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Thousands of voters in Jammu and Kashmir vote for the maiden District Development Council (DDC) polls, and the Panchayat by-elections.

According to officials, 296 candidates are contesting the first phase of the DDC polls— 172 from Kashmir and 124 from Jammu. A total of 1475 candidates are in the fray for the first phase that includes seats for Panchs and Sarpanchs also.

The DDC elections and panchayat By-Polls 2020 are being held in 8 phases commencing from 28th November to 19th December. The counting of votes shall be conducted on 22nd of December.

In all, 280 DDC members will be elected in the eight-phase elections which will end on December 19. The counting will be held on December 22. This is the first major electoral exercise after the central government scrapped the special status of the erstwhile state of J&K and bifurcated it into two union territories— J&K and Ladakh.

In the first phase of the DDC polls, officials said that 43 constituencies will go to polls — 25 in Kashmir and 18 in Jammu. In all, 2644 polling stations have been set up for 7,03,620 electors in this phase.

Officials said the voting for this phase will be from 7 am to 2 pm.

“On Friday, the polling stations in J&K were sanitized in view of COVID19,” they said, adding that the availability of all protective and sanitisation equipment like sanitizers, non-contact thermometers, facemasks , face-shields and PPE kits have been provided at the polling stations for the staff and the voters.

They said fool-proof mechanism has been devised for the postal ballots from absentee voters, especially the COVID19 patients in homes and institutional quarantine and isolation.

The DDC polls are being held on party basis and 280 elected members will elect the chairman for district developmental boards.

Among the 280 DDC seats in the union territory – 140 are each in Jammu and Kashmir divisions i.e. 14 constituencies have been earmarked in each of the 20 districts of the union territory.

For the by-elections to Panchayats, 899 candidates are in the fray for the Panch seats and 280 for the Sarpanch seats.

The campaigning for the first phase came to an end on Thursday. Officials said elaborate arrangements have been put in place for the smooth conduct of the polls and special measures taken in view of the COVID19 pandemic.

The eight-phase elections are seen as a triangular contest among the Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), the BJP and the Apni Party. The PAGD is seeking the restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

Officials said the State Election Commissioner has directed for setting up of special polling stations for Kashmiri migrants at Jammu and Udhampur so that they can effectively exercise their right of franchise.

State Election Commissioner, J&K, KK Sharma today said that 36 Sarpanchs and 768 Panchs have been elected unopposed, mostly in Kashmir Valley.

He said: “368 Panch constituencies will go for by-elections tomorrow in J&K in which a total of 852 candidates are in fray including 635 males and 217 females.”

None of the candidates in DDC has won unopposed, he said, when asked during a press conference here in Jammu.

Regarding Sarpanch by-polls being held in the first phase (November 28), he said: “279 candidates are contesting for 94 Sarpanch constituencies. Out of 279, there are 203 male and female 76.” He said that 57 lakh voters will participate in Panchayat elections in eight phases whereas 7 lakh voters will participate in the first phase of elections and around 2001 polling stations have been established.

“We have made all arrangements even in remote areas of Doda, Kishtwar of Jammu region and Kupwara and Bandipora of Kashmir valley where we had a challenge to shift the election material, security, and polling staff to the polling stations,” he said.

Sharma said: “We sent polling staff in advance to the remote areas where we had apprehensions about such areas may get disconnected due to snowfall. Hence, we arranged a helicopter and took help of air force in areas like Doda, Kishtwar, Bandipora and Kupwara districts.”

He said: “We have no shortage of police, though we have some problems in Kishtwar and Gurez (Bandipora). However, with the improvement in weather, the required number of police force has been sent to the respective polling stations and all arrangements have been put in place for fair elections. Polling officers and presiding officers have also reached their polling stations.”

Regarding the SOPs related to COVID 19 pandemic, the SEC urged the people to follow the guideline issued by the Election Commission besides putting on their facemasks and maintaining the social distance during polling.

He also said that sanitizers, thermal scanners and facemasks shall also be provided to the voters, in case they forget to carry their own facemasks/ sanitizers.

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