Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) administration has notified new rules under which employees can be dismissed from service if they or their family members are found to be “sympathetic” to people accused under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and Public Safety Act (PSA). These laws, activists say, are being increasingly used to quell dissent.
The new rules have been notified barely days after the J&K administration made vigilance clearance mandatory for government employees who apply for passports. These rules could seriously impact freedom of speech for six lakh government employees of Jammu and Kashmir.
The rules were issued by J&K’s general administration department (GAD) on September 15, nearly a month after nearly two dozen J&K employees were terminated without a fair probe, evoking strong reaction in the Valley. Prior to this in July, the J&K administration invoked Article 311 of the constitution to dismiss 11 employees, including the daughter of a Jamaat-e-Islami activist and two sons of Hizb supremo Syed Salahuddin, once again, allegedly without a fair probe.
Demanding a rollback of the new rules, Kashmir-based political parties such as National Conference and Communist Party of India (Marxist), and several activists termed the decision as an “arbitrary” one that will undermine the tenets of democracy.
“The authoritarian order (goes) against the interest of the people. Instead of issuing such orders, the government must ensure that the rights of the people and their livelihood are protected,” M .Y. Tarigami, CPI(M) general secretary, said in a statement.
In the latest order, the GAD noted that government employees are “required to maintain absolute integrity, honesty and allegiance to the Union of India and its Constitution”, stressing that the employees are bound by the J&K Government Employees Conduct Rules, 1971.
Earlier this year, the administration had said that several employees were apparently found to be availing themselves of service benefits without obtaining necessary security clearance, prompting a review of the process for all J&K employees.
The J&K administration already amended rules regarding the appointment of new employees on June 21. As per the new order, ‘Instruction 2′ was added to the Jammu and Kashmir Civil Services (Verification of Character and Antecedents) Instructions, 1997, making CID verification mandatory for government employees.
The CID, which works under the home department, has been asked to scrutinise employees for any contact with “representatives or nationals from a foreign country” or their “financial interests in other countries which make an individual potentially vulnerable to coercion, exploitation, or pressure by a foreign government.”
The new order further asks the government departments and investigation agencies to scrutinise employees’ “involvement in any act of sabotage, espionage, treason, terrorism, subversion, sedition/ secession, facilitating foreign interference, incitement to violence or any other unconstitutional act.”
If the employees, their family members or persons sharing residential space with the employee have any association with “persons who are attempting to commit or (are) involved in aiding or abetting or advocating” any act against the national security, then the government can terminate them from service.
According to the new order, an employee is bound to inform the administration about the involvement of his or her “immediate family” in any “subversive act, directly or indirectly”, having the potential of subjecting the individual (employee) to duress, thereby posing a grave security risk.
The administration, which is run directly by New Delhi, has also warned the employees that their failure to report their relatives or persons who live with them and are “connected with any foreign government, associations, foreign nationals known to be directly or indirectly hostile to India’s national and security interests” can invite punitive measures.
Crackdown on freedom of speech
After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Union government read down Article 370 and downgraded the erstwhile state into two Union Territories, global bodies such as the United Nations and Kashmir-based political groups have repeatedly flagged the deterioration of freedom of speech and expression in Jammu and Kashmir.
Since the Union government’s decision, over 2,300 people have been booked in J&K in more than 1,200 cases, under the UAPA, and 954 people under the PSA, with about 40% detainees still languishing in jails.
Under UAPA, a detainee can be kept in jail without charges for 180 days. According to Kashmir-based lawyers, the police has been increasingly resorting to invoking the UAPA arbitrarily.
The lawyers’ claims are also supported by the latest data of National Crime Records Bureau, which show that the J&K Police filed 255 cases in 2019 under UAPA, compared to 60 annual cases until 2015 when the BJP came to power.
According to official data examined by Article 14, 96% of the sedition cases filed in the last decade for criticising political leaders and governments were registered after the Narendra Modi government first came to power in 2014.
Activists and political parties in Kashmir allege that the administration of Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, who was brought to J&K in August last year, has increasingly resorted to arbitrary measures and use of UAPA to curb free speech and “create and atmosphere of fear” in the Union Territory.
Terming the rules as an affront to the rights and privileges of employees, the National Conference led by Farooq Abdullah demanded their rollback, saying they “undermine the perception of natural justice, and basic human rights”.
“These ‘laws of exception’ are being thrust to tighten the juggernaut around the necks of employees pushing them towards a state of despondency. How can the employees work in an atmosphere of suspicion?” National Conference spokesperson Imran Nabi said, adding that the rules blur the distinction between the executive and the judiciary.
Imran said the “cloud of suspicion” against the employees will “severely affect the work culture and subsequently the administrative work. It is an act of wanton vilification by a government against its own arms”.
CPI(M)’s Tarigami said there are existing laws to deal with employees involved in “anti-national” or subversive activities.
“Denying anyone a passport based on a vigilance case cannot be a substitute for being found guilty in a court of law. One of the most sacred principles of the justice system is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. How can the government deny a passport to an employee on mere registration of a case by vigilance?”