the erstwhile state. Now there is a 73rd constitutional amendment in the Union territory that gives 29 items to the Panchayati Raj yet there is no solid mechanism that was chalked out by the administration in assigning powers to these elected three-tier representatives of Panchayati Raj. Those people who were elected in the valley were kept in the hotels; they were not allowed to visit the areas where they got the vote. It is very striking how the local people connect with these representatives. The administration cited the security as a reason but this is not the way to keep these representatives in the buildings. The administration should ensure their smooth movement in their respective areas to look at the developmental projects in those areas where they got elected. The duty of the block council chairman is to visit the respective block and assess the development and also interact with the local people. Later on keep these demands in mind while formulating the block developmental Plans.
Where do the local people go?
The issue of women empowerment and the presence of Panchayati Raj were addressed in the 2011 Panchayat Raj elections. When the erstwhile government amended the state Panchayat Raj Act 1989 and incorporated the provision of 33% reservation for women . At that time the provision was only limited to the Panch seats. However, in 2014 this provision was enlarged to sarpanch seats as well. But now after the abrogation of article 370, all the three tiers were elected and the reservation was provided to the women and other marginalized sections. Nevertheless only electing the women to a specific position is not actual empowerment but the real empowerment is active and genuine delegation of powers of decisions to these women. On this issue of women empowerment, Dr. Aneesa Gull stated that the provision of reservation for women was a paper horse. She further said that if there would be effective reservations then these elected women would have the power and not have to face the impediments in the block offices. Even these representatives have to pay commission for the release of the bill associated with the village development. (Dr. Aneesa Gull vice president of Panch and sarpanch association in her interview to a local channel Matlab Ki Baat on 29 May 2021).
The Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party, which was formed after the abrogation of Article 370 provisions on Monday threatened that its District Development Council members will submit their resignations alleging that their work to assist people in remote areas was being hindered by the union territory administration. The chairman of the Party said that We are left with no other option but to resign because the UT administration is time and again failing us and not allowing us to deliver on the ground and provide relief to the people in remote villages. I do not wish to show false dreams to the people (Greater Kashmir 3, August 2021).
There is a need to start the wide capacity building measures for these elected representatives. Through which these representatives can understand their role and responsibility in the new system of Panchayat Raj. In Kashmir valley those who were kept in the hotels for the security reasons the administration should ensure and facilitate their meetings with the public in a smooth way. The social audit needs to be implemented at the grassroots level in an effective manner for healthy implementation. All the 29 items as mentioned in the 73th constitutional amendment should be transferred to these Panchayati Raj institutions. There is an urgent need to change the paradigm of Panchayati Raj institutions from agencies of central sponsored schemes to units of local self government at the grassroots level.
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