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EDITORIAL

Resolving parking problem

Phenomenal increase in motor vehicles plying on narrow streets of Jammu has become one of the major worries of the citizens as well as the traffic control authorities. There is no control on the number of vehicles especially private cars that should be allowed to ply on city streets or in selected segments of the city taking into account the level of congestion, conditions of roads and streets and the frequency allowed to public transport. Anybody can purchase any number of cars at any time he likes. Congestion of traffic is such that it is difficult as well as hazardous to cross the road unscathed. The question of zebra lines on the streets at points of heavy crossing does not arise and if there are any zebra lines, neither the drivers nor the pedestrians are understanding the culture of foot-walking. There is a strange situation of chaos and confusion in Jammu traffic. The worse is that the government is hardly concerned about traffic woes in the city. There is no major or minor plan for modernization of the winter capital. Over-population, over crowding, violation of civic rules, party politics and larger political interference all coming together have made life difficult and miserable.......more

PAC fiasco

The country must be laughing in its sleeves on how the most important public institution, namely the Parliament, and its subsidiaries like PAC are trivialized by the elected representatives of the people. To what depths of moral turpitude our law makers can sink is shown by the way the PAC proceedings went. There is a limit to acrimony, and there is a limit to defamation. These members seem to have found themselves free wrestlers in the arena of the PAC where a formal meeting turned into a fish market fracas instead of a rectifying body expected to inject moral and constitutional values to its decisions. The entire exercise seems to have lost the sight of its responsibility towards the electorate and the masses of people of the country whose destiny they are deciding within the precincts of the Parliamentary building. In the first place what was the hurry for the chairman to come out with a report before trying hard for a consensus on the findings even if it meant more time? He knew that implicating the Prime Minister of the country overtly or covertly was a very sensitive issue and should have been dealt with a fair amount of caution and diplomacy. Secondly, of course there was breach of propriety when the report was leaked before its formal release. And the onus of this breach of propriety comes to the doorsteps of the chairman. But at the same time, the UPA members seem to have made it a personal rather than a public affair. Sullying the chairman with slanderous charges akin to personal vendetta is not the way how parliamentarians should behave. The PAC Committee meeting turning into a fish market of sorts has left a very bad impression on the mind of the people. Moreover the UPA members should not have attempted to violate the prescribed norms of conduct of business. How can a group elect a new chairman without going through all formalities? Where was the consent and approval of the Speaker? How come a member who is not from Lok Sabha is elected as new chairman contrary to the established norms? These are all technical issues and should have been adhered to. Well, with all said and done the county would want a very convincing proof of fairness on the part of the PM in handling 2G Spectrum..more

Mending fences
with Kayani

If last week's report in a London daily, suggesting that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has established a direct line of communication with the Pakistan Army Chief, Gen. Pervez Kayani to resolve bilateral issues is true, it could only illustrate the helplessness of the civilian government of Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. The low-profile General who succeeded the former military leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf as Pakistan's Army Chief has made it amply clear that "low profile" or not he is no dummy, very much a man with his own agenda. He served notice months ago of his ability to ignore "silly" norms like the Army Chief having just one term by granting himself an extension followed by a year's extension to the favoured ISI chief Gen. Pasha. Am I contradicting myself by underscoring the point that Kayani is very much his own man? Look at the number of times he, in his own inoffensive way, has ticked the Americans off. That elements within the US administration are very skeptical of the General is common knowledge although the same US sources may be behind advising India to mend fences with Gen. Kayani, the Army to be more precise...more

Lokpal as a panacea?

