Anti-corruption wave reaches Valley: Civil society holds candlelight vigil against growing menace –
Irfan Quraishi – Kashmir Times – 24 April 2011
From the 25 April 2011 edition of the Srinagar edition of Kashmir Times:
Anti-corruption wave reaches Valley: Civil society holds candlelight vigil against growing menace
* Published:4/24/2011 12:35:00 PM
* Updated: 4/24/2011 11:48:38 AM
* By: IRFAN QURAISHI
SRINAGAR, Apr 24: Activists, students, and citizens held a torch and candle light vigil at Press enclave here today, to protest against the growing corruption menace in Jammu and Kashmir.
Raising slogans like “enough is enough!”, “No more excuses from Government”, and holding placards, reading “book corrupt bureaucrats and politician under public safety act (PSA)”, the protestors demanded the formation of a Joint Drafting Committee to prepare a comprehensive anti-corruption legislation for the state.
A signature campaign against the menace of corruption was also held on the occasion.
J&K RTI Movement activists along with members of Senior Citizens Civil Society, Kashmir Revolutionary group, Youth Parliament JK, VIVA Kashmir, ANHAD, and students also participated in evening vigil demonstration proramme to support the cause.
Pertinently, the vigil came two weeks after the activists released an open letter to the state government, condemning many flaws in the State Vigilance Commission Act of 2011 that were designed to make the SVC toothless and subordinate to the state government.
The vigil also comes in the wake of Anna Hazare’s hunger strike campaign that prompted the Union Government to form a 10-member Joint Drafting Committee comprising union cabinet ministers and representatives of civil society to prepare Lokpal legislation to be tabled in the Parliament.
During a press brief, convener J&K RTI Movement, Dr. Muzaffar Bhat, said: “The people of Jammu and Kashmir expect the same treatment as citizens in rest of India. We can not be treated like second class citizens when it comes to combating corruption with serious legislation. The government must constitute a Joint Drafting Committee that comprises the best legal minds in J&K, include the relevant cabinet ministers, a nominee from each of the opposition parties, and nominees from civil society including retired justices of the High Court, retired SVO and government officials, senior advocates and civilian anti-corruption experts.”
Bhat further said, “This panel should have the mandate to study the State Vigilance Commission Act of 2011, State Accountability Commission Act of 2003, J&K Prevention of Corruption Act of 1946, and the proposed Lokpal legislation being drafted at the Centre. Their recommendations for comprehensive, effective anti-corruption legislation might include replacing the SVC (which covers bureaucrats) and the SAC (which covers ministers) with Lokpal or Lokpal type legislation (which covers both). We have already submitted to the Government a panel of names of the best legal and anti-corruption minds in the state, and there is really no excuse for the government to drag its feet any longer unless it is actually not serious to eradicate corruption.”
In a statement issued here to the press, Dr. Sheikh Ghulam Rasool of the J&K RTI Movement said, “We have communicated the Chief Minister and Chairman of the Coordinating Committee Saiffudin Soz, and they have asked us to submit a list of recommendations. The Chief Minister has also told the media that the matter would be discussed in the next cabinet meeting. However, simply submitting a list of recommendations is unacceptable, because we have had bad experiences with this government in the past, and because the changes that must be made are too complex to be addressed in a simple memorandum.”
He further said, “In the past, civil society’s recommendations for laws were invited but then ignored by the government. This had happened with the preparation of the J&K RTI Act of 2009 back in February 2009, when the CM had the draft RTI Bill posted on the GAD website and then asked us to submit our recommendations. We gathered India’s best RTI experts and we prepared and submitted several excellent recommendations, but they were completely ignored. The government did not invite us to discuss our suggestions, they ignored our opinion pieces in state newspapers discussing the changes, and they even left typos we identified in the JKRTI Bill and gazetted versions.
“Then they did crazy things like fixing the fees to make them the highest in India. The ‘civil society consultation’ on RTI was all a big joke. We have no reason to trust the Government this time around when they ask for a list of recommendations. We feel it will be the same experience with the Vigilance Commission Act, and this is one of the reasons why we demand a Joint Drafting Committee that involves ministers and legal experts. Otherwise, the Government will not take this exercise seriously and they will play tricks with the people, like they’ve done already with the SVC Act.”
“As a purely practical matter, a Joint Drafting Committee is also essential because are many changes that need to be made to the SVC Act that would require many hours of discussion to refine the language, the clauses and to harmonize the provisions with each other, especially since the problems involve not just the SVC Act but also the POCA. This is an exercise that requires a proper drafting committee, and it can’t be reduced to a simple a list of recommendations for the Government to accept or reject on a whim like with the RTI Act,” he adeed.
Chief Spokesman Senior Citizens Civil Society, Nassarullah Shah, while speaking to media said, “Some people in the government have suggested us to wait until the Centre passes the Lokpal bill, but this is an unacceptable excuse to do nothing now and just ‘kick the can down the road.’ When the Central RTI Act was passed in 2005, the Chief Minister was then the Leader-of-the-Opposition. At that time, Mr. Abdullah pledged his party’s support for a stronger RTI Act for J&K. Even Sonia Gandhi wrote to the then Chief Minister, and he then pledged his support. But nothing actually happened until the current Government was formed 4 years later. Even then, it took this Government another 2 years until the Chief Information Commissioner was finally appointed last January! So we are 6 years behind the rest of India on RTI implementation. Given this experience, why should we wait another 6 years for stronger anti- corruption laws in J&K? Do they think we are naive or idiots?”
Tanveer Hussain Khan, Human Rights activist and RTI activist, while commenting said: “When a J&K government official or bureaucrat says ‘let us wait and see’, what they really mean is that they have no intention of doing anything. We cannot accept that. Enough is enough! The Government must act now and form a drafting committee. If it does not, then the people will see it is not sincere about fighting corruption.