SRINAGAR: Barely two days after the Jammu and Kashmir government announced the schedule for holding panchayat elections, unidentified persons last night set fire to at least three panchayat ghars (village administration offices) in the volatile south Kashmir area.

Official sources and local witnesses said unknown persons set fire to three panchayat ghars in Pulwama and Shopian districts last night, causing panic in the areas that have been reeling under protests against civilian killings and shutdowns.

In the first incident, a panchayat ghar was set ablaze in Nazneenpora village in Shopian district using some inflammable liquid. “However, with the involvement of police and the fire department, the fire was quickly brought under control,” sources said.

“The building suffered minor damage in the fire. We have registered a case and investigations have been initiated to nab the culprits,” a police official said.

In the second incident in adjoining Pulwama district, a panchayat ghar under construction was set ablaze in Nagbal village of Tral due to which it suffered some damage.

“Miscreants attempted to set fire to the building which was thwarted by a vigilant patrolling party of security forces," said Superintendent of Awantipora Police Zahid Malik.

The third incident took place in Drabgam village where unknown men made a failed attempt to torch the panchayat ghar. Sources said the building suffered minor damage in the fire incident.

Earlier, in the fourth such incident which took place a day after the government announced the schedule for holding the nine-phase elections from November this year, unidentified persons set fire to a panchayat ghar in Seer village of Tral on Sunday night.

“Two windows of the building were gutted in the fire incident,” police sources said.

The last panchayat elections in the state were held in 2011 after a gap of ten years and the panchayats completed their term in July 2016. Due to the anti-government protests that broke out in Kashmir following the killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen’s Burhan Wani, the elections could not be held on time.

“Elections to 316 blocks in 4,490 Panchayat Halqas comprising 35,096 Panch Constituencies will be held from 17 November to 11 December in nine phases,” Shaleen Kabra, J&K’s chief electoral officer said at a press conference on Sunday evening.

The Hizbul Mujahideen has warned people against participating in the municipal elections and panchayat elections. Riyaz Naikoo, the Kashmir chief of the outfit, recently threatened to carry out acid attacks against those who file nomination papers or vote in the elections.

Amid fears that the state’s special status under Article 35-A may get diluted or entirely written off following a series of petitions in the Supreme Court, the regional political parties including the National Conference and PDP are also boycotting the municipal polls, though they have not yet made up their mind on the panchayat elections.

The Hurriyat Conference has also appealed to people to stay away from municipal and panchayat elections, saying that New Delhi uses people's participation in elections as a “referendum” to “justify the illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir.”

(Cover Photo: Representational image)