In a path-breaking move, the Narendra Modi government decided to set up directly elected District Development Councils (DDCs) in Jammu and Kashmir, which has been under Central rule ever since it nullified Article 370 and 35A. The move is seen as a bid to empower democracy at the grassroots and disempower well-entrenched political dynasties in the Union Territory.
To make this happen, the Centre had amended Jammu and Kashmir’s Panchayati Raj Act, 1989. According to officials, this was a constitutional requirement and now direct elections can be held to DDCs.
According to the new scheme of things, every district in J&K will be divided into 14 territorial constituencies to elect members of the body in the forthcoming elections later this year. In the three-tier system envisaged, the Gram Sabha is the basic unit of the Panchayat Raj system. For the first time, there will be reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women. The order states: “Not less than one-third of the total number of seats reserved under sub-section (4) shall be reserved for women belonging to the Scheduled Castes or, as the case may be, the Scheduled Tribes. One-third (including the number of seats reserved for women belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes) of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election in every District Development Council shall be reserved for women.”
The elections to the DDCs will be a sort of mini-Assembly election and will cover the entire rural areas of the UT. “For each district there shall be a District Development Council, having jurisdiction over the entire district excluding such portions of the district as are included in a Municipality or Municipal Corporation constituted under any law for the time being in force,” states the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaptation of State Laws) Fourth Order, 2020.
According to the order, every district will also have a District Planning Committee, with MPs representing the area as chairpersons. The committee will comprise MP representing the area, MLAs representing the areas within the District, chairperson of the District Development Council of the District, chairpersons of the town area committees/municipal committees of the district; president of the municipal council/municipal corporation, and others.
Regarding the voting rights in the DDCs, the order says that all members of DDCs, whether or not elected by direct election from territorial constituencies in the district, shall have the right to vote in the meetings of the council. However, only elected members will have the power to vote in or vote out chairperson and vice-chairperson of the council.
Political parties in J&K have come down heavily on the Centre’s move to set up DDCs. A PDP leader said this was a move to impose bureaucratic rule over the people of J&K.
Ajay Bharati of the Jammu Kashmir Study Centre said: “Political parties will be mighty upset by the whole exercise. The setting up of DDCs will lead to decentralisation of power. Earlier, a few political families used to control the resources of the state. About 100 plus elected representatives – 87 MLAs, 36 MLCs and 6 MPs – used to call the shots. Now, when the Panchyati Raj system will become fully functional about 50,000 people, including panchs, sarpanchs and others will have a say in the development of their region. This is a landmark move and should be appreciated by all.”