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Saturday, January 22, 2011

‘Security breach’ ahead of R-Day at Srinagar Airport

Questions raised over separatist leader’s protocol at VIP Lounge

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jan 22: Increased vigil ahead of Republic Day at the country’s most sensitive Srinagar Airport has brought into question Jammu & Kashmir government’s “undeclared protocol” to Chairman of the separatist Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Alongwith two female members of his family, Police led the separatist leader to the VIP Lounge and reportedly served the trio coffee when Mirwaiz checked in on Friday afternoon to catch a Delhi-bound Go Air flight.

On way to London for participation in an international conference, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was captured by CCTVs while entering the VIP Lounge at Srinagar Airport on Friday afternoon twice. He remained seated alongwith two co-passengers, believed to be his family members. Mirwaiz is a Z-plus protected political leader but not entitled to remain seated and other protocol at the VIP lounges of Indian airports. However, the VIP Lounge at the Departure provided to the separatist leader extraordinary treatment, reserved by book only to Ministers and top government functionaries and judges of state High Courts and Supreme Court of India.

Officials in a Central agency, related to aviation and airport security, according to informed sources, have taken exception to what they had described as “breach of security” ahead of the Republic Day ceremonies of January 26th. However, a middle rung official in J&K Police dismissed the incident as a “breach of protocol” and insisted that prominent separatist leaders like Mirwaiz could not be expected to hijack airplanes. He, however, admitted that Mirwaiz or any other separatist politician, protected or otherwise, was not entitled to the VIP treatment at the VIP lounge.

Sources said that the central security agency was in the process of writing to their headquarters in New Delhi about the “undeclared VIP treatment” being provided to certain separatist leaders by men of J&K Police at Srinagar Airport. Even as SP Anti-hijacking, Abdul Rasheed, and Director Airport were not available for comment, sources revealed to Early Times that Budgam Police were likely to identify the personnel on duty in next two days and disciplinary action could be initiated against them for arranging the sitting of a separatist leader without entitlement in the VIP Lounge at Departure.

“This is nothing knew. Mirwaiz Sahab and many others, not entitled to VIP treatment, have been enjoying the comfort and hospitality in VIP lounges of Srinagar Airport since long. While Mirwaiz is invariably escorted to the VIP Lounge and seats in the first row of airplanes are always kept reserved for him with the help of airport staff, private airlines staff and the security staff, people like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik are not allowed in”, said an official posted at the airport. He said that even a number of influential businessmen and travel agents, who have put airport staff on their monthly payrolls, had been enjoying VIP treatment in brazen violation of rules and security guidelines at Srinagar Airport.

Sources added that with the help of such illegally bought staff, certain businessmen, travel agency operators and government employees had been carrying huge amounts of cash and quantities of gold in their luggage from Srinagar to Delhi. They said that one of the travel agency operators was found carrying cash worth around Rs one Crore but nobody at the airport had objected to him. On the other hand, students carrying even Rs 50,000 or one Lakh for their college fees and studies in different Indian cities were being subjected to a great deal of inconvenience and asked to declare purpose of carrying cash and its purpose with “proofs”.


Mehbooba views Govt's business with RBI as 'surrender of autonomy'

BoD holding special meet in Mumbai on Jan 29th to discuss overdraft issue

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jan 22: Even as Jammu & Bank is planning to discuss key investment issues, including the state Government's Friday agreement with Reserve Bank of India, in an extraordinary meeting of the Board of Directors in Mumbai on January 29th, PDP President Mehbooba Mufti today viewed Omar government's direct dealing with the central bank as "surrender of the state's autonomy".

Informed sources told Early Times that J&K Bank was likely to discuss in detail the issue of state government's liquidity of Rs 2700 Cr overdfrat coupled with the government's decision of direct dealing with the RBI. Sources said that following its decision to liquidate Rs 1000 Cr of the voluminous overdraft from the special assistance received from 13th Finance Commission, Government had decided to resolve its cash crunch crisis with direct support from RBI. BOD was likely to discuss consequences of this significant decision of the government that owns 53.17% equity of the bank.

Bank's key functionaries and some of the Directors on Board are now scheduled to fly to Mumbai on January 26th and 27th so as to prepared to discuss agenda of the meeting. Minister of Finance, Abdul Rahim Rather, has already made it clear that the government's agreement with the RBI was in no way a decision to weaken J&K Bank. According to him, it was part of the government's strategy to come out of the cumulative debt trap that consumed a major portion of the state's plan assistance received from the Cenre and its own resource mobilisation.

