The sixth phase of the District Development Council elections in Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday saw a total turnout of 51.51%. Thirty-one constituencies went to polls in the latest phase of the election.

Kashmir division, with fourteen constituencies, recorded a 31.55% turnout. The voter turnout for 17 constituencies of Jammu division was 68.56%.

In Kashmir division, Ganderbal recorded the highest voter turnout at 58.45%, while Shopian recorded the lowest at 4.60%. Poonch (76.78%) saw the highest turnout in Jammu division, while Kathua recorded the lowest turnout at 60.95%.

The sixth phase of the DDC polls saw about 7.48 lakh voters decide the fate of 245 candidates in As many as 124 candidates contested the polls in Kashmir, while 121 candidates fought from Jammu.

A day ahead of the polls, Pakistan resorted to mortar shelling along the Line of Control in Poonch district’s Balakot, said an Indian Army spokesperson. The district is among the constituencies where the elections are being held.

“We always make alternative arrangements keeping in view the possibility of such situations,” said the Union Territory’s Election Commissioner KK Sharma. “We can shift polling stations to safer places if shelling continues.”

Army Public Relations Officer Lieutenant Colonel Devender Anand said the “intense shelling” began at 6 am on Saturday. The Indian Army retaliated, he added.

Meanwhile, the state election commissioner said 2,071 polling stations were set up across the Union Territory. He said that 1,208 of the stations are in Kashmir and 863 are in Jammu.

Sharma pointed out that Kashmir had 1,047 polling stations classified as “hyper-sensitive” and 150 as “sensitive”. Jammu has 83 “hyper-sensitive” and 291 “sensitive” polling stations, he added. Voting was also held for electing 334 panch and 77 sarpanch seats.

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, the five phases of voting were held on November 28, December 1, December 4, December 7 and December 10, registered a voter turnout of 51.76%, 48.62%, 50.53%, 50.08% and 43.27% 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.

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.