Author: Saadut
•11:15 AM

Anna Hazare came to Delhi, protested, fasted, drew supporting crowds and got the government to talk about corruption; while Kashmir looked on. For quite some time Kashmir has been maintaining top slots on the ‘most corrupt’ chart, a distinction the state could definitely do without. So what is the solution for Kashmir’s ever growing corruption index, an Anna type movement?

Corruption in Kashmir has grown into a multi-headed demon that keeps raising its ugly head virtually everywhere. From the most basic of services to the most core departments, allegations of corruption have been raised everywhere, for virtually all functions of the government. As per the locals nothing here happens without a graft, is it basic common citizen services like issuance of birth certificates, revenue records, PDS or any citizen governance delivery services. Turmoil in Kashmir seems to have given more fertile grounds for the growth of corruption in the state; during the turmoil, governance accountability was unheard of. The overnight rise of some of the lower middle class and middle class, present day elites happened during those turmoil years and not many of these present neo-elites can account for the sources of their wealth. The corruption rot has been institutionalized in such a way that anti graft action by the states premier vigilance organization is hardly been seen as an effort. As per official data available about the State Vigilance organization, for the past 6 years there have just 7 convictions per year (on an average) on corruption charges in the Anti-Corruption Courts of Jammu & Srinagar. Of a total of 42 cases since 2005, 9 have been in 2005, 8 in 2006, 5 in 2007, 6 in 2008, 11 in 2009 and 3 in 2010. Lower numbers of conviction definitely don’t mean lower cases of graft.

Pertinently in 2005 Jammu and Kashmir was ranked as India’s second most corrupt state by Transparency International (TI). In 2008 a survey conducted with special focus on BPL households showed alarming corruption in government services like PDS (Public Distribution System), electricity supply, municipal services and water supply services. In J&K the survey was conducted in 3 districts, where it was shown that the perception of corruption was the highest in capital Srinagar with 63 %, followed by Anantnag 48 % and Doda with 40%. In other services like revenue & land records, police as many as 70-80% household’s participating in the survey said that corruption was prevalent.

The institutionalization of corruption has happened in such a way that in many cases rates of graft are known to have been fixed at the lower level. This is especially the case with revenue services, public distribution system and other tier I basic social services.

As if the corruption in social services in J&K was not enough, allegations of corruption by police have reached a new high. Civil society activists and local lawyers have accused the police of detaining youth without charging them and then demand money from their families for release. These allegations have gained momentum especially after the 2010 unrest, when scores of youth were arrested. A local lawyer complains that in many cases despite having secured release orders from the court, families of these youth often end up paying money to police officials to get their kids released. As per news paper report a DIG of Jammu and Kashmir Police agreed that corruption was a problem in the police force, but said that they were trying to do something about it. Bureaucrats and high ranking officials in Jammu & Kashmir are known live exclusive lifestyles much beyond their manageable income sources and in very rare cases has any disproportionate assets case been initiated and convicted.

Corruption in high places has also been eating into the health resorts of Kashmir wherein illegal construction often with patronage from concerned authorities has played havoc with nature and ecology. Many illegal constructions in Pahalgam have been reported to come on government land and on the banks of the Lidder river, local officials either turning a blind eye or acting hand in glove. In many cases illegal constructions have been reported on grazing lands or forest lands destroying the local ecology there. It was only after the High Court intervened that a ban was imposed on constructions in this world famous hill station. However such encroachment and illegal construction activities continue unchecked in the peripheries of Pahalgam and other places. Already government apathy, patronized illegal encroachments and high corruption in designated authorities has almost nailed the coffins of world famous Dal, Nigeen and Wular Lakes in Kashmir, drowning billions of government money for ‘water bodies’ conservation’ into graft pockets.

In a conflict zone where official accountability may not mean much, the conflict has been milked by the corrupt to make hay without much hindrance. The RTI act could have changed much here but its halfhearted implementation on ground has left much to be desired, the RTI act came into force in J&K from March 20, 2009. Many government offices have been known to either ignore or out rightly refuse applicants request for information forcing the CIC (Chief Information Commissioner) Mr. G.R.Sofi to send an official communication to the Chief Secretary of J&K Mr. Madhav Lal, urging him to initiate measures which would refrain PIO’s (Public Information Officers) / state departmental heads to violate various provisions of the RTI Act. In a rare act of its kind, in August this year the CIC (Chief Information Commissioner) imposed a penalty of Rs 25,000 on Assistant Registrar SKUAST (K), Mr. Abdul Kabir Najar (who also acts as the Public Information Officer there), for refusing to provide RTI information to applicants right from October 1, 2010 till the filing of the RTI denial complaint. However such cases of RTO follow-up are very rare in Kashmir.

The state government has also been known to making very little effort in the cause of effective RTI implementation in the state. While the first CIC (Chief Information Commissioner) for J&K was recommended by the government in January this year, the government is yet to appoint the 2 Information Commissioners to make a full fledged working State Information Commission (SIC). 

Not fully satisfied with the anti corruption measures of the state government, RTI activists in   Jammu and Kashmir have been now demanding a constitution of a committee on the pattern of Lokpal bill panel to recommend changes in various anti corruption legislation's for eradicating this evil from the state. The State Vigilance Act (SVA) has been seen to be a very weak legislation which has so far failed to reign in corruption. In addition to the ineffective SVO (state vigilance organization), the State Accountability Commission which was put in place in 2004 has never been even effectively operational. The seriousness of the state government towards the functioning of SAC (State Accountability Commission) can be gauged from the fact that from April 2008 to May 2011 the SAC was left absolutely nonfunctional for being headless. Although the State Accountability Commission has no power to order punishment, it can only get an enquiry conducted and send recommendations to government, the SAC act has been sufficiently amended to exclude the bureaucrats from its scope. 

The state government may have made many claims regarding its resolve to fight against corruption not much progress has been seen on ground level. Corruption seems to have taken control of all governance services without any fight back effort from the government. There has been a growing demand for setting up of institutions like Lok Pal and Lok Ayukta which would have the powers to work on complaints with enquiries, the power to order registration of FIRs and send cases for prosecution. But as such demands for effective legislation and strong anti corruption bodies have virtually been ignored, skepticism among local people is at an all time high.

Who will redeem Kashmir from the menace of this institutionalized corruption? And Kashmiri’s have a long list ready for such a crusader like their fight for justice, against custodial disappearances, death in custody, directionless state policies, economic deprivation, loot of state resources by corporations, and an apathy driven political class.
The anti graft movement is a challenge big enough, others are more herculean. Who will take the lead in Kashmir? Is Kashmir waiting for its own crusader or will the ‘corrupt class’ succeed in continuing to hold Kashmir to ‘graft ransom’?

12th September 2011
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