By Ashok Bhan

The unsavory debate over the persona on the drafting committee for the Lokpal Bill and the questions about the constitutionality of such a committee has diverted the nation from the core issue of fighting corruption. Are we drifting from the issue of corruption, which has got institutionalized in the system, to redressing ego hassles of a few activists, whose intentions can not be faulted? Is Lokpal a panacea to eradicate corruption from our society? To have a correct appreciation of the situation it will be worthwhile to understand the mechanics of bribing and kickbacks. There are, broadly speaking, four types of criminal misconduct by public servants at different levels of the executive hierarchy. The first, in which all levels extensively indulge in, is misuse of transport, telephone, frequent flier bonus points earned from Government paid travels, fake medical bills, photocopying personal documents and a wide range of similar official facilities for personal gains. Many employees carry out private business during office hours. In far and remote areas teachers seldom attend the schools. A stage has now reached when this misuse is labeled as 'perks' and no questions are asked. All this can be prevented through internal vigilance and accountability. Civil service conduct rules are never invoked to teach erring public servant a lesson. No one wants to become unpopular by taking a deterrent action. When no action is taken such misconduct never ever gets reflected in the appraisal reports. The muck which should have normally settled down is able to float and go to the top. The second and the more serious one is the graft for public services. A common citizen is affected by this every day when he is compelled to shell out money to get his legitimate job done from a public servant. This in terms of volume of each transaction may be 'petty corruption' but it adds up to a huge sum as large number of public servants at the lower level are indulging in it at all times and in all parts of the country and to varying degrees in all public utility departments. It is this bribe about which common man talks about and is fed up with. Anna Hazare's fast gave a platform to the vast majority of sufferers of this 'coercive....more

EDITORIAL

Resolving parking problem

Phenomenal increase in motor vehicles plying on narrow streets of Jammu has become one of the major worries of the citizens as well as the traffic control authorities. There is no control on the number of vehicles especially private cars that should be allowed to ply on city streets or in selected segments of the city taking into account the level of congestion, conditions of roads and streets and the frequency allowed to public transport. Anybody can purchase any number of cars at any time he likes. Congestion of traffic is such that it is difficult as well as hazardous to cross the road unscathed. The question of zebra lines on the streets at points of heavy crossing does not arise and if there are any zebra lines, neither the drivers nor the pedestrians are understanding the culture of foot-walking. There is a strange situation of chaos and confusion in Jammu traffic. The worse is that the government is hardly concerned about traffic woes in the city. There is no major or minor plan for modernization of the winter capital. Over-population, over crowding, violation of civic rules, party politics and larger political interference all coming together have made life difficult and miserable in the city. A couple of years ago, there was a lot of propaganda that the Government had decided to shift the bus stand in the peripheries of the city to relieve it of congestion and traffic jams as the bus stand was located in the heart of the city. But vested interests brought political pressure and got the entire plan scuttled. No attention was paid to the difficulties it caused to ordinary people. And now with the Chief Minister announcing that a multi-storey parking complex would be raised at the place to provide parking space for nearly fifteen hundred buses has sealed the fate of the present site as permanent site for Jammu's main bus stop.

In any case, in given circumstances, it is encouraging that the chief minister has sanctioned 130 crores of rupees for construction of three multi-tier parking structures in the city. This is the right step and should be implemented as early as possible. Jammu has become commercially very important city and the commercial hub of the entire state. In view of large increase in the flow of pilgrims to Mata Vaishno Devi shrine, and summer tourists to Kashmir valley, Jammu is bustling with activity and business. The infrastructure of Jammu city should be compatible with the needs, which at the present is not the case. There are other schemes for reducing traffic congestion and these should also be implemented. The Jewel-Bohri-Anand Nagar area is the most congested area of the city and incidentally the Government houses for the ministers and the spacious Circuit house, too, are located in the area. This link is complete bottleneck and traffic jam and electric power cuts are now everyday affair for the vast civil society of this area. Vested interests play a major role in not either widening the link by covering the canal area under pipes or creating flyovers to reduce congestion. Likewise there are also some other congested areas of the city that need to be addressed without delay. Power department seems least concerned in playing its role in easing traffic situation. Electric poles enroute the entire link need to be relocated and so as to make space for free flow of traffic. Change in existing electric phases is necessary to ensure adequate voltage to localities that are densely populated. Some time back it was heard that the central Government and the World Bank had sanctioned funds for modernization of Jammu city. How and where those funds were utilized is not known. In short, the State Government must constitute a technical board of town planners to conduct a study of the city and suggest a comprehensive plan for modernization of this ancient city without losing the heritage sites and symbols. The raising of parking structures as an isolated and disjointed project may not be really helpful at the end of the day.

