Srinagar/New Delhi, Aug 27 (IANS): Anti-graft agencies in Jammu and Kashmir till 2019 were nothing more than toothless tigers. The State Vigilance Organization (SVO) was unable to act against "big boys" as they enjoyed the patronage of the ruling class. The scenario changed after dispensation led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi "bit the bullet" and abrogated J&Ks so-called special status on August 5, 2019.
The move paved the way for implementation of central laws in the Himalayan region for the first time in 70 years and ended many such practices that had turned J&K hollow.
The process to revamp the SVO in J&K commenced soon after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pulled out from the coalition government led by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in June 2018.
After the end of Mehbooba Mufti's rule, then J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik in October 2018 amended Jammu and Kashmir Prevention of Corruption Act, 2006 and Jammu and Kashmir State Vigilance Commission Act, 2011. He rechristened the SVO as Anti-Corruption Bureau to do away with the shortcomings and multiplicity of roles in the anti-corruption mechanism. In the same month the State Administrative Council (SAC) gave its nod to setting up the first ever Anti-Corruption Bureau in J&K to tackle corruption in a more effective and meaningful manner.
Malik's decision to empower ACB proved to be a turning point in J&K's history as it led to the government launching a decisive war against corruption in the Himalayan region.
Drive against big fishes
From 2018 to 2020 the ACB registered 219 cases against corrupt officials in J&K. The bureau also blew the lid off Rs 223 crore loan scam in State Cooperative Bank. The case was also filed against the former J&K Bank chairman, its executives, some chief engineers, superintendent and executive engineers, a few Jammu and Kashmir Administrative Service (KAS) officers, deputy excise commissioner and senior officers of Forest, Health Rural Development and other departments.
From January to July this year the ACB registered 94 graft cases in J&K.
The ACB police station in Srinagar, which also covers graft cases in Ganderbal and Budgam districts, registered 32 cases. Baramulla ACB police station, which also covers Bandipora and Kupwara districts, reported 23 cases while the Anantnag police station covering four south Kashmir districts had 13 cases.
In the Jammu province, 19 cases were registered in 10 districts. The ACB's Jammu police station reported 11 cases in the first seven months while Doda police station reported five cases and the ACB's central police station registered five graft cases.
ACB acts swiftly
After J&K's transition into a Union Territory in October 2019, stringent provisions became applicable in J&K and the noose around corrupt officers was tightened further.
Officers from Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) were sent to the ACB on deputation to intensify the crackdown against the corrupt officials. The fresh cases were registered against the influential officers, who used to consider themselves above the law due to them being close to the ruling class in the erstwhile state.
The ACB during the last three years has acted tough against the government servants demanding illegal grafts, misusing their official positions, allowing illegal constructions by obtaining monetary benefits, possessing disproportionate assets, tampering official records, facilitating encroachment of government land, allowing use of sub-standard construction material, vesting of ownership rights of land illegally and forgery etc.
Anyone can approach CBI
The implementation of J&K Reorganization Act 2019 extended the jurisdiction of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to "Naya Jammu and Kashmir." It provided a common man with an opportunity to approach the premiere investigating agency directly.
After 2019, the CBI has taken cognizance of the complaints without and caught many officials red handed demanding and accepting the bribes.
The anti-graft agencies becoming active changed the work culture in the government offices and officials were made accountable.
They no longer keep files pending as they do not want to come under any scanner as they are aware that it can put them in trouble.
War against corruption intensifies
During the past few months the war against corruption has become more intense in "Naya J&K". On July 20, ACB sleuths arrested an Assistant Engineer, Mushtaq Ahmad Najar, of Rural Development Department (RDD) for demanding and accepting Rs 2,000/ as bribe to release Call Deposit Receipt amount of Rs 7,000 in South Kashmir's Pulwama district.
In June this year, the J&K government ordered the premature retirement of eight employees of the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUDD) on corruption charges under Article 226(2) of the J&K Civil services Regulations, Departmental Committees Act.
The charges against the sacked officers were confirmed by the departmental committees and were upheld by the designated review committee under Article 226(2), which included misappropriation of funds, falsification of records and raising fake bills, allowing illegal constructions, committing financial irregularities and making illegal appointments during their tenure in various Urban Local Bodies (ULBS).
The ACB on July 18 this year arrested Tehsildar Shalteng and Naib-tehsildar Batamaloo in Srinagar district on charges of bribery. The action was taken after the ACB received a written complaint alleging therein that Mohammad Younis, Tehsildar and Ghulam Rasool Hajam, Naib-Tehsildarof Tehsil Office Shalteng were demanding Rs 5 lakh as bribe for allowing the complaints to run their business on Nazool land transferred in their favour under RoshniAct at Rampur, Chattabal Srinagar.
The ACB acting quickly has led to more and more people coming forward to register their complaints. The administration during the past three years has become responsive and the system has turned transparent. The corrupt no more enjoy the political patronage and the blessings of their political bosses, who always used to come for the rescue of their yes-men.
Govt maintaining strict vigil
In July, the Jammu and Kashmir government took a serious note of inquiries into corruption cases getting delayed. It directed departments to dispose of all the matters quickly.
The investigating agencies had written to the government that many departments were not following the directives of anti-graft bodies, following which the J&K administration issued clear cut directions to all the heads of departments to expedite the pending probes against the corrupt officials.
The officers of the inquiry committees were directed to follow the standard procedure while preparing the reports so that the required decisions in such cases are taken without any delay.
Till 2019, the anti-graft agencies existed only on papers in J&K as the Centre's Prevention of Corruption Act was inapplicable in the Himalayan region due to Article 370 being in vogue. Change in J&K's status-quo led to all the Central laws, including the anti-corruption law, getting extended to the Himalayan region.
The extension of the central laws has changed many things in the erstwhile state, which was among top five corrupt places in the country till 2019. The complaints of the common man are being heard and acted upon. The ones who are not mending their ways are being caught and dealt with sternly. Welcome to "NayaJ&K".