Dilution Of Article 370 Behind Jammu And Kashmir's Ills?7 April 2011
Times of India
Srinagar: Article 370 of the Constitution is a much debated law. On the one hand, it's seen by the right wing as a hurdle to Kashmir's full integration with India. But, in Kashmir, the special powers Article 370 bestows on the state forms the bedrock of its continuance in the Indian Union. Many political parties in Srinagar blame the dilution of the autonomy promised in Article 370 as the root cause of troubles in Kashmir. A key feature of Article 370 is that Central laws passed in Delhi do not automatically apply in Kashmir. It's the right of the state legislature to approve of them by passing a parallel act. But, as the axiom goes, there's many a slip between the cup and the lip. In practice, J&K laws are often jaundiced versions of the original act. The recent J&K State Vigilance Act is a case. Although based on the Central Vigilance Commission Act of 2003, the state vigilance law is weak, say activists. For one, it's the state cabinet that appoints State Vigilance Commissioner (SVC) and has the power to remove him. 'The state government shall appoint and remove SVC at any time. There's no role for the governor. The appointee can only be a serving or retired government official. This isn't an independent vigilance commission. It's just another government department,' said Raja Muzaffar Bhat, an RTI activist. Leader of the opposition Mehbooba Mufti has written to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah asking for amendments to SVC Act. Significantly, infirmities in the Act aren't the only aberration; there are other laws passed by parliament and re-enacted in J&K that are watered down versions of the original. Kashmir will have its first panchayat polls after 2001 this month. And yet, the State Panchayat Act modelled on the 1992 Central Panchayat law cleverly leaves the state government a player in how things are run. The Rs 300 crore worth of Central grants shall not go to independent panchyats and zila parishads. Through careful tinkering, at each level from villages to district boards, the state government has ensured its own writ. While all over India district councils are elected bodies, in Kashmir it's the state that shall nominate chairpersons. The 33% reservation for women in the Central Panchayati Raj Act ushered in a revolution in women's empowerment at the grassroots. In Kashmir, the government nominates two women. Two other key provisions of the 73rd Amendment, namely a state finance commission to oversee the use of Panchayati funds and an Election Commission to manage polls, were added recently after a long campaign for it by Congress and BJP. Then, again, although RTI is in force in India since 2005, Article 370 meant people in Kashmir had to wait for the state government to pass a matching legislation, which finally happened in 2009. The delay was owing to constant efforts by the state to pass less independent RTI acts. In 2007, then governor Gen S K Sinha withheld approval of the RTI act after repeated petitions by activists. Even the 2009 Act wasn't implemented because the government took two more years to appoint an information commissioner. The State Human Rights Commission is no better. In a recent report, its chairperson Syed Bashir-ud-din said, 'It's imperative that amendments are made if the commission is to be effective.' A key demand of activists is to bring the state commission at par with the Central Human Rights Act of 1993. 'In a state like J&K, a toothless human rights body is worse than not having such a commission,' said an activist. These bodies, Panchayati Raj, RTI, SVC and Human Rights Commission, are the lynchpin of India's grassroots democracy. Proper application could be revolutionary in Kashmir.