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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Govt has no faith in Accountability Commission

CM, Peerzada, advisors, Chairpersons rush to High Court before being declared guilty

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Mar 4: They are all indisputably by law entitled to seek any relief from High Court. But, what the top functionaries of the Executive have conveyed by getting proceedings of Jammu and Kashmir Accountability Commission (SAC) stayed in last two weeks, is bizarre: They have no faith in the accountability watchdog they have been hailing invariably at all public meetings.

Everybody, from Chief Minister to Chief Secretary and Ministers to Commissioners, has been appreciating it as a proud achievement of the National Conference-led coalition government that Public Service Guarantee Act had been introduced, State Information Commission (SIC) constituted and the SAC revived in the last three years. Particularly in the last one year, there has been hardly a statement, press conference or public speech which has gone without claiming credit for these “revolutionary achievements”.

In a reality check, one counters little hardship to learn that over 95% of the public servants as well as public continue to be ignorant of PSGA. State Vigilance Commission has failed to get its Chairman and members since February 2011 when it was constituted. SIC was better placed in the sense that it got its Chairman and two members. Later, SAC too got its Chairman and one-odd member after years of suspended animation. While the SVO does not exist beyond a one-page Government Order, both SIC and SAC have been craving for staff and infrastructure. According to responsible sources in both the Commissions, neither staff nor infrastructure has been provided by the government’s Department of Law, Police and Judiciary. Repeated requisitions and communications to Law Secretary have fallen on deaf ears. Registrars, Secretaries and entire staff for SAC’s investigation cell have not been arranged.

“I am happy”, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah boastfully asserted at a public meeting at Magam last month “that my government has created a Commission (SAC) that is making the Chief Minister accountable”. His assertion came close on the heels of SAC asking the government how around a dozen legislators and non-legislator politicians had been appointed as heads of different statutory bodies and granted the status of Minister or a Minister of State. SAC’s notice to CM, his advisors and heads of various boards came when a petitioner questioned the legality of the government orders.

As everybody expected the government to come up with an explanation to satisfy the SAC, it dramatically changed the course and invoked ‘ad interim relief’ from the superior judicial forum---J&K High Court. As prayed, a judge of the High Court granted the relief. This happened at the primary stage, far before SAC found any of the respondents guilty. Rather than filing its affidavit and statement of facts, as demanded by SAC, Ministers---those on oath as well as without oath---and their superiors in the Executive doled out public statements in defence of the Government action. It was widely published that identical arrangements had been in place not only in previous successive governments in the state but also in the incumbent UPA government at the Centre.

Similarly, Minister of Public Enterprises Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed lost no time in rushing to the High Court and getting the proceedings against him stayed when SAC took suo motto cognizance of a matter of unfair means in which family members of the Minister were allegedly involved. Again, it happened at a preliminary stage when SAC desired to learn from the respondent if the matter reported in media was true and if he had any participation in it. Before the charges could be established and any recommendations against the Minister submitted to the Governor, he ran for relief.

Previously, Peerzada was among dozen-odd former Ministers and legislators who got the SAC proceedings, judgments and recommendations against them stayed from High Court. Contrary to the instructions from Supreme Court---that corruption related matters be given top priority in disposal---successive governments in the last 10 years made it a point that the status quo was not got quashed in a single matter. SAC itself was made defunct by not appointing its Chairman and members.

In a matter of established charges against a Cabinet Minister, as investigated and concluded by State Vigilance Organisation for nearly 25 years, sanction to the prosecution was denied by Chief Minister on the ground that it was an old case that came up repeatedly in sessions of Assembly and caused embarrassment to the government. SVO was directed to close the matter and file ‘Ikhtitami’ in an anti-corruption court with the plea that it was an old case and many of the witnesses had either retired or expired.

Now, all eyes are on Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather. Even as sources close to him insist that Mr Rather would appear, in person or through an attorney, and make it clear that the allegations against him---in the matter of making biometric cards for 5000 Secretariat employees---were “completely unfounded”, few in the state believe that he would not follow Peerzada, advisors and Chairpersons of statutory bodies.

This sequence of recent incidents does indeed come with ultimate relief for Ministers and other top functionaries in the government. But, at the same time, it raises a bigger question: If the creator-government does not have faith in SAC, why an ordinary citizen should?


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