Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Prevention is the Better Part of Cure

Ashok says that Lokpal will succeed only if it seen more as an executive position that devises processes and procedures to weed out corruption and leaves prosecution to those already doing so. He also believes that in a republic, the Lokpal should report to the Prime Minister

(Dr Ashok Bhan, 61, was born in Habba Kadal, Srinagar, and did his graduation from Punjab University. He did his Masters and PhD in Botany from Kurukshetra University. After joining the Indian Police Service in 1976 he was allocated to J&K cadre which he served in various capacities till his retirement in March 2010 in the rank of Director General of Police. Some of the important posts held by him included those of DGP Intelligence, DGP Prisons, Commissioner of Vigilance, Addl DGP Intelligence, IGP Kashmir Zone, DIG Jammu, SSP Anantnag and SSP Rajouri besides heading the J&K Armed Police, Security wing and the State Police Academy. He had a stint with the Intelligence Bureau. He is a recipient of Police Medal for Gallantry, President’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service, Police Medal for Meritorious service, Wound Medal, Sher-i-Kashmir Medal for Gallantry, Sher-i-Kashmir Medal for Meritorious Service and the Chief Minister’s Medal for Honesty and Integrity. He attended the Indian Police Service Command Course in UK in 1987 and Indian Senior Crisis Management Course at Washington DC in US in 2008. He was the Member Secretary of “Expert Committee on Reorganization of J&K Police” and drafted J&K Intelligence Manual, J&K Vigilance Manual and SSG Manual for the security of the Chief Minister. Currently, he is a Member of the National Security Advisory Board and Chairman of the J&K Regional Branch of the Indian Institute of Public Administration. Dr Bhan devotes his time to writing and lecturing on Security issues including conflict resolution, Police and Prison reforms, Good Governance and Fight against Corruption.)

Is Lokpal a Panacea to Eradicate Corruption?

The unsavoury debate over the persona on the drafting committee for the Lokpal Bill and the questions about the constitutionality of such a committee has diverted the nation from the core issue of fighting corruption. Are we drifting from the issue of corruption, which has got institutionalized in the system, to redressing ego hassles of a few activists, whose intentions can not be faulted? Is Lokpal a panacea to eradicate corruption from our society?

To have a correct appreciation of the situation it will be worthwhile to understand the mechanics of bribing and kickbacks. There are, broadly speaking, four types of criminal misconduct by public servants at different levels of the executive hierarchy.

The first, in which all levels extensively indulge in, is misuse of transport, telephone, frequent flier bonus points earned from Government paid travels, fake medical bills, photocopying personal documents and a wide range of similar official facilities for personal gains. Many employees carry out private business during office hours. In far and remote areas teachers seldom attend the schools. A stage has now reached when this misuse is labelled as ‘perks’ and no questions are asked. All this can be prevented through internal vigilance and accountability. Civil service conduct rules are never invoked to teach erring public servant a lesson. No one wants to become unpopular by taking a deterrent action. When no action is taken such misconduct never ever gets reflected in the appraisal reports. The muck which should have normally settled down is able to float and go to the top.

The second and the more serious one is the graft for public services. A common citizen is affected by this every day when he is compelled to shell out money to get his legitimate job done from a public servant. This in terms of volume of each transaction may be ‘petty corruption’ but it adds up to a huge sum as large number of public servants at the lower level are indulging in it at all times and in all parts of the country and to varying degrees in all public utility departments. It is this bribe about which common man talks about and is fed up with. Anna Hazare’s fast gave a platform to the vast majority of sufferers of this ‘coercive corruption’ or ‘jaabraana’. Fortunately, the element of coercion in this category of graft induces hatred and victims are willing to take recourse to law when demand for money is made. There are many complainants willing to get the public servant ‘trapped’ through law enforcement agency. The number of willing whistle blowers swells if the anti-corruption agency enjoys credibility. They do it despite being fully aware of harassment they are likely to encounter during their future visits to the department where a successful ‘trap’ is laid. They want to teach the public servant a lesson. In Jammu and Kashmir from January 2005 to the end of first half of 2008, the State Vigilance Organisation registered 136 trap cases out of 270 FIRs. Revenue department led the field followed by police, engineering departments, finance/sales tax/excise, rural development, forest and so on as far as number of traps goes. A series of successful traps create a chain reaction of complaints. Initially the rates of bribe per activity may increase but a prolonged crusade breaks the resolve of corrupt public servants. The investigation agency must ensure that an honest public servant is not harassed and humiliated through a false complaint. The complainant must produce enough evidence of demand of bribe and that there is a cause for paying it before a ‘trap’ is laid. ‘Trap’ is the most potent tool to target this ‘coercive corruption’. The complainant is protected by section 24 of the Prevention of Corruption Act and he can not be prosecuted for giving bribes.