PAC fiasco

The country must be laughing in its sleeves on how the most important public institution, namely the Parliament, and its subsidiaries like PAC are trivialized by the elected representatives of the people. To what depths of moral turpitude our law makers can sink is shown by the way the PAC proceedings went. There is a limit to acrimony, and there is a limit to defamation. These members seem to have found themselves free wrestlers in the arena of the PAC where a formal meeting turned into a fish market fracas instead of a rectifying body expected to inject moral and constitutional values to its decisions. The entire exercise seems to have lost the sight of its responsibility towards the electorate and the masses of people of the country whose destiny they are deciding within the precincts of the Parliamentary building. In the first place what was the hurry for the chairman to come out with a report before trying hard for a consensus on the findings even if it meant more time? He knew that implicating the Prime Minister of the country overtly or covertly was a very sensitive issue and should have been dealt with a fair amount of caution and diplomacy. Secondly, of course there was breach of propriety when the report was leaked before its formal release. And the onus of this breach of propriety comes to the doorsteps of the chairman. But at the same time, the UPA members seem to have made it a personal rather than a public affair. Sullying the chairman with slanderous charges akin to personal vendetta is not the way how parliamentarians should behave. The PAC Committee meeting turning into a fish market of sorts has left a very bad impression on the mind of the people. Moreover the UPA members should not have attempted to violate the prescribed norms of conduct of business. How can a group elect a new chairman without going through all formalities? Where was the consent and approval of the Speaker? How come a member who is not from Lok Sabha is elected as new chairman contrary to the established norms? These are all technical issues and should have been adhered to. Well, with all said and done the county would want a very convincing proof of fairness on the part of the PM in handling 2G Spectrum scam case.

 

Mending fences with Kayani

If last week's report in a London daily, suggesting that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has established a direct line of communication with the Pakistan Army Chief, Gen. Pervez Kayani to resolve bilateral issues is true, it could only illustrate the helplessness of the civilian government of Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani.

The low-profile General who succeeded the former military leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf as Pakistan's Army Chief has made it amply clear that "low profile" or not he is no dummy, very much a man with his own agenda.

He served notice months ago of his ability to ignore "silly" norms like the Army Chief having just one term by granting himself an extension followed by a year's extension to the favoured ISI chief Gen. Pasha. Am I contradicting myself by underscoring the point that Kayani is very much his own man? Look at the number of times he, in his own inoffensive way, has ticked the Americans off. That elements within the US administration are very skeptical of the General is common knowledge although the same US sources may be behind advising India to mend fences with Gen. Kayani, the Army to be more precise.

It is not wholly untrue that even in a democratic Pakistan the Army continues to call the shots, but is that good enough reason for Dr. Manmohan Singh to pick up the phone to ask "Kayanibhai, bahut hua, ab yeh Jhagdha Khatam Karayiye" or for Khayani to respond "Manuji, mein janta hoon aap Pakistan mein hi paida huye thhey par kya karein yeh jihadi aur Taliban saans bhi leney nahin dete".

One would probably have been tempted to accept the suggestion made in the London report but it could have been plausible only if Kayani was just another Pakistani military dictator. See, how close Musharraf was to striking a deal with Manmohan Singh just before he raced into exile. Things cannot be that easy for a weak civilian Government headed by Pakistan's least admired politician, Asif Ali Zardari. True, that the man and his entire government has to spend more time keeping on the right side of the Army, the rest going to outguessing the Muslim League (N) and its leader Mian Nawaz Sharif.

It's no breaking news to be told about back-room channels being used by New Delhi and Islamabad; these have been there even when the two had massed troops on either side of the border. The interesting thing is that the two countries are this time over officially talking in terms of talks. The meeting between the two Prime Ministers in Manali did indeed open up a new (hopefully) chapter in the tortuous course of the off again, on again Indo-Pak dialogue.

