*Valley shuts as Panchayat polls begin in first phase across the state*

Srinagar:

 Kashmir valley is observing a complete shutdown on Saturday as the polling in the first phase for panchayat elections began today morning.
All shops and business establishments are shut across the valley while public and private transport are off the roads.
The authorities have also suspended the train services as a precautionary measure.
The nine-phased panchayat elections are being held amid heightened security with atleast 47 panchayat blocks going to the polls in the first phase on Saturday.
Officials said the election will be held on Saturday in 16 blocks in Kashmir, 21 blocks in Jammu and 10 in Ladakh region.
While the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party have decided to stay away from the electoral exercise, the joint resistance leadership has asked people to boycott the polls.
In a statement issued on Friday, J&K’s chief electoral officer Shaleen Kabra said for phase one of the panchayat polls on Saturday, 427 candidates are in the fray for 536 sarpanch halaqas and 5951 candidates for 4048 panch wards in J&K.
Kabra said polls will be held at 3296 polling stations across J&K, including 1303 in Kashmir and 1993 in Jammu division, on Saturday. The poll timing is 8 am to 2 pm, he said.
Kabra said 5585 candidates are in the fray for 420 sarpanch and 1845 panch seats in phase one.
“85 sarpanchs and 1676 panchs have already been elected unopposed in phase one,” he said.
Kabra said 687 polling stations have been categorised as hypersensitive including 491 in Kashmir and 196 in Jammu division.
He said in areas going to polls in the first phase, 445059 electors will be voting for sarpanch seats while 272792 will be polling for panch constituencies.
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