Jammu: Polling has just started in Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday amid tight security. Voting began at 8 AM at 3,296 polling stations -- 1,303 in Kashmir and 1,993 in Jammu -- and would end at 2 PM, officials said.

In the first phase of panchayat elections, 15 districts of Jammu and Kashmir are undergoing polls. Polling is underway at 3,296 polling stations across the state, 1.303 in Kashmir and 1,993 in Jammu Division.

In the first phase of polling, 85 sarpanch and 1,676 panch have been elected unopposed.  Voting is taking place on the remaining 420 sarpanch and 1,845 panch seats, for which 5,585 candidates are in the fray. 

All arrangements have been put in place for the smooth conduct of the polls and polling staff has been deputed to the respective polling stations, they said.

A total of 687 polling stations have been categorised as "hypersensitive", including 491 in Kashmir division and 196 in Jammu division. The government has declared holiday today in the panchayat areas where polls are taking place so as to enable the voters to cast their vote.

The polls have been opposed by all major parties like National Conference, PDP and the CPI(M) due to the legal challenge to Article 35-A of the Constitution in the Supreme Court.

The NC and the PDP have asked the Centre to make its stand clear in the apex court on the constitutional provision and urged it to defend its continuation in the court. 

While separatists have called for a boycott of the polls, militants have threatened to target anyone taking part in these elections.

Security has been heightened in all districts. Paramilitary forces along with Jammu and Kashmir Police are ensuring smooth conduct of polls in the state.

The panchayat elections will be held on November 17, 20, 24, 27, 29, December 1, 4, 8 and 11. Counting will take place on the day of polling. Votes will be cast using ballot paper, said Shaleen Kabra, J&K Chief Electoral Officer.

(with agency inputs)