Srinagar: The Jammu
and Kashmir government says it is gradually devolving powers to
the grassroots level in the state, but the ground reality appears
With an average voter participation of over 75 percent, panchayat
elections were held in the state in April 2011 after over a
The polls took place against the backdrop of the 2010 summer
unrest, in which 110 people were killed in violent clashes between
the security forces and unruly mobs.
Undeterred by cynics questioning the state government's decision
to hold the elections under such circumstances and braving
separatist threats, nominations for the posts of panches and
sarpanches (village council heads) were filed for the 2011
elections, which were fought on a non-party basis.
After more than a year of getting elected, these elected
representatives of the local self-government are feeling toothless
as they do not have the powers to fulfil the expectations of their
"I was elected with an overwhelming majority. I promised change in
my village. But now I go from one office to another with officers
tossing my demands like a football," said Abdul Rehman Mir,
sarpanch of a village in Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's Ganderbal
Although Abdullah has promised to work towards complete devolution
of powers to the grassroots level, his own ministers are resisting
"I fail to understand why we should resist the devolution of
powers to the panchayats when it makes our job easier with lesser
public problems to deal with," a senior minister told IANS,
speaking on condition of anonymity on the plea that this was a
touchy issue for the state's political class.
While the state government claimed that the 2011 panchayat
elections were a major success, absence of the much needed power
to the elected representatives has apparently made the entire
"I do not have any legal authority to intervene in official
matters... There is nothing in black and white. Although some
officers at block and tehsil levels listen to us and try to help,
others simply ignore our requests," said Ghulam Rasool Bhat, a
sarpanch from the central Badgam district.
However, some officials claim the elected representatives of local
self-government are acting as brokers in rural development
programmes to make quick money.
"The panches and sarpanches have become major beneficiaries of
national rural programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural
Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS)."
"They supervise muster sheets and manipulate these to benefit
themselves and their relatives. I suspect that a massive racket is
already going on in the implementation of the scheme in our
villages," a state government official told IANS, requesting
anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
"The legislators in the state are not used to sharing powers with
village level representatives. Devolution of powers to panchayats
means sharing authority and every legislator in the state is not
comfortable with this idea."
This ego clash is also responsible for the inordinate delay in the
devolution of powers, said Harbans Nagokay, a senior journalist
Whether the elected representatives are trying to make hay or they
are feeling let down due to lack of authority to serve their
people, the fact of the matter is that those who voted for them
are already disappointed over the situation.
"It has made absolutely no difference in our lives," said Abdul
Majid, 65, a resident of Ganderbal district.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be
contacted at email@example.com)