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278 elected members of J&K district councils take oath of loyalty to India’s Constitution

As many as 278 elected members of 20 District Development Councils (DDCs), constituted for the first time in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, on Monday took the oath of upholding India’s sovereignty and integrity and loyalty to the Constitution of India. The oath was administered to the members by the respective District Development Commissioners almost simultaneously at the 20 district headquarters.

The results of two constituencies in Kupwara and Bandipora districts are still pending for want of a legal clarification as the two female contestants in the fray are residents of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Both were married to Kashmiri militants who had gone to Pakistan illegally for getting training in guerrilla warfare but have eschewed violence and returned under the Omar Abdullah government’s policy of rehabilitation for the surrendered militants.

There were scenes of jubilation, celebration and enthusiasm at every swearing-in ceremony across Jammu and Kashmir as a large number of the elected DDC members, including a fairly good number of the females—almost all new, unfamiliar faces—took the oath of office. Most of them took oath in Urdu but quite a number also in English, Hindi and Dogri languages.

Significantly those taking oath of loyalty to the Constitution of India, as per the amended Panchayati Raj Act, included 110 members of the four constituents of the Kashmir-based Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), headed by the National Conference (NC) President Dr Farooq Abdullah, who have not accepted abrogation of Articles 370 and 35-A and bifurcation of the erstwhile State into the two UTs of J&K and Ladakh. These parties have been demanding restoration of the Statehood, including J&K’s own Constitution and the flag, as also the reinstatement of erstwhile State’s special status.

Remarkably the PAGD and its slogans have been restricted to only parts of the Kashmir valley as all the regional and national parties have contested the DDC elections independently and against one another in the Jammu province.

In an interesting development, DC Srinagar Dr Shahid Iqbal Choudhary drove all the way to the capital city outskirts of Harwan to administer oath to a pregnant DDC member at her home. Around the end of her third trimester, Rizwana Akhtar was unable to drive to Tagore Hall in Srinagar where 13 other DDC members were administered the oath by DC Srinagar.

Almost all the district officers attended the swearing-in ceremonies at their respective district headquarters amid fanfare and enthusiasm, notwithstanding the thick of severe winter season in Kashmir and snowfall in some areas of the Chenab valley in Jammu division. With this the election process has been completed for the three-tier Panchayati Raj Institutions for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir.

While the interim elections were simultaneously held for over 12,000 vacancies of Panches and Sarpanches in November-December 2020, main Panchayat elections were held in October-December 2018. The elections for the middle tier of Block Development Councils were held in November 2019. It was a universal adult franchise for the first and the third tier while only the elected Panches and Sarpanches had the right to vote for the second tier.

Officials said that Chairpersons for the DDCs would be elected at the first meeting of the councils from among the elected 14 members. As of now, BDC chairpersons—15 to 20 in each district—are also designated members of DDCs but they have not the right to vote. Besides, all the elected MLAs, as and when the Assembly elections would be held, would also become members of DDCs. Chairpersons and members of four different committees in DDCs would be picked up from among the DDC members and district officers.

However, as per an amendment to the Act, the Lok Sabha member of a district would be automatically designated as the Chairperson of the DDC’s most powerful Planning Committee..