Reforms In Limbo

Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry is the oldest trade body being run with an outdated constitution. The recent elections that brought a new regime to office after suspending reforms says it will not blunt the process but offers no deadline, reports R S Gull

OFFICE-BEARERS---chambers-and-commerce
The newly elected body of KCCI

Consider a system in which a voter exercises his or her right by sending a proxy to elect the representative or simply handing over the vote to his candidate physically for polling on the date of election! Exactly, this is how the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), the oldest trade body of the state is being run.

Given this situation, the people might consider the elections to the 1951 constituent assembly or the 1987 polls to the state legislative assembly fair exercises. But the good development is that people who are running and overrunning the show in the oldest Chamber have agreed to the fact that the nearly 78 year old constitution that governs them needs a change. In fact, the people who have benefited from the flawed system in the past and even now are supportive of the idea.

“We have deferred the implementation of the blueprint on amending the constitution that a committee had drafted because some of the members said they need time,” Musadiq Shah, the newly elected secretary general of the KCCI said. “We have not set time line for a change but there is no question of abandoning the process.”

For starters, KCCI has a funny, if not ridiculous system, guiding its governance. Anybody who has a savings or current account can become its member, but that does not necessarily mean that it has a huge membership. It still has not more than 1000 members because getting the membership is directly proportional to the sweet discretion of people ruling it! That is perhaps why KCCI has always stayed as an exclusive group, mostly dominated by handicraft exporters. Off late, the chamber gets yearly grants of more than three crore rupees under various central government schemes. Besides, it has exclusive mandate to select individuals to various trade fairs, mostly about handicrafts. Many people think its exclusivity is responsible for creation of parallel chambers in industry and trade.

It has many associations as affiliates. But the Constitution does not prevent people being members of the KCCI and an affiliate at the same time!

There are 19 members to its Executive Committee (EC) elected from general members. Members from affiliates go directly to the EC. But the interesting part is that the six office bearers to be elected from 19 are being elected by the general members! Usually, this exercise takes place with voice vote but if there is contest, secret ballot is used. In the EC election, secret ballot is used. But the funny part is that constitution permits voters to have their ‘proxy voters’ who must be a company official. Over the years, the tradition emerged that candidates will keep the votes in their pocket in anticipation of the poll! This happened even this year and there are allegations that some successful contestants polled votes of their supporters personally.

Another interesting part of the system is that once polling took place, the ballot box is given to the custody of non-KCCI observers who have one week to count and declare the results! Last year, the election went to court and it exposed how things could be manipulated.

The only progress is that people running the show want it to change. “We felt the change is a must last year when people took advantage of the loopholes and triggered a ruckus in a general body meeting,” one former office bearer said. Initially there was resistance to the change within. The management was forced to act only after the majority EC group went to the bank and got the accounts sealed. “Soon after a committee was constituted under Bakhshi Nazir Ahmad, the former president of KCCI, to study the constitution and recommend changes.” The committee met almost on weekly basis and submitted the set of changes that it felt the Constitution requires.

The changes would control proxy voting, ensure the results are declared the same day election takes place, have well detailed criterion for contesting for EC and later to the management of the chamber. Once the report was submitted, the EC passed the motion. But in the EoGM, extra ordinary general meeting, the motion was blocked. Pro-reform people wanted the new election to take place under the new constitution and their opponents – the regime that is in control of the Chamber, asserted that the changes will be affected after the election process is over.

On the eve of elections, the pro-reform camp, some of whom had filed their nominations and were not in a position to withdraw their candidature, stayed away. They said they dissociated themselves. But some of them already nominated to be part of election management were seen active on the day of polls. But it was short lived. As the process of checking the identity of proxy voters became harsh, a situation emerged that forced former president Dr Mubin Shah to leave the venue. There were verbal exchanges between Shah and at least two of the excited contestants. Interestingly, Shah and G M Dug were part of this committee despite the fact that one has his brother in the fray and another his son!

Well before the results were out, one candidate made a formal complaint to the KCCI alleging rigging. It led the president to seek report from the committee that oversaw the process: one had boycotted the process, one supported the compliant and three asserted everything was hanky dory.

With pro-reform faction out, the outgoing president Abdul Hamid Punjabi announced EC results. The EC met partially and the new regime took over. Now the new leadership says the amendments will take place. “We only had the problem that our members were against a new constitution because they needed time to think over the amendments that were suggested,” Musadiq Shah said. “We will be sending them hard copies of the changes and give them ample time to study it and then the changes will take place.” But is there a deadline? Shah says No.

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