Notwithstanding Mr Rather's interpretation, the principal opposition party, PDP, today reacted sharply to the exclusion of J&K Bank as bankers to the state government. In a statement PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said, “It is the latest and most lethal nail in the coffin of state’s autonomy by National Conference. The decision removes the last fig leaf that the ruling party tried to cover its real intentions and duplicity with.”

Mehbooba said the decision is an enslaving mechanism for the state government that is already reeling under the economic deprivation and begging bowl syndrome caused by the sell out of resources by successive NC governments.

“J&K Bank is not only a flagship financial institution of the state but it represents the ability of our professionals to script great success story” she said expressing her apprehensions that the new arrangement could be the first step towards its liquidation as a state owned company.

The PDP president said while NC’s Autonomy resolution never made its way out of the then ally L K Advani's shredder, on ground the party seems to be doing everything to further surrender whatever had remained of it. “That becomes evident from the clear RBI statement that the decision was taken at the request of the state government.”  

Mehbooba said intellectual capital, natural resources, fiscal stability and freedom are the essences of any self respecting people. “NC in line with its heritage continues to uproot these cornerstones, be it by way of chronology or dynasty. The decision about J&K Bank is reminiscent of the surrender of rights over water resources in 1952 to New Delhi and the right of state legislature to amend its own constitution in July 1975 immediately after Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah came back to power as a price for it,” she said.

Mehbooba alleged while the historic U turns and lack of vision of the NC ensured intellectual growth was stunted Farooq Abdullah settled the natural resources debate forever by handing over the most feasible power projects to NHPC. “And now Omar seems to be dedicated to give up the remaining, she added fearing the banking changeover could prove a huge setback to the state in terms of achieving self sufficiency and economic self sufficiency,” she added.
Mehbooba said NC's political history can hardly boast anything by way of institution building, but JK Bank was perhaps the only prime institution that professionals from the state developed and could be proud of.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

UN’s 25000 Euros brings relief to ‘activists’, despair to victims

Rapporteur Margaret Sekaggya learns about the business on dead bodies in Kashmir

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jan 20: One of the journalists working for premier international news agency Reuters in Srinagar has been feeding families of five disappeared persons out of his monthly salary. Yet another, who himself survived a fatal attack on his life in a bomb blast at his office in 1995, has been providing sustenance to another group of the victims of enforced disappearances and bloodshed.

Hundreds of opulent businessmen have been silently doing similar noble work to provide succour to civilian sufferers of the 21-year-long armed conflict whose actual numbers are claimed to be 8,000 to 10,000 but impartially believed to be around 5,000. In approximately 70:30 ratio, these ill-fated civilians have disappeared in custody of security forces and separatist militants respectively.

Most of these civilians, owing allegiance to conflicting political ideologies, have vanished in the first 10 years of turmoil. With remarkable downswing, armed forces as well as guerrilla groups have continued to eliminate soft targets but those who disappeared in the last 11 years are in hundreds, not in thousands. Police have not received even a dozen of such complainants in last three years.

However, the numbers of people claiming to be fighting for protection of human rights and recovery of the disappeared persons have risen phenomenally over the years. Interests heightened enormously after the ‘human rights activists” learned through media last year that the United Nation’s Working Group on Involuntary Enforced Disappearances (WGIED) was providing a substantial financial assistance to families of such disappeared persons in Kashmir. Both factions of the lately split Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) began a flurry of activity to attract attention of the UN group.

Over a dozen of demonstrations were organised in Sher-e-Kashmir Park in Civil Lines here as young children and elderly women, describing themselves as families of the disappeared civilians, issued passionate appeals to the world to support them and help in recovery of their loved ones.

It was during the maiden visit of the UN’s Special Rapporteur, Margaret Sekaggya, that the much exploited families of the real victims learned on Monday that WGIED had provided the first ever financial support to them in the form of Euros 25000. Soon it surfaced that the account of one faction of their organisation was being operated by “unknown persons” in New Delhi, rather than any board of directors in Srinagar.

Even as WGIED had specifically made it a condition that the money equivalent to over Rs 17 Lakh would be operated “in democratic and transparent manner”, it became known that entire operation was restricted to two New Delhi-based female activists, including a Kashmiri filmmaker, and President of a faction of APDP, Parveena Ahangar. Parveena, whose son Javed Ahangar once disappeared allegedly in custody of Border Security Force nearly 20 years ago in Batmaloo area, had launched her own group after she broke away from the original organisation over charges of “nepotism and fraudulent handling” against her former colleagues.

