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Jammu enthusiastic, turnout in Kashmir matter of concern

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JAMMU: As 321 polling wards across twenty-four municipal units across eleven districts go to the polls tomorrow, Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said that security forces are fully prepared to help peaceful conduct of elections in Jammu and Kashmir. On the eve of polling there was remarkable enthusiasm across phase one polling districts of Jammu region while in Kashmir authorities were on the toes to ensure peaceful polling even as voter turnout remains a serious challenge. Besides the usual value they have for the local governance, the ongoing elections are also a test case for political approaches to Kashmir in view of a boycott taken by state’s largest political parties -the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party. A good turnout could open a new political debate as both parties made Centre’s assurance on the Article 35A as basic condition for their participation in the elections.
The first phase of polling for the Urban Local Bodies elections will take place across 820 polling stations from 7am to 4pm. As already reported the authorities have rounded up over 500 alleged troublemakers to prevent any kind of untoward incident.
While the administration and security forces are confident of peaceful elections, the voter turnout remains a serious challenge. There is no voting in three of the four districts in South Kashmir where in most of the segments the candidates have returned unopposed while in many others no one stood for the contest. Kokernag municipal unit in Anantnag district is the only exception in South Kashmir which will go to polls tomorrow for four wards where eight candidates are in fray.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh who was in Lucknow claimed that incidents of violence in Jammu and Kashmir have also gone down. Talking to reporters on the sidelines of an event of the Central Reserve Police Force in Lucknow, Singh said security forces have given a “befitting reply” to militants in the Kashmir valley. Incidents of violence have come down in the recent past, he said.
When asked about the overall security situation in the state, the minister said the forces were vigilant. Singh also said Pakistan was not mending its ways, indicating that the neighbouring country was fuelling infiltration and militancy activities in Kashmir.
The polls will see a direct contest between the BJP and the Congress, with major regional political parties the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) boycotting the election over the legal challenge to Article 35A of the Constitution in the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Chief Election Officer Shaleen Kabra said that 150 polling stations have been designated for voting in Kashmir Division and 670 in Jammu Division. “In Kashmir Division 138 polling stations have been categorized as hypersensitive while in Jammu Division 52 polling stations have been categorised hypersensitive,” he said and added that for the Phase-I, 78 candidates have already been elected unopposed.
The CEO said 1204 candidates are in the fray for 321 Municipal Wards in Phase-I, including 83 in Kashmir division and 238 in Jammu division. “The total electorate for Phase-I is 586064,”he said and added that Basic Minimum Facilities (BMF) have been ensured in all the polling stations across the State for voting. He said Photo Voter Slips have already been distributed among the voters to inform them of their polling station.
Kabra said senior government officers have been appointed as General Observers to oversee the smooth, fair and orderly conduct of polls. “Expenditure Observers are also keeping a watch on the expenditure by the candidates,” he said and added that for the poll day Micro Observers have been deployed in polling stations, particularly those considered sensitive/ hypersensitive.
“Besides, the Zonal and Sector Magistrates have been deployed to ensure smooth conduct of polls as well as monitoring the entire process,” CEO said and added that the Deputy Commissioners are undertaking Videography of all critical events related to the poll process.
Kabra said Control Rooms have been established in all the Municipal Bodies across the State to respond promptly to any complaints of violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) as also to disseminate information to the public. He said adequate security arrangements have been made for smooth conduct of polling across the State.
He said the government has also declared holiday on the day of poll in the municipal areas going to polls so as to enable the voters to cast their vote. He said as per standing guidelines, the Central Government offices shall not be closed but the employees who are electors of the poll going wards and desire to exercise their franchise shall be offered reasonable facility- by way of coming late to office / allowed to leave office early / short absence.
The CEO urged voters to exercise their right to franchise in order to choose their local self government to address to their local needs.
Pertinently, Municipal Elections-2018 are being held in four phases, covering 79 municipal bodies with an electorate of about 17 lakh. A total of 3372 nominations have been filed for 1145 wards. Days of poll are 8th, 10th, 13th and 16th October for these four phases.