West Pakistan Refugees to Vote for First Time for Jammu and Kashmir Polls

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For more than 70 years, West Pakistan refugees (WPRs) who had arrived in Jammu from Pakistan during the turbulent times of the Partition were not eligible to participate in an electoral exercise of Jammu and Kashmir. But come November 28, they will be able to cast votes in the District Development Board polls.

While they participated in the parliamentary polls, the refugees had till now never voted for any form of elections in the former state as they were not considered state subjects. But after the Centre revoked the contentious Article 370 last year, the WPRs became eligible to vote and stand for all polls by virtue of the domicile.

"We are jubilant over participating in the elections. There are celebrations in our homes," Shakti Kumar, Jammu district president of the WPRs, told CNN-News18. "The wait has been a long one but thanks to the central government it is now over."

Most of the estimated 80,000 WPRs in Jammu live in the border areas of RS Pura, Samba, Kathua and Suchetgarh and in Bakshi Nagar in the city.

"We will stand up for elections for our people and change their lot," said Kumar.

While the army and central paramilitary forces would absorb the refugee kids, they were ineligible for jobs in Jammu and Kashmir state. "That has changed too," said a young refugee.

State Election Commissioner KK Sharma on Wednesday announced the maiden elections to elect District Development Council (DDC) in 20 districts of the J&K Union Territory, saying polls will be held in eight phases from November 28. Sharma said Panchayat by-elections for the vacant seats of Sarpanchs and Panchs will also be held simultaneously.

The DDC polls will conclude on December 19 and the counting of votes will take place on December 22. The results of Panchayat by-elections will be declared on the polling day.

Sharma said the DDC elections will be held on party basis while Panchayat byelections will be held on non-political basis. He said polling will be held through ballot boxes, while postal ballots will be available for Covid-19 patients in isolation, senior citizens and physically unwell patients. He added that electoral rolls used in sarpanch and panch elections that have been updated on January 1, 2020, will be used for the DDC polls.

“With the announcement of DDC polls, model code of conduct has come in force from today onwards. The first formal notification for the first phase of elections will be issued tomorrow,” Sharma said.

He said delimitation has been done and 280 constituencies for DDCs have been identified across the J&K UT. “The term of the DDC will be for five years,” Sharma said, adding a proper security mechanism will remain in place and “all concerns have been taken into consideration”.

Meanwhile, Chief Electoral Officer Hirdesh Kumar said by-polls for 234 vacant seats of ULBs will also be held simultaneously through EVMs.

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