Enjoying support of several groups based from New Delhi to Europe to USA, this uneducated middle-aged woman has been at the forefront of most of the demonstrations organised by her group in Srinagar. Last year, she was among the activists who held a demonstration outside the Parliament in New Delhi and also met President of India Pratibha Patil.

At Skaggya’s news conference here on Wednesday, one of the young APDP female activists walked out to register her strong protest against the way she had been clandestinely removed from office-bearers of the body and her “memorandum” to be submitted to the UN Rapporteur had been replaced by the one drafted by a Delhi-based human rights activist. She confronted Parveena how she had signed a document without being able to read a word out of it. She later revealed to mediapersons that in violation of the UN group guidelines and conditions, recipient APDP had got the money deposited in Parveena’s personal account.

The angry APDP activist alleged that Parveena’s son Yasir was single-handedly operating the bank account and its password was with a Delhi-based activist. She further revealed that like her old rivals, Parveena too had appointed daughter Saima and niece, Suby, at the APDP office at Hyderpora. “This whole money is being brazenly swindled. Not a pie is reaching the real victims. This is, in fact, business on the dead bodies”, Ms Arjimand Khan complained. She said that she would soon write to media and everybody at the UN how “vested interests” were looting the world in the name of victims of the Kashmir conflict.

While Parveena was not reachable for comment, APDP’s Legal Advisor, Advocate Hafizullah Mir, confirmed to Early Times that there was no board of directors. He said that due to recent disturbance in Valley, APDP could not fulfill its task of constituting the Board of Advisors. He also claimed that the money received from the UN group was “not for families of the disappeared persons”. “It has been decided that the money would be paid to the lawyers fighting suits of the victims in different judicial courts”, Mir said.


Bureaucrats want more of their men as ‘Consultants’, OSDs

Ministers of ‘cleanest ever Govt’ retain relatives in personal sections

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Jan 19: Over two dozen retired or retiring government officials are currently seeking re-employment or extension to service in contravention to Omar Abdullah-led coalition government’s stated policy. This is in addition to 85 blue-eyed boys of bureaucrats and politicians detailed in Wednesday issue of this newspaper.

Informed sources in General Administration Department (GAD) revealed to Early Times that in addition to 85 retired officials, who had already managed re-employment after reaching superannuation or extension to services ahead of their retirement, over two dozen more officials were currently seeking a post-retirement rehabilitation.

Immediately after taking over in January 2009, NC-led coalition government had announced the policy of not granting any extension to services of the retiring employees. It had decided that in “very compelling circumstances”, extension of a maximum of one year could be granted to the incumbents holding reputation of exceptionally meritorious public servants. However, nearly a hundred blue-eyed boys of bureaucrats and politicians managed extension of one or even two years.

Sources said that one of the retired officials of the state Information Department was now close to completing two years of extension to his service. He was attached to Chief Minister’s Secretariat. Another retired official of the same department, attached to DGP Kuldeep Khoda, was completing his year-long extension in service.

Mohammad Yousuf Lone, who retired as Additional Secretary Law on January 31, 2010, and Bashir Ahmed Banday, who retired as Special Assistant to Minister of Agriculture, on the same day last year, are understood to be attempting yet another extension of one year each from January 31, 2011. Banday, who had once managed his entry into then Minister Mohammad Shafi Uri’s personal section, has been functioning as OSD with Minister of Industries after his retirement last year. After his retirement as a Deputy Director in Horticulture (Marketing & Planning) Department last year, Banday was inducted through backdoor as a “Special Secretary to Government” and is completing his one-year extension on January 31, 2011.

Even as most of the Ministers in Omar Abdullah’s government have been cautious about selection of staff in their personal sections, two of the young Ministers have got their close relatives posted. While as Minister of Social Welfare, Sakeena Itoo, has got her brother-in-law, Mohammad Ayub, (a Forest Range Officer) as her Personal Relations Officer, Minister of Animal Husbandry and Information Technology, Aga Syed Rohulla Mahdi, has got his 72-year-old maternal uncle, Akhtar Hasnain, posted against a senior position in his personal section. Akhtar had retired as a middle rung official in Department of Rural Development over a decade ago.

