Srinagar: Barely days before the scheduled Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir, a state panchayat body has threatened a stir over the elusive promises, including the pay hike they were promised in the run-up to the polls.
President of the Jammu and Kashmir Awami Raj Movement (JKARM), Ghulam Hassan Panzoo expressed disappointment over the demands of his union of the Panchs and Sarpanchs “being overlooked” by Governor Satya Pal Malik.
Alleging “political interference from higher-ups”, the union threatened a valley-wide boycott if their demands are not met.
Panzoo said JKARM has “thrice” knocked the Governor’s door, but not once were they welcomed.
“Since the time former Governor NN Vohra declared holding of panchayat elections in the state, we started approaching his successor (Malik) to raise our concerns,” Panzoo told Free Press Kashmir. “But his careless attitude only demotivated us further, to an extent that we will have to decide on boycotting the elections.”
When questioned about the reason behind his demands not being met, Panzoo fumed and said: “There’s political interference of the IAS officers, the Secretaries, the Commissioners, and many others in authority.”
This is a nexus, Panzoo alleged. “Everyone is involved.”
Panzoo’s “genuine” demands include – “Rehabilitation of the family members of the 16 panchayat candidates killed since 2011, hike in honorariums by Rs 20,000 for sarpanchs and Rs 10,000 for panchs, and clearing the due amount.”
When in 2011 the panchayat elections were introduced in J-K after a gap of nearly four decades, the honorarium decided for the Panchs and Sarpanchs was Rs 1,000 and Rs 2,000 respectively.
Years later, the honorariums of the candidates still remained the same, until Wednesday, when the State Administrative Council under the chairmanship of Governor Malik, announced an increment of Rs 500 for Sarpanchs only.
“This decision has only made a mockery of all the candidates that are looking forward to contesting the elections. Is this what we deserve! A mere hike of Rs 500?” Panzoo questioned.
Pertinent to mention, the government recently announced a one-month salary in advance for all the employees assigned for the election duty.
“But there’s no money for the hardworking panchs and sarpanchs who’ve come forward to take part in the elections, despite militant threats and boycott appeals from the separatists,” Panzoo remarked.
Since 2014, the salaries of the MLAs have been given a four-time raise, he continued. “And what for? Sitting in cosy rooms! While we have to go out, address the problems of common people, work on-ground, and develop our constituencies by sweating day in and out.”
In 2011, panchayat elections for 4,130 sarpanch and 29,719 panch constituencies in the state were held, and 80 percent of the people voted despite raging street protests a year earlier.
“But, despite the success, none of the elected candidates were paid for 21 straight months, from April 2011 to March 2013. The government owes us Rs 72 crores,” he claimed.
The “success”, however, had come at the cost of the killings of 16 panchayat members by unknown gunmen, suspected to be militants.
“When a political worker dies, the government takes the responsibility of their family members and rehabilitates them. But the families of our fellow members have unfortunately lost all hopes of help from the government. Did they not die working for the betterment of the people?” he said.
Accusing Governor Malik of having a “big mouth”, Panzoo threatened: “If our demands are not fulfilled, we will announce a valley-wide boycott. And with that, mark my words, more than 500 constituencies in Kashmir will go uncontested.”
Panzoo said he also tried raising his concerns with officials close to Malik, like his adviser BB Vyas, Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam and Principal Secretary Umang Narula.
“Because of their careless attitude, we have lost so many educated candidates that had come forward to contest the elections. But now, I have no shame to say that only 20 percent candidates are left who have a genuine interest in working for the society, the rest 80 percent hold no meaning,” he said.
As per Panzoo, he had met the former Governor NN Vohra who had heard his concerns and also promised to meet all of his demands.
“But unfortunately, his successor (Malik) doesn’t care enough.”
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