Till August 5, 2019, Panchayati Raj Institutions in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) existed on papers only. It was only after the abrogation of J&K's so-called special status and its transition into a Union Territory that these institutions started functioning on the ground.

The erstwhile political regimes in J&K were never that inclined towards empowering grass root democratic institutions. From 1978 to 2011, Panchayat elections in J&K were held only once by the then Farooq Abdullah's government in 2001-02. With poor voter turnout and less than 30 per cent of members getting elected in Kashmir. Then these were again conducted after a gap of nine years in 2011 by the then government led by Omar Abdullah. But these polls proved to be a cosmetic exercise as the then National Conference-Congress regime didn't make any sincere attempt to empower the Sarpanches and Panches.

In J&K, PRIs existed on papers only till Aug 5, 2019, scrapping of Article 370 turn them vibrant
In J&K, PRIs existed on papers only till Aug 5, 2019, scrapping of Article 370 turn them vibrantIANS

After the five-year term of the Panchayats ended in 2016, elections were deferred as the government led by Mehbooba Mufti kept on postponing the panchayat polls citing security reasons.

In June 2018, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pulled out from the Mehbooba-led regime in J&K as her government failed to uphold the spirit of nationalism and implement the people-centric policies.

On August 15, 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his Independence Day speech, announced that the Panchayat polls will be held in J&K in a few months. After his announcement, the Panchayat elections were conducted in J&K in November and December in 2018. More than 75 per cent people exercised their franchise in these elections. It was nearly after seven years that people got a chance to elect their representatives in rural J&K.

PRs become voice of people

Panchayati Raj Institutions have become an integral part of J&K's governance system and Panchayat Representatives have become the voice of people.

The Centre released Rs 800 crore in four installments between March and August 2019, ahead of its move to abrogate Article 370, a temporary provision in the Indian Constitution, and after August 5, 2019, Rs 1,200 crore more were released. In toto the

Panchayats were given Rs 2,000 crore to work on the schemes aimed at benefiting a common man in J&K. The distribution of the money depended on the area and the population of the village. The village Panchayats received anything between Rs 80 lakh to Rs one crore to begin with and since then funds have been flowing.

Sarpanchs, Panchs leading from front

For the first time since Independence, elected grassroots representatives were given a formal protocol to unfurl the National Flag on Republic and Independence Days. The Panchayats were given powers to conduct social audits, address grievances and generate resources. Posts for Panchayat Accounts Assistants and Panchayat Secretaries were advertised and filled.

Independence Day
Kashmir's Chief Minister Abdullah inspects parade during India's Independence Day celebrations in SrinagarReuters

Each Panchayat representative has been provided with an insurance cover of Rs 25 lakh in case of death in any terrorism-related incident

During the past three years two hundred new buildings of Panchayat ghars have been approved for construction in J&K. Nearly 200 Panchayat ghars stand renovated.

The Back to Village programme organized by J&K government led to officers visiting the Panchayats and helped the village heads to execute the works that were identified by the local populace. Around 19,000 loan cases worth Rs 372 crore were identified for financing during the Back to Village programmes. As many as 15,200 loan cases, including 4,600 of women entrepreneurs, were sanctioned during the initiative.

Concept of development changes

The steps that have been taken to empower Panchayati Raj Institutions have changed the very idea of development in the rural areas and people are reaping the benefits of J&K getting merged into the Union of India completely.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led regime has delivered what it had promised. On August 5, 2019, Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah in their speeches in Parliament had vowed to change the destinies of J&K people and had termed the move to scrap Article 370 as breaking of a new dawn in J&K.

STs celebrating abrogation of Article 370
social media

After abrogation of Article 370, a new dawn has broken out and the sun has been shining in the depressed Himalayan region that faced Pakistan-sponsored terrorism for three decades.

In the past three years, Panchayats have become one of the most powerful institutions in the Union Territory. Panchayat representatives despite facing threats and intimidations from terrorists have remained steadfast in their resolve to carry forward the mission of empowering a common man and provide him with all the benefits of the centrally sponsored schemes.

Gram Swaraj

The J&K government is working hard to achieve the targets of the 100-point program of centrally sponsored schemes through Gram Swaraj, which includes Kisan Credit Card, Soil Health Card, PM Kisan, Crop Insurance Scheme, Aadhaar enrollment, Jan Dhan Yojana, Atal Pension Yojana, Samagra Shiksha, One Nation One Ration Card, Banking, Jan Bhagidari, DBT, Har Gaon Hariyali, PM-KISAN, My School My Pride Golden Health Card, Jal Jeevan Mission, Youth Club, Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojna, Bharat Net, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, Rural Haat, old age pension, sports ground in every panchayat, etc. The implementation of these important welfare schemes of the PM Modi led government are aimed at empowering the rural population in a limited time.

DDC elections

In 2020, the grassroot democracy was strengthened further in Jammu and Kashmir by holding the maiden District Development Council (DDC) elections. These polls were a big leap towards inclusive development which is now evident at the ground level that reiterates the government's mantra of 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, Sabka Prayas' and in the principle of justice for all, appeasement to none.

DDC polls show new politics in J&K

Elections to 280 DDC seats, 14 in each of the 20 districts, were held in eight phases in the Himalayan region from November 28 to December 19 in 2020.

A new political culture has been set in J&K that is based on "equality for all" without discrimination of any kind. The steps taken by the Centre after the revocation of Article 370 in the Union Territory have led to the implementation of all constitutional values and principles are being followed at every level, especially in governance.

Till DDC elections were held Jammu Kashmir had two tiers of panchayats, one at the village level and the other at the district level. The block was the second level in J&K. However, in October 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs amended the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989 paving way for direct elections of Sarpanches, Panches and DDC members. The three-tier system in J&K was completed after the successful election of the DDC, as well as Block Development Councils (BDCs).