Pardon me a digression, what kind of message would we be conveying to the world and the civil society in Pakistan by choosing to talk directly/indirectly to the Army Chief, bypassing the duly elected government. As it is, history tells us that Indo-Pak agreements, a rare phenomenon, have never been achieved via a military dialogue. The only one to have lasted all these years is the Indus Water dispute the resolution of which was completed when Nehru and Liaqat Ali headed the respective governments.

Even the Musharraf plan for Kashmir which had found a large measure of agreement became possible because the then Pakistani military leader realised that the separatists in that State had moved away from Pakistan to 'Azadi'.

The Americans who had hitherto to trod softly on Pakistani military's ties to the fierce Jehadi Haqqani group despite intelligence leaks that the two had worked together in bombing Indian embassy in Kabul. According to Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, it was very well known that the ISI has a longstanding understanding with Haqqani for supporting, funding, training fighters that were killing Americans and killing coalition partners. "And I have sacred obligation to do all I can to make sure that doesn't happen", Mullen said.

The public airing of these and similar facts brought a strong retort from Gen. Kayani. In a statement put out by the military, Kayani defended Pakistan's stance against terrorism in general while acknowledging that the trust deficit between the institutions and the people existed in Pakistan and the US. This is an extract from the many such angry exchanges the US and the Pakistan Army chief have had in recent weeks.

Take this one from Gen. Kayani has said to Adm. Mullen: "I strongly reject negative propaganda of Pakistan not doing enough and Pakistan's Army lacking clarity on the way forward. Pakistan Army's ongoing operations against the militants are a testimony of our national resolve to defeat terrorism." This even as he expressed his country's strong anger over the bomber attacks on targets in Pakistan. The Gen. wanted these stopped forthwith. Not that the Americans or their allies have paid any heed to such challenges. But Pakistan had found another covert way to hurt the US; it turns a blind eye to jihadists and Taliban in cutting of the American supply lines on the only road leading into Afghanistan from Torkhum. Hundreds of trucks laden with supplies are burnt down, forcing the Americans to seek another route through a friendly Central Asian State.

Meanwhile, the Americans are dropping subtle hints that they mean to withdraw from Afghanistan in July this year which begins an end game in that country. That doesn't look good for India's prospects of maintaining influence or keeping the Taliban out. It is interesting to note against this backdrop that Marc Grossman, the successor to the late American pointman in the AFPAK region, Richard Holbrooke is due be in India shortly. The envoy is expected to inform India of the hastened pace of Pak efforts to make up with Afghan Taliban, hopefully with Hamid Karzai's blessings, and the increasing intensity of Taliban attacks in Afghanistan.

And the Afghan President, worried about his own survival, is believed to be tilting Pak's way. Karzai may publicly remain close to this country but the postponement of a Manmohan Singh visit seems intriguing. May be that is why the Americans are thinking in terms of fostering a friendlier relationship between India and Pakistan. Whatever the source of the London report about US having told some Indians that they should directly engage Generals Kayani and Pasha, it does sound a bit credible, however far-fetched it may seem. The Pakistan Army may indeed encourage the civilian government to step up the dialogue with India but only after it has made sure of a take-over as Afghanistan's big brother. It needs no repetition to say that Afghanistan has remained one long obsession with a succession of Pakistan Army Chiefs.

It goes back to the time of partition when a British Officer was commanding the Pak Army, one who wished to "undo" the damage done to Pakistan's cause in Kashmir by his countryman who drew the Radcliffe line, providing a vital link connecting India with the princely State of the Hindu Dogra ruler of the State.

