Article 311: ‘Govt Servants in J&K Can’t Share Their Political Views’

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An arrested Kashmiri government employee shouts slogans during a protest demanding steady jobs and salary hikes, Feb. 22, 2014. Photo by AFP

‘The similar matter first came in August 1990, when five officials were dismissed for allegedly indulging in activities deemed prejudicial to the security of the state.’

IF the looming cloud of controversies was not large enough for Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the implementation of Article 311 in the erstwhile state has given birth to another major controversy.

The article allows the union territory administration to take stringent action against the government employees found guilty of being involved in any sort of ‘anti-national’ activities by the police.

Proceedings will be initiated against such employees without any inquiry on the recommendation of a committee set up for the purpose.

The panel which will probe the matter will be headed by Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam, and will have Home Secretary and the state police chief as members, among others.

The abrogation of Article 370 last year paved the way for the implementation of Article 311 in J&K. This will also apply to employees who have served detention, and in the pending cases.

The similar matter first came in August 1990, when five officials were dismissed for allegedly indulging in activities deemed prejudicial to the security of the state.

What’s Article 311?

Article 311 deals with service matters. It gives protection to government servants, but at the same time, it can be used by the authorities concerned against them.

It deals with the power of the competent authorities to dismiss a government servant, remove him from the service and reduce him in rank. But, these actions can only be taken after a disciplinary inquiry.

“The government as the employer has the power to determine the conditions of service, and those conditions would include the imposition of restrictions on the activities of the government servants, whether in public or private life,” Zaffar Shah, senior advocate, J&K High Court, told Kashmir Observer.

There’re a lot of rules that govern the conditions of service, and one of the sets of rules is called conduct service rules, the advocate explained.

In the conduct service rules, the government imposes conditions. “It looks to me that the government is saying that the government servants cannot share their political opinions either on social media or by the press,” Shah said.

The advocate believes that this is a condition imposed by the government on the government servants.

What About Freedom of Speech?

While many argue that the government does not have the power to do so as every government employee has the fundamental right to speech, the other view, however, is that the right to free speech can be curtailed in special cases.

This gives rise to a conflict between the right to freedom of expression and the conduct as a government employee.

In case of a judicial review, Shah strongly believes that the court might decide in favour of the government.

At present, the total number of government employees in J&K stands at around five lakhs.

Many say the genesis of the concept of political neutrality for government servants comes from British Raj. The government has also not described ‘anti-national’ while issuing the notification.

Political Take

Former JK Minister and Apni Party leader, Usman Majid, dismissed the Article 311 as another nail in the coffin to curb the freedom of expression.

“Such laws have been amended in other parts of the country, then why not in J&K?” the former Congress legislator from Bandipora said. “The government cannot have two yardsticks for the same country.”

Appealing to the home ministry to abolish this law as he finds it extremely unfair, Majid said, “You cannot shut mouths until a person is expressing his views decently.”

Academic Perspective

Professor Ismail Ashna, a government lecturer in Kashmir, believes that politics should be a domain of everybody, as far as a democratic setup is concerned.

Ashna argued that if the professors at the government universities in J&K are allowed to share their political opinions, then why the government college lecturers are being barred from doing so.

“If they [university professors] are capable to share their views on such matters, then why can’t others?” asks Ashna. “Why this discrepancy and discrimination?”

Many academicians believe that if the government employees are allowed to actively share their viewpoints, then it will ultimately help in strengthening democracy.

“It’s necessary for every citizen to have freedom of expression,” said Rouf Bhat, a government teacher from Pulwama, “but the government employees hesitate in speaking on political matters, as a majority of them remain silent due to fear of losing their jobs.”

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Mrinal Pathak

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