Omar, Mehbooba face litmus test
Will The Duo Defeat The ‘Invisible Hand’?
Srinagar, Jan 21: Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti are all set to face litmus test on January 27—when the State Information Commission (SIC) is to be constituted in a bid to improve governance and bring about transparency in the system.
The constitution of the SIC—comprising of the Chief Information Commissioner for Jammu and Kashmir and two State Information Commissioners—is unlike any usual recruitment for a host of reasons, which make it the litmus test for Omar and Mehbooba, and also the Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand.
While there is a focus across Kashmir on the crucial meeting, its outcome is understood to indicate the level of seriousness that the National Conference and PDP have with regard to bringing about transparency and accountability in government departments, which are otherwise deemed to be infested with corruption and inaction.
The fact files of both National Conference and PDP reveal that Omar and Mehbooba have a strong say, primarily in the wake of their enjoying almost two-third of majority in Legislative Assembly together and a strong support base of majority of seats in Kashmir.
This, according to observers, should not make the two politicians unnerved while making the selections for the SIC. “The National Conference’s Autonomy proposal naturally advocates scrapping or reduction of central services in Jammu and Kashmir while the PDP’s Self Rule document openly advocates scrapping of such services,” says a retired government officer. “And if this is the stand, it should make Omar and Mehbooba select a strong and impartial SIC, with members from within the state who have not been associated with the state bureaucracy or administration.”
If reports are to be believed, an incumbent top bureaucrat of the state, who is to retire this month, is lobbying hard to assume the coveted post of the Chief Information Commissioner for Jammu and Kashmir. This is apart from hectic lobbying by a senior police officer, formerly associated with state intelligence, for the same.
But, according to observers, it would not be in the interest of the essence of the Right to Information Act to have any person who has been or is ‘part of the system.’ “That is because it is a quasi-judicial position and someone with a pro-stance towards the administration, which the Act brings under its scanner, would certainly mar its essence,” says Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat, the convener of the J&K RTI Movement, a non-governmental organization.
Observers have also begun to focus on the January 27 meeting to see if Omar and Mehbooba would, what they call, defeat the manipulative force or the invisible hand which is often deemed to decide the fate of key positions in the state bureaucracy or the administration. “Right or wrong, this force is often perceived to be something other than the dominant public opinion. And if history is anything to refer to, it has often been perceived as the agencies, the security apparatus or a section of bureaucrats which succeeds in calling the shots,” opines a retired government officer.
This makes the meeting a litmus test for Omar and Mehbooba to see if they can go against the tide. “The SIC constitution, in the first place, should not be taken as a rehabilitation package for any officer so that he shifts from one room to another. It should be a sincere effort to give teeth to the RTI Act and improve governance in the system,” asserts Dr Raja Muzaffar. “Absence of a SIC has already perpetuated ignorance about this Act, which was implemented in the state years back. The SIC will impose penalty on the officials indicted by the Act for wrongdoings, if any.”
The SIC constitution also assumes significance in the backdrop of voices that the “civil space” in Jammu and Kashmir was shrinking while “over policing in administrative affairs” and “rule by invisible hands” were the order of the day.
While the Right to Information Act (RTI) completed five years of its implementation on October 12, 2010, it is yet to take-off in Jammu and Kashmir, negating the state government’s recurring assurance that it would strengthen the Act to bring transparency in the system.
While the Act came into force on October 12, 2005 elsewhere, it has been applicable to Jammu and Kashmir since 20th March 2009 under the title “J&K Right to Information Act, 2009.”
When the state government passed the Act and made its rules in June 2009, it promised to appoint the Chief Information Commissioner and two Information Commissioners within three months. But over a year after, “politics” has marred the appointments.
The Act provides a wide choice for persons who can assume the charge of State Information Commissioners or the Chief Information Commissioner. “The person can be a journalist, an academic or even a lawyer or someone with high degree of integrity. It is sad that in Jammu and Kashmir only retired bureaucrats are deemed to be fit for the post,” Dr Bhat says.
Interestingly, a senior officer in the Central Information Commission is an RTI Activist while a senior journalist is an Information Commissioner in Maharashtra.
According to sources, it should not be difficult for Omar, Mehbooba and Tara to act in most objective manner while making the selections. “There is a common minimum agreement between all parties that corruption wherever taking place needs to be eliminated. So that agreement is same between all the three politicians,” they said, also referring to a recent statement of Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress committee vice-chairperson, Muhammad Muzaffar Parrary.
The statement read: “I have categorically stated that Information Commissioner and other Commissioners should be appointed within the higher rank of officialdom of J&K who are known for their credibility, honesty and integrity and he must be hereditary state subject of J&K. The state does not lag behind other states in respect of talent and requisite potential.”
Interestingly, Omar and Mehbooba, according to observers, ought to consider the most vital issue of “real demographic reflection” while making the SIC selections, especially in the backdrop of voices of Kashmiris being alienated in all sectors, including the space in administration and bureaucracy.
According to sources, there are positions which the state government can fill by asserting itself rather than following “the diktats of the invisible hands.”
In the recent past, a number of top appointments were done which could have been easily occupied by people from within the state.
Some of them include the Electricity Regulatory Authority, the SKUAST-K, the Finance Commission and the Economic Advisor.
“You need not to restore pre-53 position for this,” says the officer. “You can do it provided you mean business. Let the state government encourage competence and not mediocrity. And let it begin from the SIC constitution.”
Lastupdate on : Fri, 21 Jan 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 21 Jan 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 22 Jan 2011 00:00:00 IST
- MORE FROM FRONTPAGE
‘WON’T MEET INTERLOCUTORS’
UMER MAQBOOL DAR
Srinagar, Jan 21: The Chairman of Hurriyat Conference (M) Mirwaiz Umar Farooq Friday said that his party was ready to enter into a dialogue with New Delhi provided it was focused on finding a lasting solution More
- Srinagar City
AFTERS ROADS GARAGES BECOME LATEST TARGET
GK CITY CORRESPONDENT
Srinagar, Jan 21: Car owners be aware! Your cab may not be safe even when locked inside a garage than to talk of parking lots or elsewhere. With City police failing to make any major breakthrough in the More
Jammu, Jan 21: Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah today said the measures were afoot to post Urdu teachers in the primary schools and propagate the language along with Hindi and English. Addressing a function More
- News in Brief
Baramulla, Jan 21: Two persons including a cop were injured when several youth took to streets after the Friday prayers.The protesting youth engaged police for several hours by pelting stones at them on More
* Launches 3G experience zone in Srinagar * Unveils Ideos - exclusive 3G Google handset
GK NEWS NETWORK
Srinagar, Jan 21: Aircell has become the first private telecom service provider in J&K to launch the 3G experience zone in Srinagar offering the consumers to get first hand feel of third generation More
PRESS TRUST OF INDIA
New Delhi, Jan 21: India needs to intensify its engagement with Pakistan notwithstanding its fragile polity and uncertain interest in peace at this stage because keeping away from it is not a wise choice More