Wednesday, April 8, 2020

J&K govt clipped wings of SVC, Centre allowed it to go defunct

Pallavi Sareen

Jammu, Jan 7: Jammu and Kashmir government headed by ex-Governor Satyapal Malik made Jammu Kashmir State Vigilance Commission powerless, Centre did the rest and allowed it to go completely defunct.

Despite the commission being functional in name-only after its main function of overlooking Anti-corruption Bureau was nullified through dilution of its powers by amending the rules, Jammu and Kashmir State Vigilance Commission Act, 2011 was not repealed under the J&K State Reorganization Act.

But for the continued functioning of the commission, a fresh appointment order needed to be issued since its members no longer held the office after Oct 31st when Jammu and Kashmir became a Union Territory as per provisions of the re-organisation act.

However, the members of State Vigilance Commission reveal that they were not communicated the same and in the absence of any government order, the Chief Vigilance Commissioner and two Vigilance Commissioners continued their work till November 14.

According to Gazzanfar Hussain, former Vigilance Commissioner, a news story in J&K’s local English newspaper Daily Excelsior conveyed to them that they no longer hold office as members of State Vigilance commission after October 31st and that the administration of Union Territory of J&K had initiated an exercise to appoint new Chairpersons and Members.

This commission became completely non-operational after the said date when no new members were appointed and the previous members of the commission discontinued their work due to lack of fresh orders for their continuance.

J&K Vigilance Commission was constituted in February 2013 and its prime function was exercising superintendence over the functioning of the Vigilance Organisation (now Anti-Corruption Bureau).

Vigilance Organisation was meant to investigate corruption cases against public servants or corporations established in the State and Vigilance Commission ensured the proper functioning of the Vigilance organisation by keeping an eye on the inquiries being conducted.

But the functions and the powers of the J&K Vigilance Commission was extensively diluted by the state government under the newly-framed SVC Rules in April 2019 to the point of it becoming a redundant commission.

The government through SRO-301 issued under Section 18 of the J&K State Vigilance Commission Act, 2011 repealed the SVC Rules 2013 which had a mandatory clause of ACB having to submit hourly reports to SVC.

Furthermore, while it used to be obligatory on the part of Director Vigilance to ensure that once a case was registered or preliminary inquiry ordered, a copy of FIR along with the copy of the complaint was transmitted to the commission within 24 hours, such was not the case under the new rules.

New SVC Rules 2019 mandated progress reports on a quarterly basis, however, the commission could no longer direct the bureau to provide individual details of the case(s) or investigate or dispose of the case in a particular manner.

Under Section 21 of the SVC Rules of 2013, the SVC was to examine progress reports of FIR cases and preliminary inquiries,  convey its observations and directions to the Director ACB, who would take further action to bring the investigation to the logical conclusion.

However, under the new SVC Rules 2019, ACB would just submit the final investigation report along with supporting evidence to the government for according sanction for prosecution. And the government would then seek the advice of the State Vigilance commission regarding the case.

The new rules completely disarmed the State Vigilance Commission by delinking its sole responsibility Anti-Corruption Bureau from it.

The existence of State Vigilance Commission and State Accountability Commission had kept Lokayukta Act from being implemented in J&K since the provisions under the acts that governed these commissions comprehensively covered the scope of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act.

This was conveyed to the Supreme Court by the then state government on July 10, 2018, when the apex court had issued notices to chief secretaries of 11 states, including Jammu and Kashmir, seeking an explanation as to why the Lokayukta Act was not implemented.

Since J&K State Accountability Commission was wound up after Oct 31 and the Chief Vigilance Commissioner P.L Gupta as well as Vigilance commissioners Gazzanfar Hussain and Hilal Parray also had to leave office before the completion of their tenures, Jammu & Kashmir was essentially left without an anti-corruption ombudsman organization.

On November 27, Lt Governor Girish Chandra Murmu constituted a committee to relook into the working of Vigilance Commission, Anti-Corruption Bureau and the applicability of Lokayukta Act.

The committee headed by Secretary of Department of law, justice and parliamentary affairs had Director of Anti-Corruption Bureau, Additional Secretary GAD and two officers from Law Department as its members.

It sounds irksome that a committee constituted of Secretary-level officers would submit its report on December 13 determining whether the positions held by a Retd IPS officer and IAS officers would continue to be in existence.

Further confusion arose when Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Dr Jitendra Singh in a media interaction on Dec 1 said that Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), Government of India, will extend the jurisdiction of Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to the Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh since these were now directly governed by the Central Law.

If the jurisdiction of CVC was to be extended, why wasn’t the Jammu and Kashmir State Vigilance Commission Act repealed despite it being evident that SVC was made a toothless tiger by the state government?

And if SVC was kept alive for the role it continued to perform with men of integrity at the helm of its affairs, why weren’t they allowed to complete their tenures? Both P.L Gupta, the Chief Vigilance Commissioner and Gazznafar Hussain, Vigilance commissioner were appointed on 24th October 2017 and worked for two years before being disbanded. Hilal Parray appointed on 2nd March 2019 had barely worked for a period of eight months before having to discontinue as Vigilance Commissioner.

Their premature removal not only shows disregard for the positions that they held but the officers had to be further embarrassed by the lack of communication of their status in the commission. What makes the situation worse is that J&K State Vigilance Commission Act states that on ceasing to hold office, the Chief Vigilance Commissioner and every other Vigilance Commissioner shall be ineligible for any appointment which is required by law to be made by the Governor by warrant under his hand and seal or further employment to any office of profit under the Government of India or the Government of the State.

If Central Government had planned to curb corruption from J&K and had kept State Vigilance Commission Act with the same intention, issuing orders for fresh appointment of the existing members or appointing new members should have been part of its plan while reorganising J&K into a Union Territory. However, it seems that the commission that had already been hollowed by the state government received its final blow through the inaction of the Central government on the appointed day.


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