Parliament tables bill for OBC quota in J&K Local Bodies 

| Updated: 06 February, 2024 4:53 pm IST

SRINAGAR: On Monday, the Centre presented a bill in the Lok Sabha to implement reservations for Other Backward Classes in local bodies in Jammu and Kashmir.

Currently, Panchayats and Municipalities in the Union Territory lack provisions for reserving seats for Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Union Minister of State (MoS) for Home, Nityanand Rai, introduced the bill in the Lok Sabha on behalf of Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

The goal of the Jammu and Kashmir Local Bodies Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2024 is to promote fairness and inclusivity in local governance, addressing longstanding disparities and ensuring justice for OBC citizens. The bill aims to ensure justice for the OBC citizens of Jammu and Kashmir for the first time in 75 years of independence, as stated in the bill’s objectives and reasons.

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The bill proposes that all future local body polls will be overseen by a State Election Commission led by a State Election Commissioner, replacing the Chief Electoral Officer of Jammu and Kashmir. The bill ensures the State Election Commissioner’s security in office, akin to a high court judge, and prevents adverse alterations to their conditions of service after appointment.

The Jammu and Kashmir Local Bodies Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2024 aims to align certain provisions of existing acts with the Constitution, as per the statement of objects and reasons.

Article 243D and 243T(6) empower state legislatures to reserve seats for backward classes in panchayats and municipalities. Notably, the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir lacks provisions for such reservations. Articles 243K and 243ZA assign the State Election Commission the oversight of electoral roll preparation and election conduct for Panchayats and Municipalities, as per the Constitution.

The Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989 includes a similar provision. However, municipal laws in the Union territory designate the Chief Electoral Officer of Jammu and Kashmir to oversee elections for municipalities and Municipal Corporations.

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The provisions related to the State Election Commissioner in the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989 deviate from constitutional norms. Section 36B of the Act outlines the State Election Commissioner’s removal process, requiring an inquiry conducted by a sitting or retired High Court judge on a reference made by the Lieutenant Governor for proven misbehaviour or incapacity.

“To ensure reservation for ‘Other Backward Classes’ in Panchayats and Municipalities in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, aligning with constitutional principles, amendments to relevant Acts are essential. Hence, the introduction of the Jammu and Kashmir Local Bodies Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2024 is imperative,” states the bill’s objectives and reasons.

Official sources informed The New Indian, “In 2019, a survey on OBCs was conducted by district census officials for the first time. Initially, 27 castes were included, and an additional 15 were added last year. The State Election Commission will determine the number of OBCs. Panchayat electoral roll revision commenced in January, and the ongoing process includes constituency delimitation, featuring the first-ever rotation of reserved seats.”

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