The eighth and final phase of the District Development Council elections in Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday saw a voter turnout of 40.91% till 1 pm, data from the Election Commission showed.

Jammu region recorded a turnout of 56.40%, while Kashmir division saw a turnout of 25.90%. The highest turnout of 70.09% was recorded in Jammu’s Poonch district, and the lowest of 6.42% was registered in Shopian district of Kashmir.

Thirteen of the 28 seats that went to the polls on Saturday are from the Kashmir division, while 15 are from the Jammu division. A total of 1,703 polling stations have been set up, while 630,443 electors including are eligible to vote.

Voting is also being held for 369 vacant local representative body posts of panch and sarpanch, State Election Commissioner KK Sharma told PTI.

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 seven phases of voting held on November 28, December 1, December 4, December 7 and December 10, December 13 and December 16 registered voter turnouts of 51.76%, 48.62%, 50.53%, 50.08%, 43.27%, 51.51% and 57.22%, respectively. The counting of votes will be held on December 22.

Developing the districts

The elections, which have been 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.