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Mufti kicks off clean-up drive

Jammu, Nov. 23: The Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government today brought the Jammu and Kashmir Accountability Commission Bill in the Assembly as a major step to ensure clean administration and enforce accountability at all levels.

The Bill, introduced by minister for finance, law and parliamentary affairs Muzaffar Hussain Beig, envisages establishment of an Accountability Commission for inquiring into allegations and grievances against public office holders, including, for the first time, the chief minister, his council of ministers and legislators.

Describing the proposed legislation as historic and path-breaking, the law minister said Mufti had insisted that the office of the chief minister be brought under the purview of the commission as accountability must start from the highest political functionary.

With this move, the coalition government has implemented another commitment made in their election manifesto and Common Minimum Programme to provide to the people just, responsive and clean administration.

Explaining the provisions of the Bill, Beig said it not only provides for investigation into the cause of an action, but also grievance caused to anyone due to delay by a minister or any other public functionary in taking a decision. Thus, the Bill seeks to ensure integrity and accountability of public functionaries and check inefficiency and unreasonable delays. All acts of commission or omission have been brought under the purview of the proposed panel.

The Bill provides for the appointment of the commission chief — a retired judge of the Supreme Court or a high court chief justice — and other members by the Governor on the recommendations of a committee. The recommendation panel will be led by the chief minister, with the chief justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court, the presiding officers of both Houses, the law minister and the leaders of Opposition in the Assembly and the Council as members. If there is no leader of Opposition in a House, the leader of the single largest party in Opposition will be deemed to be the member of the selection committee.

The term of the chairman and the members of the commission will be three years or till the age of 70, whichever is earlier. They will be ineligible for re-appointment or take any other assignment or appointment made by the Governor or hold an office of profit under the state or the Central governments.

The Bill seeks to widen the definition of public functionaries by encompassing the offices of the chief minister, ministers, MLAs, MLCs, chairman, vice-chairman of standing or subject committees and members of local authorities. The proposed commission can take cognisance of a complaint made within seven years from the date of occurrence of the action.

However, it will not investigate any complaint made after 12 months from the date on which the action complained against becomes known to the complainant. This is based on the Lokpal and other similar legislation passed in some states.

The commission can also take suo motu cognisance of any action or delay.

The government has sought to protect public functionaries against false and frivolous complaints by providing for punishment for malafide charges. The Bill provides for imprisonment of not less than one year, extendable to three years, with a fine of up to Rs 50,000 if the proposed commission is satisfied of the wilful and malafide nature of the complainant’s charges.

The commission, on completing the inquiry, will communicate its findings to the complainant, the public functionary and the competent authority for action, which has to be taken and communicated to the commission within 90 days. If the commission is unsatisfied with the action, it will sent a special report to the Governor.

If the charges are against the chief minister or a member of the legislature, the report will be sent to the Governor, who is the competent authority for taking action against top functionaries.

The commission will also have powers of a civil court for effective discharge of its functions and also to punish for contempt.

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