Author: Saadut
•1:23 PM

Recently the Jammu and Kashmir Government modified (and notified) new RTI Rules 2012 to replace RTI Rules 2010, doing away with detailed procedures for its implementation and follow-up. Ironically the new RTI rules notified by the state government do not cover anything about the procedure for filing of First Appeal and filing of counter before First Appellate Authority. The considerable detail in the previous RTI act has been conspicuously done away with, making the new act vague for interpretation. The worst part is that the new RTI rules are silent about the procedure to be adopted in case of non-compliance of Commission orders are not adhered to by public offices. Is the vagueness (and silence on procedures) deliberate so that effectiveness of the RTI implementation in Jammu & Kashmir can be watered down? Omitting procedure details for follow-up on non compliance of Commission orders defeats the very aim of the transparency that RTI was pampered to usher in. Under the earlier set of rules, the Information Commission could take action against non compliance of its orders by any public authority, but no more under the new set of rules. 

RTI had earlier been touted as the ‘new corruption slayer’ in Kashmir. In November, 2009 Wajahat Habibullah the then Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) of India, had claimed that ‘RTI will have a calming effect in Kashmir’. Mr Habibullah had then claimed that “Chief Minister Omar had asked me to help him improve the situation in J&K. I had helped them (the J&K government) draft the new RTI 2009” (DNA 05th Nov, 2009). The ‘improvement in the situation’ moved at a snail’s pace and the implementation of this act and commissioning of a full fledged Information Commission in Jammu & Kashmir took its own time. The first CIC (Chief Information Commissioner) for J&K was recommended by the government in January 2011 only, while the appointment the 2 Information Commissioners took more time.  And when the Commission did become function finally, queries submitted via RTI queries faced response denial by public offices in most of the cases. Wherever replies came, startling revelations came to fore. RTI queries in the University of Kashmir revealed that none of the 161 posts of Class IV that had fell vacant in the University during last eight years were ever advertised, Another RTI application filed in SKUAST (Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Science and Technology - Kashmir) exposed that notices for all 490 posts (created during 2004-2005) available in the Agriculture University were circulated internally within the departments only and no external advertisement was issued calling for fulfilling of these posts (Notice ref no AU/Adm/R&C/5230).

In yet another case an RTI query revealed ‘Topper Scandal’ in the Naid Tehsildar selection conducted by SSB (service selection board) where in a candidate with an extremely academic record was shown to have topped the exam. Another RTI query (August 2012) forced a Sarpanch in Budgam district, who had swindled money under the Indira Ayas Yojna (IAY) was forced to return the half a million rupees. While RTI was very slowly making way in seeking answers from some corrupt officials, it also asked some uncomfortable questions of the government. Earlier this year an RTI application, seeking information regarding the awards and promotions given to police officials for anti-militancy operations in Jammu and Kashmir, was turned down by the state government saying such a disclosure could be a "threat" to the state's interest. In Kashmir the policy of awards and promotions for security forces involved ‘militancy kills’ has often been accused of promoting ‘extra judicial killings’. The Chief Information Commission (CIC) in June directed Jammu & Kashmir police to provide information about unidentified persons buried in graveyards in 22 districts of the State, often referred to as the ‘Kashmir mass graves’. There have been claims by social activists that many of the buried in these unidentified graveyards hold remains of the disappeared in Kashmir. 

In a very significant development this August, the State Information Commission (SIC) rejected the contention of Jammu and Kashmir Police about ‘"threat" to the state's interest’ in revealing info on ‘killings and encounters’ having taken place in the State during last 21 years. The State Information Commission (SIC) in fact directed the police to provide details sought by the applicant under Jammu and Kashmir RTI Act within a period of two months, saying that “The Commission is of the view that the reputation of the police, armed and paramilitary forces will get enhanced if this information is made public.”

Under the earlier RTI act, State Information Commission could take action for non compliance of its orders by public authority, but since the new set of rules are silent on this, a follow-up action by the SIC is certainly uncertain. The only recourse for the applicant post non compliance of the SIC order could be to approach the courts, which often runs into endless loops defeating the very aim of RTI.

And if these modifications in RTI rules were not enough to make clear how “committed” the state was for fighting and exposing corruption, the recent contention of the state before the J&K High Court that State Accountability Commission (SAC) has no powers or jurisdiction to take suo-moto action against any "public functionary" sealed all and any doubts. The J&K State Accountability Commission had been created and presented by the state government as an ‘anti corruption watch dog’ much before the formation of SIC. 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. Ironically even before the state government had recently objected to the suo-moto powers of the State Accountability Commission to initiate action against the powerful accused in corruption related cases, hundreds of cases of politicians and bureaucrats that had been decided or were in the process of hearing with the SAC had been sought for (and granted) stay orders from the courts. And the state has shown no urgency to follow-up these corruption cases in the court of law, thereby giving the accused an extended life. If the SAC cannot book or act against the accused and corrupt, why does the Accountability Commission exist then in the first place? There could no ‘Unaccountable’ Irony greater than this! Of course the state submitted "The Act (SAC act) demonstrates the policy and intention towards eradication of corruption from the public life.” But what is Intent without any Action? A hollow intent means nothing!

In 2005 Jammu and Kashmir was ranked as India’s second most corrupt state by Transparency International (TI). And seems there is an all out effort to better the record of ‘second most corrupt’ state and bring it on the top order here. Some years back the claim was “I need to rebuild my credibility brick-by-brick,” but unfortunately by weakening all and any anti graft institutions in the state, whatever (if) had remained of this credibility has been since lost. Kashmiri’s have a long list of grievances ; bleak justice, custodial disappearances, directionless policies, economic deprivation, loot of state resources by corporations, apathy driven political class along with institutionalized corruption. A state apparatus that is seen to further its ‘graft’ agenda using the conflict as an excuse, is seen as the first impediment to restoration of peace in Kashmir. The state (both political and bureaucratic) and commoners suffer from a colossal trust deficit and these measures of eroding anti graft mechanisms in Kashmir are only widening this divide. Politicians have been talk about the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ in Kashmir but ironically have not been able to ensure that accountability systems in the state are allowed to function properly. 

A political resolution for Kashmir may take its own time, but this delay in the political resolution of Kashmir should not be used by the state systems (both political and bureaucratic) as an excuse to encourage the graft industry. 

The system is surely corrupt by choice ! 

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