J&K witnessing democratic decentralization post Art-370

SUNIL ABROL

The resolve of the Central Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to return power to the people of J&K is reciprocated by the people of the UT to turn to democratic decentralisation to achieve better governance and development. To strengthen the grassroots democracy, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) amended the J&K Panchayati Raj Act, 1989 for the first time in October 2020 and paved the way for the creation of District Development Councils (DDC). “27 functions were transferred as per 73rd amendment. In 14th Finance Commission Rs 1727.50 cr devolved under MNREGA, Mid-Day meal scheme and ICDS. Panchayats were empowered to generate resources,” a senior official said. DDC is a directly-elected local government body in each district with jurisdiction over the entire district excluding areas designated as a municipality or municipal corporation. The newly created DDC along with Halqa Panchayats and Block Development Councils (BDCs) are ensuring a three-tier Panchayati Raj system for the first time in the region. The elected third tier of the Panchayati Raj institution marks the implementation of the entire 73rd Amendment Act in J&K, which was never made effective by previous governments. The District Development Council (DDC) elections in Jammu and Kashmir provided self-rule and autonomy, and empowered leaders from the grassroots to take their own decisions as committed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to empower the people at the grassroots. DDC Elections in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir were a part of a 3-tier system to strengthen democracy at the grassroots level which J&K has never witnessed in the past 70 years. The Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), through which the self-government of villages is realized, have been entrusted with the task of ‘economic development, strengthening social justice and implementation of Central and State Government schemes at grass-roots level. The democratic exercise of free, fair and peaceful Panchayat elections were held in the UT which led to the constitution of vibrant Panchayati Raj institutions. In a significant achievement, these Panchayat elections recorded a substantial 74.1 per cent voter turnout. A total of 3,650 Sarpanchs and 23660 Panchs were elected to lay the foundation for the 3-tier Panchayati Raj system for the first time across J&K. After the successful conduct of the Panchayat elections, elections for Block Development Councils (BDCs) were conducted for the very first time in history of J&K. The BDC elections saw an overwhelming voter turnout of 98.3 per cent in which 276 chairpersons were elected in a transparent manner. Finally, District Development Council elections were held in 8 phases which witnessed a tremendous voter turnout of 51.7 per cent. The process elected 20 DDC Chairpersons and 20 Vice-Chairpersons; a total of 278 DDC members were also elected thus completing the implementation of the 3-tier Panchayati Raj system in its total form. To give these institutions financial strength, a historic district level planning process was accomplished in accordance with the constitutional mandate. The preparation of the plan adopted a bottom-up approach-first at the Panchayat level, then at the block level and then at the district level. “District plan was approved for all 20 districts via online meeting with participation of all DDC chairpersons, district administration and concerned departments,” said a senior official, adding that, “Plan allocation was more than doubled in 2021-22, i.e. Rs 12600 cr in comparison to Rs 5136 cr in 2020-21.” For the first time since independence, elected grass-root representatives get formal protocol- hoist the National flag on Independence Day/ Republic day. The elected representatives were given honorarium and formal position in the warrant of precedence and a regular system of interaction of district officers with Panchayat representatives was institutionalized. Regarding the key focus areas of UT, the Lieutenant Governor has said that after the democratic decentralisation in spirit of the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendment Act, 14 sectors have been identified for investment at a large scale with a special focus on tourism and employment. The PRI representatives were trained through a slew of capacity building and training programmes to further enhance their skills and efficiency in reputed training institutions like IMPARD and outside institutions as well. Besides, induction courses on digital literacy training, gram Panchayat development plan training and training workshops have been organized for newly elected BDC Chairpersons. About 711 elected representatives have been provided training cum exposure visits outside UT.

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