Srinagar (Kashmir - J&K), November 18: Panchayat elections began today on an impressive note with 74.1 per cent electorates turning out to exercise their right to franchise in the first phase of polling held for 466 Sarpanch and 3056 Panch segments across 15 districts spread over all three regions of the State.
Jammu recorded voting percentage of 79.4, Ladakh 65.5 and Kashmir 64.4, official sources described the figures as very significant as the Valley had recorded very poor turnout in just concluded Urban Local Bodies elections. Turnout in the Valley was 64.4 percent despite shutdown called by the separatists during which shops and other business establishments remained closed in Srinagar City.
“Elections in all 15 districts of the State including seven in Jammu region, six in Kashmir and two in Ladakh was by and large peaceful barring stray incidents of clashes and verbal duels among candidates and their supporters, which were resolved by the police administration,” sources said.
Queues were much longer than what were seen in the recently concluded Municipal elections. Soon after the voting was over at 2 pm, the counting of votes was taken up for all Sarpanch and Panch segments and the process was likely to be completed by midnight tonight. In many areas, results were declared till 10 pm.
Udhampur district with 83.6 percent voters’ turnout recorded highest percentage for 42 Sarpanch and 332 Panch segments in all 15 districts of the State, Deputy Commissioner, Udhampur, Ravinder Kumar. Lowest polling percentage of 11.9 was registered in Ganderbal district of Kashmir where voting was held for only one Panchayat comprising one Sarpanch and seven Panch segments.
After Udhampur; Kathua and Doda were the only districts to cross 80 percent voting. Deputy Commissioner, Kathua, Rohit Khajuria said 29 Panchayats of Kathua comprising 29 Sarpanch and 209 Panch segments accounted for 80 per cent turnout. Doda with 52 Sarpanch and 364 Panch segments recorded 80.8 percent voting, SSP Doda Shabir Malik said.
In Kashmir region, 87,830 out of a total of 1,36,475 voters exercised their right to franchise while in Jammu, 2,34,712 electorates from out of a total of 2,95,450 cast their votes. In Ladakh region, 17,852 votes were polled from a total of 27,274, sources said. Kishtwar district, which was recently rocked by the killing of top BJP leader Anil Parihar and his brother Ajit Parihar by the militants, also recorded good turnout of 74.1 per cent covering 50 Sarpanch and 358 Panch segments, SSP Kishtwar Rajinder Gupta said.
Authorities in Kishtwar suspended two Government employees including Haji Nazir of PHE and Mohammad Abdullah of Social Welfare Department for creating hurdles in smooth polling. Ramban district recorded 78.2 percent voting percentage. Election in Ramban district was held for 27 Sarpanch and 195 Panch constituencies, SSP Ramban Anita Sharma said and added that the election was completely peaceful with large number of men and women turning out for the voting right from the morning.
Everywhere, the voters lamented the closure of voting at 2 pm. Number of voters at various polling stations in different Panchayats of Jammu region favoured extension in the voting time till 4 pm. Voter turnout in the militancy infested Rajouri and Poonch districts, who had been facing fresh ceasefire violations by the Pakistan army on the Line of Control (LoC), was also impressive with 78.9 and 78.7 percent respectively.
In Ladakh region, Kargil district recorded 70.9 percent voting while the turnout was comparatively less in Leh district, where only 59.7 percent electorates cast their votes. Voting was held for 20 Sarpanch and 44 Panch segments in Kargil and 32 Sarpanch and 226 Panch constituencies in Leh.
In the border district of Poonch, 48414 votes were polled out of 61,526 while in neighbouring Rajouri district, 23841 votes were cast out of 30,214. Votes polled in Udhampur were 44,570 from a total of 53,303 while in Ramban, 26064 votes were cast out of 33,330. In Doda 39,283 electorates used their right to franchise from out of 48,602 while the votes cast in Kishtwar were 28,261 out of a total of 38,133. In Kathua district, 24,279 votes were polled from total of 30,214.
In Leh district, 7877 voters turned up at polling stations from 13,196 eligible voters and in Kargil, the number of people, who polled their votes, was 9975 out of 14078. Separate factions of two candidates clashed at Doongra in Surankote tehsil of Poonch district over casting of votes by some people at Government High School Doongra.
Supporters of one of the candidates indulged in stone pelting prompting police to react and resort to lathicharge to maintain law and order.
Three persons sustained injuries including one Mohammad Amin seriously when supporters of two candidates clashed at Fazlabad Marhoot Panchayat in Poonch district. Minor scuffle also took place between barring factions at Morha B Panchayat in Poonch, sources said. In Kishtwar district, polling was suspended in one Ward of Atholi Panchayat in Kishtwar district as one ballot box was found open. Polling will be held tomorrow, sources said.
Shops and other commercial establishments remained closed in Srinagar city while public transport also remained off the roads. A skeletal movement of private transport was seen on the roads. The security had been heightened across the valley to prevent disruption of these polls.
Kupwara district in north Kashmir recorded the highest turnout of 71.9 per cent followed by 69.1 per cent in Baramulla, 55.7 per cent in Bandipora, 11.9 percent in Ganderbal, 21.8 per cent in Srinagar and 30.1 per cent in Budgam. There were 1303 polling stations in Kashmir. In Budgam villages, majority of the polling stations were empty as the people stayed away from the poll process.
In Rehyar area of Khan Sahib area of Budgam, despite cold weather conditions people were waiting in long queues to cast their votes. A voter waiting in a queue, said that they are voting to elect their representative who can resolve their local issues. In Uri area of North Kashmir there were also long queues for voters. People in Nambla were waiting for their turn to vote. And in the evening there were clashes between supporters of National Conference and Congress during counting of votes.