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Jammu Kashmir

Posted at: Mar 29, 2018, 1:01 AM; last updated: Mar 29, 2018, 1:01 AM (IST)

Panchayat budget passed, but no local bodies

Mehbooba-led coalition govt is yet to take call on long-overdue panchayat elections in the state

Doubts raised over funds spending

  • Jammu: Stakeholders have questioned how the state government intended spending the panchayat funds. “The government must disclose through which heads they were going to spend funds at the panchayat level. Panchayats are the best means of open loot for the government. Why has the Chief Minister not uttered a word on holding the panchayat elections to date?” asked Shafiq Mir, chairman, All Jammu Kashmir Panchayat Conference.
Panchayat budget passed, but no local bodies
Women wait for their turn to vote during the panchayat elections in the Valley. File photo

Arteev Sharma

Tribune News Service

Jammu, March 28

In an irony of sorts, the ruling PDP-BJP coalition has passed the first-ever exclusive ‘panchayat budget’ for the next fiscal year beginning on April 1 for the rural local bodies of the state which do not exist on the ground.

Importantly, the conduct of panchayat elections has remained a “non-priority” for the state government, which has maintained silence on holding these elections since Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti chaired an all-party meeting on February 4 here to evolve a consensus about the issue.

The stakeholders have raised eyebrows on the “silence” of the government with regard to the panchayat elections and questioned how the state government intended spending the funds if the panchayats did not exist.

On January 11, the Mehbooba Mufti-led government had presented the maiden “panchayat budget” to make the institutions of local governance fully functional.

The state government had decided to hold the panchayat elections from February 15 after Mehbooba held a meeting with Governor NN Vohra in December last year. The last panchayat elections were held in 2011 and the state’s Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) completed their five-year term in June 2016. The state has around 4,400 panchayats.

In the panchayat budget for 2018-19, the Mehbooba government made a provision of Rs 1,000 core for the panchayats and urban local bodies. Besides, the government intended to enable the PRIs to collect taxes and generate their own sources for better delivery of services.

The government also decided on the constitution of the State Finance Commission and the appointment of an ombudsman to act as a watchdog for better functioning of the panchayats.

“Panchayats are turning out to be the biggest-ever scam in J&K. As per our information, they (government) have spent in the current financial year about Rs 100-crore CD (Constituency Development) funds meant for panchayats. These funds have been provided to MLAs who are spending it using their discretion. There is no accountability in the system. What is the fun of having a separate panchayat budget if the panchayats don’t exist on the ground,” said Shafiq Mir, chairman, All Jammu Kashmir Panchayat Conference.

Mir said the government should bring some clarity on how it would spend the funds sanctioned under the panchayat budget. “The government must disclose through which heads they were going to spend funds at the panchayat level. Panchayats are the best means of open loot for the government. Why has the Chief Minister not uttered a word on holding the panchayat elections to date?” he asked.

When contacted, Sheetal Nanda, Secretary, Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Department, said she had taken over the department recently and it would not be appropriate to comment on the issue. “Let me go through the functioning of the department,” she said.

Abdul Haq Khan, Minister for Rural Development, Panchayati Raj and Law and Justice, was unavailable for comments.

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