Jammu and Kashmir is gearing up for its first District Development Council (DDC) elections to elect the third tier of its Panchayati Raj system. The erstwhile state had a three-tier system prior to the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A but it never moved beyond the basic Panchayat grouping and the top-tier was completely different.
The DDC polls were announced after Modi government gave its approval to amendments in Jammu and Kashmir’s Panchayati Raj Act, 1989. This has ushered in a three-tier grassroots system of governance like the rest of India.
A DIFFERENT MODEL
The DDCs will be constituted in Jammu and Kashmir‘s all 20 districts. There will be 14 territorial constituencies in each district of the former state. People will elect their representatives to DDCs directly through elections. The twenty districts will make for 280 constituencies.
The issue with the Jammu and Kashmir DDCs is the direct election of its members. In the rest of India, the DDCs are not directly elected but are constituted by the members of the Block Development Councils (BDCs) which are directly elected. Directly elected DDCs thus override the gram panchayats and the BDCs and dilute their powers.
This has triggered the debate about the need for the elected DDCs when the government could have followed the model adopted elsewhere in the country that is more representative of grassroots democracy.
The DDC members will have complete jurisdiction over the district. Though the members of the Legislative Assembly and the chairperson of all the BDCs of the district will also be the DDC members, they will wield no power. The Additional District Development Commissioner shall be the chief executive officer of the DDC.
Also as per the amendments, seats for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women have been reserved which will be filled by direct election to the District Development Councils.
“This system is no grassroots democracy. It is something else. You are only killing the powers of gram panchayats and the BDCs,” said Shafiq Mir, the president of J&K Panchayat Conference who himself is a Block Development Council Chairman. “The issue is when you directly elect members of the DDC and give them exclusive control of the development activities in the district where does this leave the elected members of gram panchayats and the BDCs?”
Mir, who finally merged his party into Apni Party, said that after coming into being of the DDCs, the Panchayat and the BDC members in the rural areas of the district will have to jockey for power with its members. “In every territorial constituency in a district, there will be a sarpanch and maybe one or two BDC members besides a DDC member. How will there be a consensus over what development work should be prioritized in the area?” Mir asked. “Similarly, in a DDC while an MLA and a BDC chairperson will be members, they will be subservient to elected members. So, how will their opinion matter?”
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