I have spoken to dozens of Pakistani defence experts over the past four decades and this "injustice" sticks out as a sore thumb. Afghanistan from that day onward became "vital" to Pakistan's strategic depth. I don't for a moment believe that Gen. Kayani would be in any hurry to talk to India. His long-term strategy continues to be India, Kashmir-centric if you will. Something tells me that if the civilian Government in Islamabad tried to quicken the pace of bilateral relations it might be sealing its own doom. A long "warm, in frank and friendly" exchange of views between then Prime Ministers Narasimha Rao and Mian Nawaz Sharif in Davos in the 90's was followed by Sharif announcing February 5 as Kashmir day or a Black day-within 24 hours of his touching down at Islamabad. To put his official seal on it he declared the day as a public holiday as well.

  

Lokpal as a panacea?

By Ashok Bhan

The unsavory debate over the persona on the drafting committee for the Lokpal Bill and the questions about the constitutionality of such a committee has diverted the nation from the core issue of fighting corruption. Are we drifting from the issue of corruption, which has got institutionalized in the system, to redressing ego hassles of a few activists, whose intentions can not be faulted? Is Lokpal a panacea to eradicate corruption from our society?

To have a correct appreciation of the situation it will be worthwhile to understand the mechanics of bribing and kickbacks. There are, broadly speaking, four types of criminal misconduct by public servants at different levels of the executive hierarchy. The first, in which all levels extensively indulge in, is misuse of transport, telephone, frequent flier bonus points earned from Government paid travels, fake medical bills, photocopying personal documents and a wide range of similar official facilities for personal gains. Many employees carry out private business during office hours. In far and remote areas teachers seldom attend the schools. A stage has now reached when this misuse is labeled as 'perks' and no questions are asked. All this can be prevented through internal vigilance and accountability. Civil service conduct rules are never invoked to teach erring public servant a lesson. No one wants to become unpopular by taking a deterrent action. When no action is taken such misconduct never ever gets reflected in the appraisal reports. The muck which should have normally settled down is able to float and go to the top.

The second and the more serious one is the graft for public services. A common citizen is affected by this every day when he is compelled to shell out money to get his legitimate job done from a public servant. This in terms of volume of each transaction may be 'petty corruption' but it adds up to a huge sum as large number of public servants at the lower level are indulging in it at all times and in all parts of the country and to varying degrees in all public utility departments. It is this bribe about which common man talks about and is fed up with. Anna Hazare's fast gave a platform to the vast majority of sufferers of this 'coercive corruption' or 'jaabraana'. Fortunately, the element of coercion in this category of graft induces hatred and victims are willing to take recourse to law when demand for money is made. There are many complainants willing to get the public servant 'trapped' through law enforcement agency. The number of willing whistle blowers swells if the anti-corruption agency enjoys credibility. They do it despite being fully aware of harassment they are likely to encounter during their future visits to the department where a successful 'trap' is laid. They want to teach the public servant a lesson. In Jammu and Kashmir from January 2005 to the end of first half of 2008 the State Vigilance Organization registered 136 trap cases out of a total of 270 FIRs. Revenue department led the field followed by Police, Engineering departments, finance/sales tax/excise, Rural Development, Forest and so on as far as number of traps goes. A series of successful traps create a chain reaction of complaints. Initially the rates of bribe per activity may increase but a prolonged crusade breaks the resolve of corrupt public servants. The investigation agency must ensure that an honest public servant is not harassed and humiliated through a false complaint. The complainant must produce enough evidence of demand of bribe and that there is a cause for paying it before a 'trap' is laid. 'Trap' is the most potent tool to target this 'coercive corruption'. The complainant is protected by section 24 of the Prevention of Corruption Act and he can not be prosecuted for giving bribes.

