February 2016 News

Accountability Commission Can Try Politicians, Rules High Court

1 February 2016
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Ishfaq Tantry

Srinagar: In a significant decision aimed at empowering the State Accountability Commission (SAC), the Jammu and Kashmir High Court today overturned its ruling by restoring the anti-graft body's suo motu powers to look into complaints against erring public functionaries, including ministers, legislators and people's representatives, in corruption cases. In its judgment announced at the Jammu wing today, the High Court set a rider that the commission will not make its proceedings in such cases public till the process was completed. Allowing an appeal filed by the SAC, a Division Bench comprising Justices Muzaffar Hussain Attar and BS Walia set aside the ruling of Justice Hasnain Masoodi and restored the commission's powers of initiating suo motu proceedings against any minister, legislator or people's representative on the basis of an anonymous complaint or media report. The HC put the rider that the commission 'shall hold such proceedings in secrecy' and its 'progress will not be made public' till completion of the process. 'In such circumstances, it shall not have to disclose the contents of the anonymous or pseudonymous complaint or make it known to the public as to which press report has been taken cognisance of for conducting of preliminary enquiry,' the Bench observed in its 40-page judgment. The Bench observed that striking down of Regulation 9 of the Regulations of 2005 by the single-Judge Bench had not denuded the SAC of its power of suo motu initiation of proceedings against a public functionary and that power was still intact. Acting on a bunch of 35 petitions challenging suo motu powers of the SAC, the single-Judge Bench ruled on January 7, 2013, that the SAC could not suo motu direct investigation, inquiry or proceedings against a public functionary on the basis of an anonymous complaint. The commission had filed an appeal against this ruling. It was represented by the Supreme Court lawyers Collin Gonsalves and Pranav Kohli. Pleading for restoration of of suo motu powers to look into complaints against erring public functionaries, the SAC had submitted in its appeal that 'any restrictive interpretation' would result in 'demise' of the Accountability Commission Act, 'enacted for transparency and accountability' in public administration. 'The commission should be credited with the power to take its probe to a logical conclusion. Even an anonymous complaint or media report deserves cognisance by the commission to achieve the objective of the Act,' the lawyers had submitted. Both the Jammu and Kashmir Government and the petitioners against whom the SAC initiated proceedings had opposed suo motu powers of the commission. All ex-ministers against whom the SAC passed orders or initiated suo motu proceedings in corruption cases had obtained stay orders from the High Court. In February 2012, the High Court had stayed the orders of the SAC to chairmen of six development boards and two advisers of then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to appear before the commission.