The third category of corruption prevalent at the middle and top level of bureaucracy includes kickbacks from development projects, social welfare schemes, purchases, recruitments and transfers, to cite a few. Collections made at the lowest level through ‘petty corruption’ get shared up to the top for retention of a public servant at the ‘lucrative post’. As we go up the ladder corruption becomes more and more ‘collusive’ in nature as the bribe is given as ‘shukraana or nazraana’. It is rare to find complainants as both the receiver and the giver share the spoils. The exchanges take place in cosy drawing and bedrooms away from public gauge. Occasionally one comes across a rival to spill the beans or a conscientious insider acting as a whistle blower. The best treatment for this category is to strengthen internal vigilance, make systemic changes for transparency by introducing e-governance in purchases and payments and take legal action for misappropriation, purchases at exorbitant rates and possessing assets disproportionate to known sources of income. The bureaucratic system of checks and balances needs to be restored. Prosecuting alone does not help much in getting rid of the malaise more so because prosecution is a long and time consuming affair in our country and unfortunately criminal justice is ‘purchasable’. Drive against corruption has to be made a management function and not a punitive exercise through investigations and prosecution alone. A mix of preventive internal vigilance coupled with deterrent criminal action holds the key.

Let us pause here for a while. An overwhelming majority of cases of corruption have been covered under these three categories. Legal provisions exist and each state and the centre have law enforcement machinery of one kind or the other. Then why have we not been able to effectively check corruption of these categories? There are a host of reasons beginning with need for large sums of money by political parties for elections and lack of will of the political executive to fight corruption. Every ruling party patronises corrupt bureaucrats so that unquestioned free flow of kickbacks is facilitated. The bureaucracy must be made accountable to the constitution and the law. It must not act as a stooge of a political personality or a party.

There are delays in the criminal justice system and on an average it takes 10-15 years to get a verdict in a corruption case and this is followed by the statutory appeals. Witnesses feel harassed and at some stage walk away in despair. A delayed conviction fails to create deterrence as people have forgotten the case. As the Prime Minister remarked on the Civil Services Day, “people expect swift and exemplary action and rightly so”. Why can’t we have enough Special Courts to ensure that a trap case is decided in 6 months and other cases in a year or so? And till criminal justice remains ‘purchasable’ the corrupt will buy it with their money power. Indulging in corruption has to be made a costly affair. Jammu and Kashmir Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act 2006 provides for attachment during investigation and forfeiture on conviction of a property acquired through proceeds of corruption. The UN Convention against Corruption, which India has not ratified yet, also provides for ‘freezing’ or ‘seizure’ and eventual ‘confiscation’ of property derived from proceeds of crime. A hard look needs to be taken at these provisions. The proceeds of corruption must return to the State.

We are yet to take a serious look at ‘induced corruption’ by the Corporate Houses by inflating the costs of goods and services so that palms of greedy public servants can be greased. For the present, the Prevention of Corruption Act is largely public servant centric with inducer or bribe giver being dealt with for abetment. This is not enough and the inducer must be made a principle accused. The arrest of some top corporate executives in 2G spectrum allocation scam should set the trend for a comprehensive legal provision.

So there is so much to be done to fight corruption of three categories listed earlier. This all is achievable if there is the much elusive political will. Prime Minister has rightly pointed out the growing feeling in the people that our laws, systems and procedures are not effective in dealing with corruption. Once effective checks are in place the upward movement of graft money will get squeezed. The activists spearheading the anti-corruption movement must focus on these areas. The increased public anger must be utilized to put pressure on the Government to introduce reforms so that we can move out of the present state of affairs.

And finally the fourth category of corruption related to policy decisions taken by the political executive and top echelons of bureaucracy which is in public focus at present. There can be no two opinions that the corruption staircase is best cleaned from top downwards. Here not only criminal misconduct but also mal-administration needs to be dealt with and the existing system under the influence of political executive has failed to deliver goods. The Lokpal is definitely the answer. A Lokpal who is independent like the Supreme Court or the EC and does not tread on the powers of other pillars of democracy. A Lokpal who can receive complaints directly, investigate through a designated agency but leave the trial to a designated judge. The selection must be carried out by a Committee headed by the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister can be trusted with defending the territorial integrity of the country why can’t we have faith in his judgment to select a Lokpal? The CVC fiasco has made everyone wiser. The elected chief executive has the responsibility to lead the country. He must be given power to choose the tools. The Prime Minister can feel the pulse of the people.

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