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Cabinet clears bill to amend Anti-corruption Act; Ordinance against sealings withdrawn

Ombudsman for Panchayats to get nod in next meet

*H&UDD to come up with bill for amendment in Municipal Laws

Mohinder Verma
JAMMU, Feb 1: State Cabinet today gave nod to the introduction of Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill in the State Legislature during the forthcoming Budget Session thereby paving the way for overhauling of the existing anti-corruption laws in order to make them more stringent. However, Minister for Urban Development has withdrawn the draft Ordinance against sealing and demolition of illegal structures across the State in view of procedural lapses and Cabinet directed Housing and Urban Development Department to come up with a Bill seeking amendments in the Municipal Laws to achieve this objective as the Ordinance route was even not viable.
The Cabinet deferred the Jammu and Kashmir Ombudsman for Panchayats Bill with the direction to the Minister for Panchayati Raj and Rural Development, Ali Mohammad Sagar to place this Bill along with the Bill seeking amendment in the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act for incorporation of provisions of 73rd Amendment in the next meeting so that both these important Bills could be collectively tabled in the State Legislature during the Budget Session for discussion and passage.
Sources said that Cabinet after thorough discussion on the amendments proposed in the Jammu and Kashmir Anti-Corruption Act by the General Administration Department gave nod for introduction of Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill in the State Legislature.
As reported exclusively by EXCELSIOR on January 23, the proposed amendments are aimed at making the offences cognizable and non-bailable, insertion of new provisions to prevent exercise of personal influence with public servants to show favour or disfavor to any person(s) or to influence the decision making by such public servant or for authorizing payment in respect of contracts, for execution of a work or supply of goods when the work done or goods supplied are not in accordance with the contract.
The punishment of offences under the Act has also been proposed to be enhanced and several offences, which are presently not covered under the existing Act, will also be brought within the ambit of the amended legislation. Due to incorporation of the non-bailable provision the proposed amendments will make the Act more stringent.
In the proposed amendment minimum and maximum punishment has been enhanced in order to tighten noose around the habitual offenders. Even more time limit has been proposed for passing order regarding seizure or attachment of the properties and lesser time period has been proposed for filing an appeal from the date of receipt of order of the Special Court.
However, the Ordinance moved by the Urban Development Department seeking moratorium of one year on the sealing and demolition of illegal structures across the State was withdrawn by the Minister Incharge, Nawang Rigzin Jora. “The Minister informed the Cabinet about the procedural lapses in the framing of Ordinance and sought to withdrawn the same”, sources said, adding “the Minister even admitted that bringing Ordinance at a time when Session of State Legislature is about to begin would not be a wise decision”.
While allowing withdrawal of the Ordinance, Cabinet directed the Housing and Urban Development Department to bring a Bill in the forthcoming Budget Session to achieve the objective, sources said, adding “the Bill in this regard would be drafted within next some days and placed before the Cabinet in its next meeting”.
It is worthwhile to mention here that procedural lapses in the framing of Ordinance were pointed out by the Chairman of the Legislative Council, Amrit Malhotra, whose consent was required to be taken by the Housing and Urban Development Department before considering the recommendations of a House Committee regarding working out a legal framework to impose moratorium on the sealing and demolition of the illegal structures across the State till the Master Plans are revisited. The sealing of illegal structures in Srinagar and Katra was directed by the Division Bench of the High Court.
EXCELSIOR had already reported that Cabinet will not clear the Ordinance in view of the serious lapses in the framing of the same.
According to the sources, Cabinet deferred the Bill of the Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj seeking establishment of institution of Ombudsman for the purpose of investigating charges of corruption and maladministration in the Panchayati Raj Institutions.
The institution of Ombudsman is also mandatory for attracting funds under General Performance Grant of 13th Finance Commission as the State Government has not been able to access the same already allotted in absence of this institution.
When this Bill came up for discussion, Minister for Tourism, G A Mir and Minister for PHE, Irrigation and Flood Control, Sham Lal Sharma said that Department of Panchayati Raj must give first preference to the incorporation of provisions of 73rd Amendment in the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, whose fate is hanging in balance during the past quite long time despite consensus among the Coalition partners on the same, sources said.
On this, Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah directed the Minister for Panchayati Raj, Ali Mohammad Sagar to place Ombudsman Bill along with the Bill seeking amendment in the PRI Act before the Cabinet during its next meeting so that both these important Bills could be collectively tabled in the State Legislature, sources informed.
In response to a question, they said, “the Bill regarding incorporation of 73rd Amendment Provisions has already been submitted to the General Administration Department by the Department of Panchayati Raj”.
According to the sources, there is complete unanimity among the coalition partners over the incorporation of 73rd Amendment provisions pertaining to granting constitutional guarantee to Panchayats on completion of five years term followed by elections after every five years, financial and administrative powers including control over development and 14 identified departments, setting up of separate Finance Commission and Election Commission for the Panchayats, reservation in second and third tier of Panchayats for SC/STs and women i.e. BDCs and District Development and Planning Boards (DDPB), security to Panchayat members and providing emoluments to Panchayat members and to BDC and DDPB.
“There is also consensus among the Coalition partners over the amendment in the provisions pertaining to removal of Sarpanch, membership of Marketing Societies, status of Chairmen of BDC, financial powers of Panchayats and provision of separate Ombudsman for Panchayats”, sources added.

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