Home Minister Rajnath Singh flew to Srinagar to drop one clear hint that the administration led by governor Satya Pal Malik is going to take the complaints of corruption seriously. He had barely taken off that the government announced the setting up of the Anti-Corruption Bureau. The announcement coincided with the announcement of annulling an agreement with the Reliance Insurance that would take care of the medical insurance of the employees of the state government. Malik told a TV that he has identified the problems that suggested the lack of transparency and presence of a front group in bagging the Rs 325 insurance order.
Corruption has remained a key crisis in the history of Kashmir. At one point of time, in the allotment of liquor thekas, the government decided to get a computer and skip the draw of lots. The computer use also favoured one, and when the investigation was launched, it proved the beneficiary had intelligently influenced the computer and the software supplier well before he inked the supply deal. Another anecdote was when former Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig went to Delhi and started exploring the possibility of getting a former Supreme Court judge to head the state’s anti-graft commission that his government had set-up. He was privately told by his judge friends that nobody was willing to come to Kashmir because they fear they might be killed by the corruption mafia.
While the Jammu and Kashmir might have a “respected” status in the corruption index in India, this also is a reality that the state has evolved with a series of anti-corruption bodies. There is a full-fledged State Accountability Commission (SAC) that was set up to tackle the white collar crime. Earlier, the state had the State Vigilance Organisation that would tackle all cases of corruption. Manned by the state police, the SVO has been working for decades now to hunt the corrupt and send them to jails. But its conviction rate is too small. It stands reduced to a scare crow status.
Later, the State Vigilance Commission came into being as a constitutional entity. It has also been working over the years. In Ghulam Nabi Azad era, the state government approved a law that have the graft investigating agency to take over the properties built with the black money. Various properties were seized only to be released later under the order of the court.
But nobody in Jammu and Kashmir is happy over the state of corruption. People seldom talk against it. It has become such a routine that people know there are costs and they are always willing to pay as long as the “service” is delivered.
But the new dispensation that has come at a time when the assembly is in suspended animation is keen to create the ACB as a new organisation to fight the menace. The ACB, Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam said he would do away with the shortcomings and multiplicity of roles in the existing anti-corruption mechanism operational in the State. The Bureau will be based on the best models in the country. He has said the SVO and SVC have many shortcomings which hamper the effective implementation of the provisions of the anti corruption laws and the ACB will do away with all those shortcomings. Governor has amended the anti-corruption laws to get ACB “more teeth”.
Instead of adding a new apparatus, was there a possibility of strengthening either of the existing systems? This is something that was at the core of the table talks in the civil secretariat the day it closed for next six months. Many ask if the ACB will solve the routine corruption or the high end cases involving the politics and the bureaucracy.