The Special Anti-Corruption Court Srinagar in March this year sentenced an Assistant Sub Inspector of Police (ASI) to one year imprisonment for allegations of accepting bribe while he was posted at Police Station Charar e Sharief district Budgam in 2008. This police officer namely Mushtaq Ahmad Shah, the then ASI in the police station Charar e Sharief was also ordered to pay a fine of Rs 10,000 under each offence. “If he fails to pay the fine, he will be subjected to an additional month of imprisonment under each offence” reads the order of the Special Judge Anti Corruption Court Srinagar. This is a 15 years old corruption case wherein a police officer had demanded and taken bribe from a local person while he was carrying three quintals of rice with him in a vehicle. The officer not only took money from him but also snatched his one quintal of rice as well.
The aggrieved didn’t keep quite and filed a written complaint on 19th September 2008 before the State Vigilance Organisation -SVO, which is now known as J&K Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB). The complainant in his written complaint told SVO that ASI Mushtaq Ahmad Shah had intercepted his vehicle while he was transporting three quintals of rice and demanded a bribe of Rs. 500. The ASI accepted the bribe and returned only two quintals of rice. He forcibly kept one quintal of rice for himself. When he was asked to give it back, he asked the aggrieved / complainant to pay a bribe of Rs1,000. The complainant assured that he would pay Rs 500 instead, and ASI agreed. In the meantime the aggrieved person (complainant) informed the then SVO now called Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB). The officers of SVO/ ACB laid a trap and caught ASI Mushtaq Ahmad red-handed while accepting the bribe. The tainted money was recovered from his possession in the presence of witnesses. The said police officer was sent to Central Jail Srinagar recently.
Long delay in Convictions?
We all believe in the judicial system which has jurisdiction over other systems of governance, but if the judiciary fails to deliver justice in time who is to be blamed? Regardless of our religion, gender, or region, we have faith in our judiciary but what if we don’t get timely justice in our courts? If a corrupt police officer has been put behind bars only after 15 years of committing the crime, how can people expect to get justice and that is why Martin Luther King has rightly pointed out that Justice Delayed is Justice Denied? In fact I don’t blame the judiciary for these long delays in convictions, but the blame is to be put on the Government as we have only a handful of Special Anti Corruption Courts in Jammu & Kashmir. Hundreds of corruption cases are pending in these courts and only few Govt officials involved in corruption get convicted. In many districts of J&K the regular courts which hear other disputes look after anti corruption cases and the situation is more challenging in such courts. It takes decades to get justice. The corrupt Govt officers who are trapped red handed while accepting money move freely in society because the trail takes years. In fact the J&K Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) has shown good progress in trapping corrupt Govt officials during last 3 to 4 years, but when it takes decades to put these criminals behind bars, it frustrates not only the upright officers of our Anti Corruption Bureau-ACB, but the public spirited citizens, activists and whistleblowers also get demoralized who play a role in getting these officials trapped.
The corruption cases in J&K saw an increase with 94 cases filed by the J&K Anti Corruption Bureau-ACB under the Prevention of Corruption Act and related sections of Indian Penal Code -IPC last year. As per the official figures made public by National Crime Records Bureau-NCRB there was a continuous decline in the number of corruption cases in J&K between the years 2018 to 2020. These are the figures based on FIRs registered by ACB, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the corruption graph was down between 2018 to 2020? In 2018 around 82 cases were filed by J&K ACB, 73 in 2019 and 71 in 2020. In 2021 many corruption cases were registered by ACB and the graph was up to 94. The reason as per my own analysis is that ACB got much activated in 2021-22 and 2022 -23 and continues to lay traps to catch corrupt Govt officials red handed. The corruption cases as per NCRB data includes 29 trap cases, 15 cases of disproportionate assets, 2 cases of criminal misconduct and 48 other cases. The report revealed that 386 cases of corruption were pending in J&K by the end of 2020 besides that four cases were reopened for investigation, two cases were transferred to other agencies. In 29 cases final reports have been submitted, 55 cases have been charge -sheeted and 398 cases were pending by end of year 2021. In 2020 only one person was convicted by the Anti Corruption Court in J&K and was awarded punishment?
Conviction rate is lowest
The 2020 NCRB data recorded between 2018-2020 reveals conviction rate in corruption cases is more than four times lower than the national average . While the conviction rate of corruption cases under trial at national level was 40.9 % in 2020, the conviction rate of such cases in J&K was only 9 % during this period. In contrast, the 2022 annual report of Central Vigilance Commission -CVC revealed that Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) recorded a conviction rate of 67.56% in 2021, compared to 69.83% in 2020. The CBI registered 680 regular cases and 67 preliminary enquiries in 2021, while it had registered 589 regular cases and 87 preliminary enquiries in 2020. In 2021 court judgments were received in 360 cases, which included 202 convictions, 82 acquittals and 15 of discharge from allegations. In 61 matters, cases were disposed of for other reasons. At the end of the year 2021-22, a total of 10,232 cases were pending in different courts. In 2021, investigations were pending in 982 cases, whereas the figure stood at 1,117 the previous year. The probe was finalised in 798 regular cases and 86 preliminary inquiries last year.
Brashtachar Mukt J&K
As we celebrate Corruption Free J&K Week (Bhrashtachar Mukt J&K) between September 4th to 10th, it is the duty of the Govt to make sure that special anti corruption courts are set up in every district enabling them to dispose of long pending corruption cases in a time bound manner. Technically the week- long corruption free J&K programme (Brashtachar Mukt J&K) should have been celebrated around December 5th which is commemorated as International Anti- Corruption day, but during last several years hardly any Govt function was held around this date. Authorities must continue their anti corruption campaign around December as well and make sure slogans and theme on this subject are prepared in local official languages as well like Urdu , Kashmiri and Dogri. The NCRB report on very low conviction rate of corruption cases in J&K should be an eye opener for the authorities. Corruption in Govt departments like Police, Revenue, Geology and Mining, Rural Development, R&B, and some other departments is seriously affecting our work-culture and governance.
The J&K Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) is doing an appreciable job, trapping corrupt officials on a regular basis. We have seen several Govt officials trapped by ACB in Bandipora and Baramulla districts recently while accepting bribe. It is now the time to file cases against those corrupt Govt servants who have amassed huge wealth which is disproportionate to the known sources of their income. It is good that Govt has began an open debate on corruption and programmes are being held at district level which was not done in the past. Regular discussion and debates on corruption by Government is very impactful. I wish all HODs, DCs and SSPs had done this proactively without even being asked to do so through an official circular by Govt. I would suggest that corruption related debates be held every month at block , tehsil and district level. A massive anti corruption campaign be organized around December 5th as well which is commemorated as International Anti Corruption Day.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow.
He is Founder and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement