Strengthening Accountability Commission

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
When ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) released its election manifesto (vision document )  during 2014 assembly election , a special thrust was given on good governance , empowerment of institutions of probity and strengthening civil society. The vision document titled “An Aspirational Agenda ” clearly mentions about giving genuine autonomy to the institutions of probity which include State Accountability Commission (SAC) , State Vigilance Commission (SVC) and State Information Commission (SIC). During April this year when the Government passed J&K State Accountability Commission amendment bill in state legislature, no genuine autonomy was granted to State Accountability Commission (SAC) except the age limit for appointment of  SAC chairman and members was increased. Irony is that our law makers (ruling and opposition) remained mum over the issue of giving more teeth to Accountability Commission. Had the MLAs and MLCs discussed and debated on this bill , may be the Government would have been forced to send the SAC amendment bill to select committee and by now we could have better SAC legislation in operation. It is a matter of serious concern that our bureaucrats do not properly advise their Ministers by holding pre-legislative meetings / consultations. PDP’s vision document / manifesto  also discusses  about “Revival of Civil Society ” , but when there is a need of involving civil society , the Government forgets its role and it seems authorities have no time to seek their valuable feedback.
It is the duty of all PDP / BJP Ministers to go through their respective election manifesto / vision document before drafting any legislation. If the draft amendment bill was prepared on State Accountability Commission Act why didn’t our Law Minister go through his party’s election manifesto / vision document so as to see what is the stand of his party on the issue of strengthening institutions of probity and anti corruption bodies like State Accountability Commission (SAC). Doing this would ensure fulfillment of some basic promises made by the political parties.
One can understand that  the coalition compulsions and major political decisions cannot be taken by a single party in a coalition Government, but when it come to fulfillment of promises related to good governance , corruption and other similar issues I don’t think there can be any difference of opinion between Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). Are election promises made to dupe the voters ? Why didn’t Government involve Civil Society before drafting the necessary amendments in State Accountability Commission Act ? While laying special thrust on strengthening civil society institutions PDP’s vision document reads  “The traditional society has broken down and the new order has not fully emerged. In this transition period, there is a lack of societal vision, political direction and independent economic thinking.  There is need to support the budding civil society which has recently begun to manifest and is now competing with other social forces for a share of the public space”
By holding a debate , discussion or a pre legislative consultation with civil society groups, journalists  on the proposed amendments in SAC Act , would have in-fact strengthened the credibility of Government and this would have been  the real support on part of Government for budding civil society groups of J&K state. But as usual in haste the amendments were made and the Accountability Commission still remains a toothless tiger. In such circumstances what miracles can we except from Justice B A Khan , Justice J P Singh or Justice B A Kirmani who has been appointed Chairman and Members of SAC respectively very recently?
Taking  suomoto cognizance of corruption cases was an important provision of  State Accountability Commission Act (SAC Act)  when it was enacted during PDP- Congress rule way back in 2002.  With the passage of time National Conference led Government scrapped this power from SAC Act . The present Government could have restored those powers when fresh amendments were made in SAC Act in April 2015  , but it wasn’t done. Similarly SAC Act has a provision of having its own Investigating Agency but Government is not providing the necessary staff for the same which includes deputing as many as 50 police officers headed by a DIG.
The bureaucracy was taken out from the ambit of SAC Act by previous Government. During the recent amendments present Government  could have again brought the bureaucrats under the ambit of SAC Act so that corruption  cases against them could be filed before Accountability Commission, but this wasn’t done.  It is still not too late,  good things evolve with time. I do congratulate present Government for appointing eminent jurists to run the SAC and I am hopeful that Government will consult Chairperson / Members of the State Accountability Commission (SIC) , civil society  so as to get a feedback for strengthening State Accountability Commission (SAC). Before any amendments are made in SAC Act , the Government must definitely hold series of consultations with all the stakeholders. Such consultations should be held during enactment / amendments of other legislations as well. These initiatives build trust between citizens and Government and above all these consultations are the steps towards making democracy more participatory and open.
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