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J&K local polls Health centres, schools to come under panchayats’ control: Rajnath Singh

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Ahead of the upcoming urban local body and panchayat polls in Jammu and Kashmir, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said primary health centres, primary schools and anganwadi centres in the state will come under the administrative control of the panchayats for the first time once elections to the local bodies are completed.

Singh’s statement comes at a time when the two major mainstream parties in the state, the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party, have decided to boycott the polls, saying that the central government is yet to clear its stand on Article 35A of the Constitution.

The Article 35A, which was incorporated in the Constitution by a 1954 Presidential Order and accords special rights and privileges to Jammu and Kashmir citizens, has been challenged in the Supreme Court and the matter is under consideration.

The Home Minister on Friday said the panchayats in the state will be given powers for “own fund generation” like collection of building permission fees, taxes on entertainment, advertisement, hoardings, among others.

“These local body elections will have a historic significance in many aspects. The local bodies elections in Jammu and Kashmir will re-establish the long overdue grassroots level democracy in the state,” the Home Minister said in a statement.

“The functions and functionaries of all the 29 subjects transferred to the panchayats under the 73rd amendment of the Constitution will be transferred to the Panchayats of Jammu and Kashmir, including institutions like primary health centers, primary schools, anganwadi centres to name a few,” the statement added.

The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act was passed by Parliament in 1993 and provided a constitutional status to panchayati raj institutions. The Act was enforced upon all state governments, except Jammu and Kashmir.

The local body polls for election of 4,130 sarpanches (village headmen), 29,719 panches (panchayat members) and 1,145 ward commissioners in Jammu and Kashmir will be held next month. Singh said the elections will also pave the way for making available central grants worth nearly Rs 4,335 crore under the 14th Finance Commission to the duly constituted local bodies.

The Home Minister said financial powers of panchayats are being enhanced 10 times, from Rs 10,000 to Rs 1 lakh, and the financial powers of block councils are being increased from Rs 25,000 to Rs 2.5 lakh. The central and state government funds will supplement the funds of the panchayats under various schemes such as MGNERGA, PMAY, ICDS, midday meal etc. Singh said that besides selection of eligible beneficiaries for various schemes, panchayats will also be involved in implementation of key national schemes such as National Health Mission, Samagra Shiksha, among others.

“On an average, every panchayat will now get around Rs 50-80 lakh per year at its disposal for implementation of such schemes. To further strengthen the panchayats, additional posts are being sanctioned for accountant, data entry operator, block panchayat inspector etc,” he said.

Urban local body elections in Jammu and Kashmir were last held in 2005, while the panchayat elections were last held in 2011.