Shafiq Mir, a former journalist is one among the top intellectuals who contested for the Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir in 2011 and was later elected as the president of All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference, an organization which has over 3000 representatives across the state. In his exclusive interview with our reporter Parveez Ud Din, Mir blames the state government for weakening the grass root level democracy after fearing that it may lose power to the common people. Here are the excerpts.
PD: JK Panchayati Raj Act was brought into existence in 1989 and later it became village Panchayati regulation Act. What is your point of view about it?
SM: This act was separately made for Jammu and Kashmir in 1989. According to this act Panchayat institutions had to be established everywhere in rural areas and the work/development at rural level had to be done under this institution, but after the act was passed no Panchayat elections were held for almost 10 years.
In the year 2000, elections were held in some parts of state, but unfortunately not in Kashmir. Later in 2011 full-fledged elections were held in whole J & K state only for one tier.
The Panchyat Raj act is a true democratic institution and has its representation at grass root level to the district level. The public representatives are elected at first Panchayat level, then block level and at district level making it most strong and true democratic institution for the welfare of general public. The planning for the developmental activities starts at village level where every inhabitant is the member of the Panchayat Raj.
Whenever the elections of the Panchayat Raj are held, it consists of five Panchs and a Sarpanch and whenever a decision is to be made, Gram sabha is held in which every voter is called and considered as a member of it.
After the views are given by every member, decision is finalized by Panchayat and this proposal/decision is forwarded to Block Development Council and it processes it further to the District Development Board where the final call is being taken.
Unfortunately, in our state the elections in our state were only held for the first tier so the full fledged democratic exercise was not done.
PD: Why do you think Government did not held elections for all the three phases?
SM: The main problem is that Jammu and Kashmir doesn’t want to implement the act which they made itself. Now it is 2018, government still did not go for the fresh Panchayat elections after its tenure came to an end in 2016. If the elections for the grass root level democracy are not held, how can we expect the democracy flourishing in state and the people reaping the dividends of development?
To my understanding and knowing the powers of this institution, it seizes the majority of the powers of MLA’s and MLC’s and makes a common man more powerful. So they want to continue to centralize the powers in their own hands. I can say the government is hell-bent to undermine this public institution.
PD: What your association is doing to strengthen the Panchayati Raj in state?
SM: We have been appealing the state government to let these elections happen. Let this institutions not suffer to the fake threats and the posters hanging on walls.
PD: Recently there was news roaming around that elections will be conducted but it didn’t happen as government felt some security concerns. What will you say about it?
SM: Basically government made an official announcement itself that elections will be held from February 15 and will complete by the end of March. But they postponed them indefinitely and we will be watching how they will conduct their own elections amid these security concerns especially to the Parliamentary seat of South Kashmir.
PD: Don’t you think there is a genuine security threat on ground?
SM: We reiterate our point that the elections for the Panchayat Raj are apolitical and as an attempt to empower the community institutions not the political ones. There was a tradition in our villages that elders used to resolve the issues in their villages which took the shape of Panchayats offlate and got instutionalized. So the institution is a local governing body to address day to day problems of the common people without or minimum political interventions.
PD: You want 73rd amendment to be implemented in state, but it did not happened till now?
SM: 73rd amendment of Indian constitution is about Panchayat Raj and 74th Amendment is about urban local bodies. 73rd amendment strengthens the Panchayati Raj as there is time bound election in it; it has its own financial commission, so you don’t have to seek permission from government for little things. The state government had no problem in implementing the GST in State afar calling a special session of the state Legislative Assembly, and dozens of other Central Sponsored schemes like MGNREGA, NRHM, NHM, PMGSY and so many others. Here it cites the political problems to the state’s special status which is wrong. The truth is that the 73rd amendment empowers the common man that government does not want. Otherwise It can be incorporated same way it did to GST and other centrally sponsored schemes.
PD: Most of the people contesting in the elections for Panchayat Raj are semi literate or illiterate what is your message for the educated youth to urge them to join and participate in the grass root level democracy?
SM: All I can say is that we (society) are ourselves responsible for it, because we don’t take any initiative and don’t come forward for the progress and prosperity of state and that is why we have leadership crisis at every level.
PD: Some threats from militants organizations were heard asking people not to contest for Panchayat elections. The posters were also seen surfacing urging people to boycott. What will you say about it?
SM: We don’t have any strong evidence that threats were hurled to the Panchayat representatives by any militant organization. For me it is state government responsible trying to weaken this institution.
PD: Finally what is your message to the people of state?
SM: My only message for our people is to come forward for their rights; to boycott elections won’t yield anything. Let’s fight politically and seek our rights.