ULB Polls: The gateway to change

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Mian Tufail

FIVE years ago, the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir witnessed the low-key Urban Local Body (ULB) elections. The reasons behind a low turnout were: direct threats from terrorist organisations and the non-participation of the then two major regional parties, Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP). These two parties boycotted the ULB elections officially but paved way for their proxy candidates to enter into the municipal corporations and councils. They boycotted the elections over the legal challenge to the Constitution’s Article 35A of the Supreme Court.

Surprisingly, both NC and the PDP formed a post-poll alliance in a number of ULBs and are controlling the region today. Moreover, ULBs cleared the deck for the rise of a new breed of politicians. Many young people contested elections and won successfully. Their wins stirred the debate of dynastic politics and forced a former chief minister to accept that not contesting the elections in 2018 was the blunder of his party which would not be repeated in the future elections.

The ULB elections are contested on non-party symbols which help all the political parties to claim majority. J&K has two municipal corporations, 19 municipal councils and 57 municipal committees. A total of 75 lakh voters have been registered after summary revision of electoral rolls, as per Chief Electoral Officer.

· ULBs, a gateway to development

ULBs are meant to penetrate the idea of development to the local level in towns. They work on the idea of bottom-up approach and give teeth to the grievances of people residing in towns and semi-urban areas. They play a vital role in infrastructural development and provide avenues of revenue generation in respective areas.

Before the abrogation of Article 370, the ULB elections were not conducted routinely. The 73rd and 74th amendments were not applicable to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. With the leaf of Article 370 taken away, the UT administration announced the conduct of ULB elections after the end of the five year term.

Talking to KC, Masarat Kar, who heads the Sopore Municipal Council, says the implementation of the 74th Amendment Act is not in place at present despite four years of abrogation of Article 370. Says she, “ULB elections are the mother of all elections. There is no dearth of funds but the technical proposals and implementation is taking toll on development. Projects remain lingering for years despite timely passage by council. After the abolition of engineering wing, we are totally dependent of R&B for the technical advice.”

Masarat Kar, Chairperson Municipal Council Sopore

On the development and reservation front, Masarat adds that “Reservation was there in 2018 elections also and now seats have been reserved to give due benefit to women. We have not been handed over other departments as per the Municipal Act due to which revenue generation is minimal. Power has not been dwelled to us to clear the junk and discarded vehicles so that we can put that for auction and generate funds for our estimated works. More needs to be done to make ULBs vibrant and envisage the idea of grass-root democracy in a real sense.”

A councilor of Srinagar Municipal Corporation, tells KC on condition of anonymity, that he does not doubt the intentions of the government which talks about tier-3 governance. “The present bureaucracy is not emphatic with the lower rung leaders. They remain bottlenecks in devolution of the power to the ground level. They sit on proposals for years which the SMC General Council may have passed years ago. The government must check these bureaucrats and there should be a smooth transition of power from top to the bottom”.

Very pertinently, women are the main beneficiary for whom a reservation quota of 33% has been fixed in these elections.

To empower the women of Jammu and Kashmir, the Election Commission of the Union Territory has reserved 358 wards for women in 77 municipal bodies of J&K for the upcoming municipality and Urban Local Body (ULB) polls. In 1119 wards across 77 municipal bodies of Jammu and Kashmir, a total of 358 seats have been reserved for women.

Vice-Chairperson, Khadi and Village industries, Dr. Hina Bhat says that ULBs uplift women and offer them opportunities to enter the arena of politics and work for their counterparts. On reservation for women in ULBs, she says, ”It’s not only for women’s empowerment but for the role women have played in the current politics of Jammu and Kashmir. This was important. Women always think better and have much faithfulness towards the society. The quota was much-needed since long and it’s a lovely decision. The women in J&K have strong convictions and are always at the forefront. They played a major role in the last elections and I see a better future for women after this quota”.

Dr. Hina Shafi Bhat, VC KVIC

As Jammu and Kashmir gears for another ULB election in October-November this year, it will be interesting to see how this will shape the landscape of politics in UT before the commencement of Parliament and Assembly elections.

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