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The civil society has started to speak out against corruption, which apparently has become part of life in the state. Last month a group of citizens accused the government of frustrating institutional efforts to reduce corruption by neutralizing the central laws and passing them in repackaged forms that make little difference on ground.

“After studying the State Vigilance Commission Act, we believe it is doomed to become another toothless anti-corruption agency because it lacks necessary autonomy and authority to investigate and punish the corrupt,” said a statement signed by scores of prominent citizens roped in by the local RTI activists to study it.

“The Commission will superintend and supervise the existing State Vigilance Organisation (SVO) which will add one more delaying step to the process of anti-corruption,” Bashir A Malla, an IPS officer who retired as DIG SVO said. The SVO, he said, stands reduced to an ineffective institution because it could convict only 42 corrupt officials in six years. “I have served the organisation and I know how the government delays the sanction for prosecution (in certain cases to over eight years) or simply conveys discreetly how a particular officer is not corrupt.” The former police officer said the corrupt are innovative. “More than 90 percent of the tenders for executing developmental activities are managed,” Malla says.

The proposed State Vigilance Commission (SVC), Malla believes will be at the mercy of the executive because it’s chief and his two other members will be appointed by the cabinet on recommendations of chief minister, his two ministers and the leader of the opposition. They can be removed from service or barred from functioning by the government even without establishing their guilt. Under the central law, the chief commissioner and his members are appointed by the president who is the sole authority to remove them.

Tariq Naqshbadi, who retired as Presiding Officer of one of the two anti-corruption courts said J&K’s battle against corruption is unimpressive. “People who make the laws leave certain lacunae and loopholes that eventually help the corrupt,” he said. At one point of time, he said, J&K had Anti-corruption commission and a tribunal to take care of the accused from gazetted and non-gazetted cadres. “They had an impact but I do not know who dissolved the twin institutions,” he said. The former judge said J&K is the only state that resisted fast track courts. “Fighting corruption needs fast track court system but I do not know if the government will permit it,” he said.

RTI activist Dr Muzaffar Bhat says though the motive of the right to information law is to discourage corruption, it can not be done unless anti-corruption institutions are strong. “The government has admitted that in Kashmir alone there were 300 works implemented without (inviting) any tender but who will take action?” he asked.

In the last session a legislator came in the House with a CD showing a government officer accepting money. Investigations revealed that it was one lobby that funded the sting operation to get the official removed, and take over the lucrative position and make money!!

The corruption and the anti-corruption system have been continuously evolving in J&K.

Offences of corruption and bribery against employees were initially dealt under the provisions of Ranbir Penal Code (of 1932) and were investigated by local police till 1949. A separate Anti-Corruption Wing was formed in 1949 under the State (Police) Crime Branch under J&K Prevention of Corruption Act, 2006 Bikrami (1949).

In 1962, a separate ‘Anti-Corruption Organisation’ was created. With the menace of corruption going unchecked “State Vigilance Organisation” came into being with the incorporation of ‘Prevention of Corruption Laws (amendment) Act, 1983. J&K Public Men and Public Servants Declaration of Assets and Other Provisions Act, 1983 was enacted and MLAs and ministers were also brought under the purview of anti-corruption laws and filing of annual property returns was made mandatory for all public servants and public men.

J&K is the only state where government can legally take over the assets that an official might have created by siphoning off public money. In 12 cases, the SVO has attached properties and in almost half of the cases courts have restored the properties. The SVO was recently upgraded to the J&K State Vigilance Commission.

But it does not change the mindset in the government that has declared 2011as a year against corruption. It is sleeping over as many as 64 requests by the SVO for sanction to prosecute the accused. These include two IAS officers, three officers each from IFS and KAS besides 15 block development officers and six engineers. The SVO cannot prosecute any official unless the employer permits. Instead, the government has given better positions to some of the most corrupt officers against whom SVO has “very strong cases”.

Nearly 200 government officers have been booked by the SVO and Crime Branch during past two years for misuse of official position, accepting gratification, misappropriation of funds and committing frauds etc. Though the rate of conviction in corruption cases is low, SVO sources said, as many as 449 gazetted officers are facing trial in courts in different corruption cases.

J&K which according to Transparency International (TI), is the second most corrupt state in India, has two Special Judges hearing anti-corruption cases, one each at Jammu and Srinagar.

TI, in a latest survey has termed J&K “alarmingly corrupt” and concluded that levels of corruption have increased. In a survey covering the BPL population, it has found J&K figuring at number 3 in corruption. In Srinagar, the survey found that 63 percent of the BPL population had to pay bribe to the officials. The incidence was 48 and 40 percent in Islamabad and Doda districts that the survey covered in J&K in addition to Srinagar. It said nearly 30 per cent of the BPL households in J&K bribe electricity service officials. “On an average, a BPL household paid Rs 557 to one or other service in the last one year as bribe,” the report said.

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