The third category of corruption prevalent at the middle and top level of bureaucracy includes kickbacks from development projects, social welfare schemes, purchases, recruitments and transfers, to cite a few. Collections made at the lowest level through 'petty corruption' get shared up to the top for retention of a public servant at the 'lucrative post'. As we go up the ladder corruption becomes more and more 'collusive' in nature as the bribe is given as 'shukraana or nazraana'. It is rare to find complainants as both the receiver and the giver share the spoils. The exchanges take place in cozy drawing and bed rooms away from public gauge. Occasionally one comes across a rival to spill the beans or a conscientious insider acting as a whistle blower. The best treatment for this category is to strengthen internal vigilance, make systemic changes for transparency by introducing e-governance in purchases and payments and take legal action for misappropriation, purchases at exorbitant rates and possessing assets disproportionate to known sources of income. The bureaucratic system of checks and balances needs to be restored. Prosecuting alone does not help much in getting rid of the malaise more so because prosecution is a long and time consuming affair in our country and unfortunately criminal justice is 'purchasable'. Drive against corruption has to be made a management function and not a punitive exercise through investigations and prosecution alone. A mix of preventive internal vigilance coupled with deterrent criminal action holds the key.

Let us pause here for a while. An overwhelming majority of cases of corruption have been covered under these three categories. Legal provisions exist and each state and the center have law enforcement machinery of one kind or the other. Then why have we not been able to effectively check corruption of these categories? There are a host of reasons beginning with need for large sums of money by political parties for elections and lack of will of the political executive to fight corruption. Every ruling party patronizes corrupt bureaucrats so that unquestioned free flow of kickbacks is facilitated. The Bureaucracy must be made accountable to the constitution and the law. It must not act as a stooge of a political personality or a party.

There are delays in the criminal justice system and on an average it takes 10-15 years to get a verdict in a corruption case and this is followed by the statutory appeals. Witnesses feel harassed and at some stage walk away in despair. A delayed conviction fails to create deterrence as people have forgotten the case. As the Prime Minister remarked on the Civil Services Day, "people expect swift and exemplary action and rightly so". Why can't we have enough Special Courts to ensure that a trap case is decided in 6 months and other cases in a year or so? And till criminal justice remains 'purchasable' the corrupt will buy it with their money power. Indulging in corruption has to be made a costly affair. Jammu and Kashmir Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act 2006 provides for attachment during investigation and forfeiture on conviction of a property acquired through proceeds of corruption. The UN Convention against Corruption, which India has not ratified yet, also provides for 'freezing' or 'seizure' and eventual 'confiscation' of property derived from proceeds of crime. A hard look needs to be taken at these provisions. The proceeds of corruption must return to the State.

We are yet to take a serious look at 'induced corruption' by the Corporate Houses by inflating the costs of goods and services so that palms of greedy public servants can be greased. For the present, the Prevention of Corruption Act is largely public servant centric with inducer or bribe giver being dealt with for abetment. This is not enough and the inducer must be made a principle accused. The arrest of some top corporate executives in 2G spectrum allocation scam should set the trend for a comprehensive legal provision.

So there is so much to be done to fight corruption of three categories listed earlier. This all is achievable if there is the much elusive political will. Prime Minister has rightly pointed out the growing feeling in the people that our laws, systems and procedures are not effective in dealing with corruption. Once effective checks are in place the upward movement of graft money will get squeezed. The activists spearheading the anti-corruption movement must focus on these areas. The increased public anger must be utilized to put pressure on the Government to introduce reforms so that we can move out of the present state of affairs.

And finally the fourth category of corruption related to policy decisions taken by the political executive and top echelons of bureaucracy which is in public focus at present. There can be no two opinions that the corruption staircase is best cleaned from top downwards. Here not only criminal misconduct but also mal-administration needs to be dealt with and the existing system under the influence of political executive has failed to deliver goods. The Lokpal is definitely the answer. A Lokpal who is independent like the Supreme Court or the EC and does not tread on the powers of other pillars of democracy. A Lokpal who can receive complaints directly, investigate through a designated Agency but leave the trial to a Designated Judge. The selection must be carried out by a Committee headed by the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister can be trusted with defending the territorial integrity of the country why can't we have faith in his judgment to select a Lokpal? The CVC fiasco has made everyone wiser. The elected Chief Executive has the responsibility to lead the country. He must be given power to choose the tools. The Prime Minister can feel the pulse of the people.

(The author is a Retired IPS Officer and former Commissioner of Vigilance of Jammu and Kashmir.)

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