The Jammu and Kashmir Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Shailendra Kumar said on Tuesday that the bypolls to panchayats scheduled from March 5 in Jammu and Kashmir has been postponed due to security reasons.

By-election to over 12,500 panchayat seats in Jammu and Kashmir was scheduled to be held in eight phases from March 5.

“The bypolls to panchayats has been postponed for three weeks due to security reasons,” news agency PTI quoted Kumar as saying.

He said this step was taken after inputs given to him by the home department over security issues. The eight-phase poll was earlier scheduled to be held from March 5 to March 20 on a party basis. The polling was slated for March 5, March 7, March 9, March 12, March 14, March 16, March 18 and March 20.

The elections to local bodies, the first democratic exercise after Jammu and Kashmir became a union territory last year, were supposed to be contested on party lines unlike the last polls in 2018 when it was contested on non-party lines.

The elections were to be held for electing 1,011 sarpanches and 11,639 panches across Jammu and Kashmir, excluding some snow-bound areas, for which the schedule would be announced later.

Earlier on Tuesday, Kumar had a meeting with all the political parties as they are criticizing the move amid detention of their party leaders by the government and not allowing them to conduct political activities.

Earlier on February 17, in a letter to  Kumar, National Conference’s (NC) central secretary Rattan Lal Gupta said the party is a strong votary of the democratic process and wishes to participate in the eight-phase elections starting March 5 in over 11,000 seats. A copy of the letter has been marked to the Chief Election Commissioner.

The letter stated that it is practically impossible for the party to participate in the election when its top leaders, including its president Farooq Abdullah, Vice-President Omar Abdullah, general secretary Ali Mohammed Sagar, are in detention under the stringent Public Safety Act. Therefore, the process of selecting candidates and campaigning under the given circumstances is impossible, the letter said.

“However, for a genuine political exercise to happen, it is important that the mainstream political thought, which is a unifying force, is allowed to freely propagate and demonstrate its ideology,” he said in the letter and added that a political ecosystem needs to be ensured so that the democratic institutions become genuine and credible reflectors of the people’s aspirations.

J-K CEO said, “We held a meeting of all the parties of Jammu and Kashmir to hear their concerns. They raised some grievances in the meeting,” adding that “we will try to address the issues suitably”.

Panchayat elections, last held in 2018, were boycotted by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference (NC).

Around 400 politicians including former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah were placed under house arrest after the Centre abrogated Article 370 and bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories on August 5.

The state government had earlier defended the preventive detentions of the leaders saying that they were made in accordance with the provisions of law to maintain law and order in the Valley.

A long list of leaders in Jammu and Kashmir, including three former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have been booked under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA). Other political leaders who have been charged under the PSA are Ali Mohammed Sagar, Naeem Akhtar, Sartaj Madani and Hilal Lone.

The Public Safety Act or PSA allows detention of any individual for up to two years without a trial.