Stakeholders pinpoint flaws in SVC Act

‘Appointment, Removal Of Chairman, Members By Cabinet Make It Politically Controlled Body’

FAHEEM ASLAM

Srinagar, Feb 18: Though a meeting to recommend the candidature for chairman of the newly constituted Jammu and Kashmir State Vigilance Commission (SVC) has been postponed for unknown reasons, stakeholders have begun to debate the J&K SVC Act 2010 as it makes into public circles.
The SVC was formally constituted vide a notification under SRO 59 by the state government on February 15. The Act provides for constitution of State Vigilance Commission to inquire or cause inquiries to be conducted into offences alleged to have been committed under the Prevention of Corruption Act, Samvat 2006 by public servants, corporations established in the State by or under any Act of the Parliament or the Act of State Legislature, Government companies, societies and local authorities owned or controlled by the Government and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. The meeting to recommend the SVC chairman was scheduled for February 18, but was put off without assigning any reason.

‘WEAKNESSES’
According to civil liberties’ groups, the J&K SVC Act was in many respects different from the Central Vigilance Commission Act of 2003, dispelling certain media reports that the J&K SVC Act was being constituted to bring the SVC at par with the Central Vigilance Commission in a bid to effectively tackle the menace of corruption.
“We have performed a comparative analysis of the SVC Act and the CVC Act of 2003 after going through the contents of both the Acts. In the first place, the SVC must have the functional and financial autonomy. The functional autonomy begins with the appointment process and extends up to the removal process. Now both these processes in the J&K SVC Act are under the control of the state government and this in fact is what takes away independence of the commission,” says Venkatesh Nayak, Programme Coordinator at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), a New Delhi based non-governmental organization. “If you compare the J&K SVC Act with the Central Vigilance Commission Act, the appointments in the latter are made by the President under his or her order and the removal is also possible under his or her order only. This means the President has the option of exercising his or her mind to a case while appointing or removing a person.”
In the context of the J&K SVC Act, Nayak said, both appointments are under the control of the state government. “The Governor has no role to play and therefore it is going to be a politically controlled organisation and that is not good for an anti-corruption body,” he told Greater Kashmir.
According to observers, there were some “major weaknesses” in the SVC Act. “The independence of the Commission has been downgraded such that SVC is a quasi-autonomous body effectively answerable to the Government/Executive/Chief Minister rather than a fully autonomous body answerable only to the Governor. For comparison, the CVC is answerable to only the President, while the J&K State Information Commission is answerable only to the Governor.  This is contrary to the claims of the Government, as reported in the media when the Bill was tabled on 26 March last year,” says Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat, Convener of the J&K RTI Movement. “Another drawback is that the SVC Act only permits current or former civil servants at or above the rank of a Commissioner/Secretary to become Vigilance Commissioners. The CVC Act has the same requirement, but the Central and J&K RTI Acts do not have any such restriction on the background of the Information Commissioners.  This creates the perverse situation where bureaucrats are solely in charge of policing other bureaucrats. The involvement of other members of civil society (jurists, advocates, eminent citizens) is necessary.”
The appointments vide SVC Act, a copy of which is with Greater Kashmir, are ultimately made by the state cabinet from a panel of names approved by the Selection Committee rather than Selection Committee itself while the Commissioners can effectively be removed unilaterally by the Government rather than the Governor.  “In contrast, at the CVC, the Selection Committee itself makes the final selections for appointment by the President, and only the President can unilaterally remove a CVC,” says Bhat.

KEY FEATURES
The State Vigilance Commission (SVC) is to be comprised of one Chief VC, also referred to as Chairperson of the Commission and 2 VCs, also referred to as “members” of the Commission.
The SVC will oversee the (currently existing) State Vigilance Organisation (SVO) apparatus, transferring responsibility from the General Administration Department.
The Vigilance Commissioner operates under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1949 (Samvat 2006) and is granted a variety of powers to run the SVO and conduct inquiries and will have the status of a civil court.
The Selection Committee for the Vigilance Commission includes the Chief Minister, the Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Leader of the Opposition or leader of the largest party in Opposition.
The Selection Committee is to recommend 3 names for each post, from which the Cabinet shall pick-and-choose the final appointments. The Commissioners must come from a “Civil Service” background; they can be presently serving or retired and must be at or above the rank of a Commissioner/Secretary.
The Chief VC’s salary is the same as the Chair of the PSC, and the VC’s salaries are the same as the members of the PSC. The VCs serve for 4 years or until reaching 65.  “After becoming a VC, they cannot be appointed or employed by the State or Centre to any other body or office. The VCs can be removed after an inquiry by a retired or sitting HC judge at the instigation of the Government but the Government may also unilaterally remove VCs if deemed unfit for a variety of reasons,” the Act provisions read. “The Commission will be managed by a Secretary appointed by the Government and the rules for the staff are determined by the Government. In lieu of the current Vigilance Commissioner, the SVO will run by a Director of Vigilance who must be an IPS officer at or above the rank of an IGP, who will serve for not less than 2 years.”

A SUGGESTION
A former police official, associated with the State Vigilance Organization, said the state government can have another debate on the issue to see if any changes need to be done. “It is good that the Act is being debated. That is the hallmark of a democratic set-up. However what is required is that the state can have more consultations on the Act before appointing the Commission,” the official, wishing anonymity, said.
He said while the SVC has been recently constituted, it would be better if the Act is once again reviewed. “The state government has desired that it was committed to fight corruption in the state. That is possibly only when we have a strong and independent SVC,” the officer said.

BOTTOMLINE
According to the stakeholders, absence of an independent SVC would hamper the fight against corruption. “One cannot tackle corruption in piece-meals. The problem with anti-corruption agenda is that it is not even a half-hearted agenda, it is less than that. There is no real commitment to fight corruption. I would draw your attention to Accountability Commission in Jammu and Kashmir which is lying dormant for years now. What is required is a comprehensive strategy at the highest level of the government to tackle corruption wherever it might occur, whether at the ministry level or at the level of villages. There has to be zero tolerance to corruption,” said Venkatesh Nayak.

Lastupdate on : Fri, 18 Feb 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 18 Feb 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 19 Feb 2011 00:00:00 IST




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