Amid acid attack warnings, J&K govt announces extra month’s salary for state’s panchayat poll volunteers

To create a sense of security among the government employees in Jammu and Kashmir amid the looming militant threat over Urban Local bodies and Panchayat polls, the government has decided to give one-month additional salary to those employees to those who will be deployed for election-duty in the upcoming electoral exercise.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary V R Subrahmanyam on Tuesday said that the state employees will get additional one-month salary for poll duty. During a press conference in Srinagar, he said the state government’s move is aimed at pleasing those employees who had expressed apprehensions regarding their personal security.

The decision comes at a time when militants have threatened to carry out acid attacks against those taking part in the upcoming polls with the situation turning more volatile particularly in southern Valley. This is first of its kind initiative in the electoral history of Jammu and Kashmir.

According to officials, 4,500 sarpanch-s and 39,500 panch-s will be elected in Jammu and Kashmir in the coming polls, but till now merely half a dozen candidates have submitted their nomination forms for the Urban Local bodies elections in the Kashmir region because of fear of militant attacks.

“These elections are for the local issues; Bijli, Sadak, Pani (electricity, road, water)… have nothing to do with the big issue,” Subrahmanyam said. He said at least 300 hotel rooms have been booked in Srinagar for candidates, who might want to stay in them due to security considerations and similar arrangements have been made in south and north of Kashmir as militant threat looms large on the polls.

Subrahmanyam said the polls will be held in north Kashmir without any fear, “If there is problem in south, what is the problem in north Kashmir? There is none.”

The government had asked for 400 additional companies of central forces for the conduct of smooth elections amid fears that large scale violence may break out. “This is an unprecedented move despite elections going on in other parts of country,” he said.

During the last election, over 79 percent of the electorate exercised their right to vote. The process stretched over 17 phases with 5.07 million voters electing a total of 4,130 sarpanchs and 29,719 panchs. The 4,098 panchayat bodies in the state — including 2,145 in Kashmir and 1,953 in Jammu — were defunct for two decades before the delimitation of Panchayats. Subsequently, 280 new panchayats and 4,000 panch segments were constituted.

“There are roughly fifteen thousand employees who will be part of the entire exercise, and they will be moving from one place to another during the entire process. This is good move which will give them a kind of boost,” chief electoral officer Shaleen Kabra said.

“No leave of any kind shall be granted to a government employee except in case of medical emergency till the conclusion of elections,” the order states. Dozens of former sarpanch-s and panch-s have expressed dismay over the “rush” with which the elections are being conducted. Many have express their unwillingness to fight the elections again, not because of the militant threat only but also due to the non availability of funds and red tapism.

“It is good decision but at the same time the government teachers are on a hunger strike from last one month and no body is paying heed to their grievances. One has to understand that this is not a normal duty. The situation is not conducive for polls and so by giving this sop to the employees, the government is not doing them any favour,” Employees’ Joint Action Committee (EJAC) president Abdul Qayoom Wani said.

More then 10,000 state employees will part of the exercise. As the violence has intensified in the region ahead of the polls and encounters and killings have become a daily routine, many employees have expressed apprehension on social media that the state government was “exploiting” them.

“The decision is good because if someone is putting is life in danger he/she should be rewarded for that. It won’t be easy for any government employee to be part of this exercise,” Mohammad Shafi Khan, a Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan teacher, who is on a hunder strike in Pratap park of Srinagar form last one month, said.

The government has also canceled leaves of its employees and said no leave shall be granted to a government employee except in case of medical emergency till the conclusion of upcoming municipal and Panchayat polls in Jammu and Kashmir.

According to an order issued from the office of the Commissioner Secretary to Government: “Leaves of any kind sanctioned to government employees except leaves sanctioned on medical grounds or for study purposes shall stand canceled forthwith. The concerned employees shall report to their respective places of posting immediately,” the order said.

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