M A I N   N E W S

Punjab panchayat elections today, 1.1 cr voters hold key
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 18
The stage is set for Sunday's elections to elect 331 members of 22 Zila Parishads and 2,902 members of 146 Panchayat Samitis across Punjab.

As many as 38,000 policemen have been deployed at 19,350 polling booths, of which 2,650 have been declared sensitive, after the state witnessed one of its bloodiest campaigning in recent electoral history. The police force is on high alert, especially in the Bathinda region of the Malwa belt and Amritsar-Tarn Taran region of the Majha belt, as campaigning was marred by violence in which four persons were killed.

Nearly one lakh employees have been deployed to conduct polling. A whopping 1.1 crore voters are on the electoral rolls.

It is, perhaps, for the first time that all main political parties have been hyperactive during campaigning. The top Congress leadership led by its president Partap Singh Bajwa toured the state to mobilise party activists, who had been in a state of inertia for some time due to various electoral upsets to the party in recent years.

Consequently, the SAD and the BJP leadership also remained on its toes to guard its political turf. Sanjha Morcha leaders, who have made electoral adjustments with the Congress in certain districts, also actively campaigned to make their presence felt. Zila Parishads and Panchayat Samitis in the state are by and large ineffective bodies, as these have not been empowered fully by the respective ruling parties since the 1990s. However, the main political parties, with an eye on the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, were successful in activating their rank and file to a large extent during campaigning.

Experts say the state government has given only certain supervisory powers to Zila Parishads and Panchayat Samitis, but has not empowered these bodies financially and administratively.

In fact, as per the 73rd Constitutional Amendment, these bodies should be highly powerful institutions of grassroot democracy.

Interestingly, regional parties such as the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which has been pressing the Centre for decentralisation of powers, has not shown the same keenness as far as giving powers to Zila Parishads and Panchayat Samitis is concerned.

These institutions were to be given powers to play a major role in managing the village and district-level functions of 29 government departments. However, the Punjab Government has provided space to these institutions to play a very limited role. Interestingly, there is no effort at any level to make elected members of these institutions aware about even their limited powers and rights and they end up playing second fiddle to officials of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Department.

Politicians, especially MLAs, are aware of the fact that in case these institutions were to be empowered as per Constitutional provisions, they would be reduced to mere makers of policy.

Election in numbers

331 members of 22 Zila Parishads to be chosen

2,902 members of 146 Panchayat Samitis to be elected

19,350 polling booths

2,650 sensitive polling booths

38,000 policemen deployed

1 lakh employees to conduct polls





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