Jammu and Kashmir Election Commissioner KK Sharma on Wednesday announced the first-ever District Development Council elections in the region will be held in eight phases from November 28. The elections to fill up vacant seats of sarpanchs and panchs and Urban Local Bodies will also be held simultaneously.

At a press conference, Sharma said the delimitation was complete and 280 constituencies for DDCs have been identified across the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The term of the DDC will be for five years, he said.

Voting will begin from November 28 and conclude on December 19, and the counting of votes will be held on December 22. The results of panchayat bye-elections will be declared on the polling day. The polling hours will be from 7 am to 2 pm.

Sharma said that polling will take place through Electronic Voting Machines, while postal ballots will be available for Covid-19 patients in isolation, senior citizens and physically unwell patients. West Pakistan Refugees, who are Indian citizens and are eligible to vote in Parliamentary elections, will also be entitled to exercise their right to vote for the first time, the election official said.

“With the announcement of DDC polls, the model code of conduct is in vogue from today onwards,” Sharma said at the press conference on Wednesday. “The first formal notification for the first phase of elections will be issued tomorrow [Thursday].”

Meanwhile, Chief Electoral Officer Hirdesh Kumar said that bye-polls for 234 vacant seats of Urban Local Bodies will also be held simultaneously.

The Centre on October 17 amended the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, for holding direct elections for DDCs, which will constitute the third-tier of the panchayati raj system.

Under the new rules, each district will be divided into 14 territorial constituencies by the respective deputy commissioners for electing their representatives, who will then among themselves elect the chairman and vice-chairman of these councils. The councils will replace District Development Boards, which when Jammu and Kashmir was a state, were chaired by a Cabinet minister or a minister of state and included MLAs, MLCs and MPs.

The electoral process will allow for reservations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women. The Additional District Development Commissioner (or the Additional DC) of the district shall be the Chief Executive Officer of the District Development Council.

Jammu and Kashmir has been under central rule since June 2018. The special status of the erstwhile state under Article 370 was revoked in August last year by the Parliament and it was bifurcated into the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, enables the home ministry to amend the laws in the Union Territory by issuing an order.

The BDC elections, held immediately after the reading down of the Article 370, had failed to revive any political activity. Before the BDC elections, panchayat elections were conducted by the then governor Satya Pal Malik in November-December 2018, which also met with little success as more than 60% panch and sarpanch berths remained vacant in Kashmir, according to The Wire.