(Mr. Ranbir Singh Pathania, 30, was born in born in Jammu city. He did his early schooling from the J.S. Luthra Academy and the S.R.M.L. Higher Secondary School, Jammu. He graduated from the G.G.M. Science College, Jammu, with distinction, and went on to earn his law degree from the University of Jammu with distinction in the Constitutional Law. He is a practicing lawyer in the Jammu seat of the J&K High Court and subordinate courts in Jammu. Mr. Pathania has taken on prestigious cases like the Siddhra land scam, B.Ed. colleges scandal, etc. and is one of the vocal advocates for the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to root out corruption, preserve heritage and enforce the Right to Information (RTI) law. He is the General Secretary of jagriti Samaj and a member of the Advisory and Constitution Amendment Committee of the J&K Bar association. He was selected for the "Best Citizens of India" award by the Best Citizens Publishing House.)
Accountability is the anti-thesis of anarchy - Norah Burke.
Accountability Commission is a novel concept tracing its origin to the institution of Ombudsman conceived in Sweden and beautifully brought up in United Kingdom. Ombudsman is an office before whom the general public could record its genuine grievances against the anonymous bureaucracy and the brittle political elite. It registers public complaints, voraciously investigates them and reports its findings without any fear or favour. Political philosophers love to call it as ‘bulwark of a sound democracy against tyranny of officialdom.’
In India, first demand for an institution on the pattern of Ombudsman was raised in 1960 by a turbulent parliamentarian, Mr. K.M. Munshi. Leading legal luminary, M.C. Setalvad, fired a second salvo in this regard in the Lawyers’ Conference. And the sweet result of path-breaking initiatives was the introduction of Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 1968 in Parliament. Unluckily the bill could not see light of the day. In 1977, another bid in this regard was made by Morarji Desai, popularly known as karmayogi Prime Minister of our country. But his untimely exit cost heavy on the prospects of the bill. In 1985, another Lokpal Bill was tabled in Parliament but irresponsible opposition was there to queer the pitch for its smooth passage. During V.P. Singh’s tenure, Bill was re-introduced with much fanfare and innovation – it sought to bring all the public offices including that of P.M. within its sting and scope. Deve Gowda’s brief stint at 07, Race Course also saw serious efforts to pass the Bill through in the Parliament. Unluckily, on both the occasions, the Bill received more brickbats than bouquets and a political consensus on too sensitive an issue remained elusive. The casual conduct of law-makers on such an important issue reminisces of a golden quote of a political commentator, “The least-debated Bill rather inviting a welcome cheer from treasury as well as opposition benches is the one seeking enhancement in the salaries and perks of law-makers” Notwithstanding the chequered fate of Lokpal Bill at the centre, many states have taken the bold lead to establish Lokayukatas.
It is in the same vein that in J & K, Accountability Commission Act came to be enacted in the year 2002. But the much-talked-of dream of a full-fledged Commission could be materialized only with the appointment of Justice (retd.) R P Sethi as its first chairman in the state. Despite all hiccups and handicaps, the vibrant retired judge is known to have pushed through the institution to lofty heights. But, the optimism and fanfare with which the institution was framed was ephemeral. The politicians and bureaucrats ganged up overnight to create such a sleazy situation where the illustrious judge had but to resign. Another member officiated as chairman till June, 2008 when his tenure expired and since then, the institution is lying headless and all cases pending before him have gone into a limbo.
It was a couple of months back that our High Court intervened and rapped on the knuckles of the State - directing it to appoint a chairman and the accompanying members without further delay in accordance with the set procedure. But the flak and censure of the High Court was too insufficient to penetrate the thick skin of the government. It called a meeting of Selection Committee with incomplete quorum and flawed recommendations. And this time the Governor of our state was witnessed belling the cat while sending back the file for fresh recommendations.
Whosever may be in saddle since 2002, the powers-that-be owe a answer to the people of J & K as to what is their specific stand regarding ‘accountability’ and ‘accountability commission’ Whether they mean business or simply want to amuse the people by showbiz and gimmickry and run a government on the strength of artistically-manoeuvred press-notes of Information Department. A cursory overview of history reveals that not even a single recommendation of the Commission has ever been acted upon by the government till date. And the big fish including ministers and top bureaucrats indicted by the Commission continue to roam unabatedly and man pivotal postings whiling down at leisure in posh retiring-rooms of civil secretariat. If Accountability Commission and State Human Rights Commission are for public consumption only, is it not the better to wind them and save millions of public money. And further if the much-boasted-of Vigilance Commission is also going to meet the same fate. The government ruling with too high a hand requires to be put to the litmus test of credibility and reasonable justification.
Ironically enough, our civil society has also not yet made any serious attempt to act as a viable pressure-group compelling the government to fill in the void created in the Commission. The scope and ambit of the powers vested in the institution is too wide that it could try cases and reflect recommendations against public servants accused of maladministration, nepotism, lack of integrity and all that. But the level of political will associated with the subject is too small. It seems as if the politicians want to hold the nose-strings of power close to the chest with least accountability. Noted historian Friedrick had said, “The cause of decline of Roman empire was rampant corruption”.
In yet another hitherto untouched field of ‘Right to Information’ the report card of the State government is not much inspiring. Although the high-profile Finance Minister, recently awarded with ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ has thumped his chest on floor of the Assembly terming promulgation of the legislation as ‘historic,’ the talk in the town remain that it is much wool and little cry. The requirement of Rs 50-/- per application Rs. 10-/ as photostat charges per page and thirty days time for providing of information has run into the face of very idiom and grammar of the legislation. And the government has also done least to properly put into play the historic legislation by organizing awareness programmes and training camps for its PIOs and APIOs and appellate authorities throughout the state. Absence of penalty clause and non-constitution of State Information Commission till now have also worse confounded the fuss.
A dejected and disappointed common man has been left with his fingers crossed as to whether the much-dreamt-of gospel of ‘accountability’ and ‘accountability commission’ could ever be materialized on ground. It is high time that the 21st century generation realizes that nothing happens unless something is done. And it always takes a loud noise to make the deaf hear.