The final voter turnout in the fourth phase of the District Development Council elections in Jammu and Kashmir was recorded at 50.08% on Monday, data from the Election Commission showed.

Jammu region recorded a turnout of 69.31%, while Kashmir division saw a turnout of only 31.95%. The highest turnout of 75.42% was recorded in Jammu’s Poonch district, and the lowest of 1.96% was registered in Shopian district of Kashmir.

More than seven lakh voters will decide the fate of 249 candidates contesting in the fourth phase, reported PTI. Out of the 280 constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir, 34 voted in this phase. This includes 17 each in Kashmir and Jammu divisions.

In the 17 DDC constituencies of the Kashmir division, 138 candidates, including 48 women, were in the fray. In Jammu, 111 candidates, including 34 women, contested in this phase.

A total of 7,17,322 electors were eligible to cast their votes in the fourth phase, of which, 3,76,797 are men and 3,40,525 women. Among them, 3,50,149 are from Jammu division and 3,67,173 are from Kashmir division.

Polling was also held for the panchayat bye-polls in 50 vacant sarpanch seats and 216 vacant panchayat seats under the DDC constituencies. “There were 123 sarpanch vacancies notified in the fourth phase and out of these 45 have got filled unopposed,” a spokesperson of the Jammu and Kashmir administration told PTI. “There shall be a contest in 50 constituencies and 137 candidates, including 47 women, are in the fray.”

As standard protocol for the coronavirus pandemic, authorities have made arrangements of hand sanitisers, face masks and thermal scanners at the polling stations, where voters will cast their ballot in freezing cold across the region.

Elections to the District Development Council is the first electoral exercise to take place in Jammu and Kashmir since August 5 last year, when the Narendra Modi-led government revoked the region’s semi-autonomous status, annulled its separate constitution, split the area into two Union Territories – Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir – and removed inherited protections on land and jobs.

The elected members have no legislative powers and are only responsible for economic development and public welfare of the region.

So far, three phases of voting were held on November 28, December 1 and December 4, registering a voter turnout of 51.76%, 48.62% and 50.53%, respectively. Voting will 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 itself.

In the third phase of polling, unidentified assailants shot at a candidate at Sagam Kokernag area in Anantnag district. Anees-ul-Islam Ganie was contesting as an Independent from the Sagam constituency in Anantnag. Ganie received injuries in his left hand and thigh, following which he was shifted to a nearby hospital, the police had said. His condition was said to be stable. A first information report was registered in the matter and an investigation was initiated.

Other than this, elections in the heavily-militarised zone have been largely peaceful.

Developing the districts

The elections, which are being held in eight phases, are a step to setting up district development councils, a new addition to Jammu and Kashmir’s panchayati raj system. The directly elected district councils will replace the district development boards originally envisaged as the third tier of local government by the 1989 Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act. The boards were to consist of the block council chiefs, local MPs, MLAs and municipal council members. But Jammu and Kashmir’s legislative Assembly was dissolved after August 5 last year.

Now, the electoral map of Kashmir will be redrawn to account for the new district councils. With direct elections, the third tier of the panchayati raj system will have a completely different composition from the lower two tiers.

The jurisdiction of the district development councils, which have a five-year term, will not extend to those areas notified as municipalities. So elections will only be held in areas falling outside municipalities. There are reservations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women.

Each district council will have five standing committees – one each for finance, development, public works, health and education, and welfare. While they might look after the day to day and developmental needs of the district, members of the council have no say on larger political issues such as special status, land laws and industrial policy.