Of democracy, accountability and people’s right to know!
In almost all parts of the subcontinent so far democracy is in evolutionary phase, particularly democracy in our state is relatively in its infancy. Gradual belittling of State Accountability Commission to the extent of its virtual extinction has exposed emerging democracy in Kashmir to vagaries of exploitation. Accordingly the recent curtailment in powers of the State Information Commission and veiled confrontation between Chief Information Commissioner and the government does not auger well for people’s rule (read Democracy), we made a choice in 1947 after long drawn struggle for empowerment.
During the last several years the whole country and consequently the Jammu and Kashmir as well experienced many radical changes by enacting several laws and acts to explore vistas of accountability. Establishment of State Accountability Commission in 2002 and enacting Right to Information Act (RTI Act) in 2009 in line with central RTI Act 2005 opened an entirely new and vast chapter of transparency in otherwise much flawed democratic system in J&K. With the introduction of RTI Act and free flow of information, corruption, the monstrous face of our society felt tremors of extinction. The effective penetration of these two revolutionary laws made many crooks in the administration and their masters in political hierarchy to feel the heat of answerability. Common man’s access to every page and note of administrative records send shivers through the much stressed nerves of exploiters and bands of illegitimate beneficiaries. Thus, scheming plots to undermine these revolutionary steps got rolling in the corridors of corruption and castles of nepotism. A modus operandi was devised to influence the pioneers of these laws with a logic that over-emancipation of people will encroach upon, ‘their own’ authority and future prospects of their success and superiority. These machinating motivations initially deflated authority of State Accountability Commission rendering it almost hollow. For last several years this institution of accountability is either headless or lacks quorum. After the untimely death of its first chairman Justice (Retired) R.P.Sethi the commission remained headless for years. After much reluctance and long drawn skewed selection procedure the commission was reactivated, but with revised and curtailed authorization to try the graft cases of public functionaries only (by enacting, Act. No.II of 2011). Interestingly the recent stand of the government about powers of suo motto actions by the commission under regulation-9 being in conflict with the provisions of the Act and casting doubts about the status of the commission while invoking provisions under section-24 of the SAC Act clearly relate a different story about the intentions of the administration vis-à-vis unrestricted anti corruption powers of SAC. The fate of the State Vigilance Commission after its constitution in 2011 is an open story of indifference towards accountability.
In continuation to its hide and seek policy and the influence of unscrupulous elements government used its overriding powers to curtail the powers of the Information Commission with a plea that the present rules are not in compliance with the RTI Act 2009 and central Act of 2005 and were necessitated to be changed to remove certain anomalies. And thus on August 30, 2012 axe fell on RTI Act by notifying new RTI Rules through SRO 279 to replace RTI Rules of 2010 wherein the RTI Act has been curtailed to the extent of ‘information for the sake of information’ without any punitive provisions in case of any noncompliance by the information providing agency. With such sweeping changes in the Act the commission has been left more or less toothless. No doubt government in its capacity has absolute and overriding powers to change or cancel any of its earlier rules, Acts or laws, but before making any such sweeping changes with wider implication on the health of democracy and the interests of the common man government should take every stakeholder on board. In genuine democracy every step towards empowerment has to be made with honesty, sincerity and desirable levels of foresightedness. An iota of doubt or hypocrisy will ruin the whole process of equality as envisaged by our forefathers. People’s right to know about system and leaders of their government is paramount and any overt or covert move to scuttle this right will always prove counterproductive and will spoil the spirit of democracy.