Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad's war against corruption has triggered up a regional debate even though the menace is still far from being eradicated from public life.
Defending the actions of the State Vigilance Organisation, Azad has now called for "social sanction against people responsible for inducement of corruption" and underlined the need for a legislation to deal with elements inducing the menace in the society.
It must be recalled that Azad's Finance Minister and senior leader of the People's Democratic party Tariq Hamid Karra had blamed SVO sleuths for acting chiefly against the officials belonging to the Valley and not applying the same yardstick to those officials from the Jammu region.
This had stirred tempers within the Congress-PDP coalition government recently. It must also be recalled that a survey conducted earlier this year had branded Jammu and Kashmir as the second most corrupt state after Bihar.
Replying to a question on the issue of corruption in the Legislative Assembly, the chief minister said that his government had launched "an all out war against corrupt officials" but to take "the fight to logical conclusion, there was need of some social sanction and legal deterrent against those members of the society who abetted and promoted corruption."
The chief minister agreed with a member who suggested that law should be enacted to check tendencies of unbridled greed for wealth.
Azad said such legislation could be possible, adding that society as a whole should be cleaned of this scourge.
The chief minister dismissed any "impression of witch hunting in his war against corruption" and presented figures to show that there was no regional bias in the State Vigilance Organisation's drive.
He said against 54 non-trap cases in Kashmir, 46 were initiated in Jammu. In the trap cases, the anti-corruption organisation initiates action only after some member of the society makes a complaint against an official that he or she was demanding bribe from them.
The chief minister said that between 1990 and 1996 when there was militancy and no accountability and monitoring mechanism in the absence of elected representatives and officers not being able to move out, the incidence of corruption was on the rise and in many cases officials would draw fictitious bills at homes without executing work.
He said the subsequent governments took cognisance of corruption and tried to check it.
However, he gave figures to show that during his tenure the conviction rate was higher than the previous ones.
He said from 1996 to 2002, as many as 786 cases were registered out of which 237 were challaned and 66 per cent cases were not proved.
Between 2002 and 2005, he said 165 cases were registered, 93 challaned and 27 per cent not proved.
Against this, he said 147 cases registered during his time, only 4 per cent were not proved.
The chief minister said that 146 public servants were caught red handed while accepting bribe from November 1, 2002, to August 10, 2007.
Azad said 38 cases were registered against tainted officers for possessing disproportionate assets during the period.
He said senior officers figured in the list of cases under investigation.
He said that the Prevention of Corruption Act was amended by his government to empower SVO to attach, during investigation, property acquired by an accused public servant through corrupt means.
Azad described it as a historic measure and said that action has been taken against several corrupt public servants and properties of nine of them valued at Rs 3.48 crore attached under the amended act.
The chief minister said the Right to Information Act applicable in Jammu and Kashmir did not have enough teeth and his government was considering applying the central Right to Information Act.
Interestingly, despite the chief minister's best efforts, corruption remains a major problem for the common man in the state. "I am unable to see any change anywhere. Everybody asks for money in government offices as a matter of right," said Mohammad Shafi, 48, a local businessman in Srinagar.