Sources revealed that about half-a-dozen retired and retiring officials are lobbying for becoming “Advisors”, “Consultants” or “OSDs”. They have been pleading their case with reference to the precedence of former Director of Doordarshan Kendra Srinagar, Farooq Nazki, who was appointed as “Consultant Media” by Omar Abdullah government nearly 15 years after his retirement in Government of India, besides, retired MD of J&K SRTC, Rafeeq Qadiri, who was appointed as “Consultant Handicrafts”, and retired Director of Archives and Museums, SKA Qadiri, who was appointed as “Consultant Culture” last year.

Sources said that a recently retired Forest official and an IGP, who is scheduled to reach superannuation later this year, have begun efforts to get themselves inducted as Members of State Public Service Commission.

Of the nearly 100 beneficiaries, only three officials---Sales Tax Commissioner Bashir Ahmed Khwaja besides PSC Members, Khizar Mohammad Wani and Kulbhushan Jandial---are understood to have been granted post-retirement extension on the basis of their performance and integrity. All others are known as favourites of certain influential bureaucrats and politicians. At least 20 of these backdoor entrants have broken all records of corruption and other unfair practices throughout their service career.


Nazki among 85 post-retirement backdoor entrants in Omar Govt

Chief Secretary Kapur, GR Sofi, Ahmedullah lobbying for top positions in CIC

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Jan 16: Jammu & Kashmir Chief Secretary, Sham Singh Kapur, recently failed in his attempt of getting a post-retirement rehabilitation at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS). Reaching superannuation on January 31st, this 1974-batch IAS officer from Himachal Pradesh, who has already completed over 36 years of his service in J&K, is now making desperate attempts to get a top level post-retirement extension of five years to his service. He is, however, paying a price to achieve the goal.

Kapur is leaving no stone unturned to garner support from different political parties and the Centre to grab the plum position of Chief Information Commissioner (CIC). A three-member committee, comprising Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, PDP President Mehbooba Mufti and Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand is scheduled to select J&K’s first CIC and two Information Commissioners in a meeting here on January 27th.

According to well connected sources, former Income Tax commissioner, Ghulam Rasool Sofi, is among two retired officials who are currently lobbying for the two positions of Information Commissioners. Kashmir Administrative Service (KAS) official, Ahmedullah Shah, who retired on December 31, 2010 as Special Secretary to Government General Administration Department (GAD), is strongly lobbying for the post of Secretary in the State Information Commission. Since his joining KAS in 1984, Shah remained continuously posted in GAD and created a record of being never transferred in his entire service career.

Commissioner of Sales Tax, Bashir Ahmad Khwaja, who was due to retire on December 31, 2010, is one-odd official who has been granted extension of one year on the basis of his performance and integrity. Sources revealed to Early Times that Khwaja’s name had been recommended by Minister of Finance, Abdul Rahim Rather. However, most of the rehabilitated officials have been favoured on account of their political and bureaucratic clout. Very few of these extensions have been announced publicly.

In the middle of 2010, retired Director of Doordarshan Kendra Srinagar, Farooq Nazki, who is now 75-year-old, was appointed as “Media Consult” to Omar Abdullah-led government for monthly remuneration of Rs 50,000. For many in politics and bureaucracy, this was the most surprising rehabilitation as Nazki was known to have hurled choicest of his invectives on National Conference and its top leadership for over a decade. Maternal uncle to PDP ideologue, Naeem Akhtar, Nazki had publicly supported Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his PDP during the Assembly elections of 2002 and 2008 besides Lok Sabha elections of 2004 and 2009. Interestingly, Government’s worst ever media management was witnessed after Nazki’s engagement in June 2010.

Former Managing Director of J&K State Tourism Development Corporation, Rafeeq Qadiri, was silently appointed as a “Consultant” to government on “arts and handicrafts” immediately after his retirement from service last year. C K Abrol, former Chief Engineer with Public Health Engineering Department was given extension as ­consultant to the Centrally sponsored schemes in PHE sector.

SKA Qadiri, who retired as Director General of  Archives, Archaeology and Museums, is now a “Consultant” on cultural affairs. Senior NC activist, Rafiq Ahmed Dar, who retired as additional Deputy Commissioner was given a one-year extension as Special Officer Auqaf. He has recently completed his term. Ajaz Ahmad Kakroo, who functioned as Special Secretary to former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, got a year-long assignment as Principal of Sainik School at Manasbal.

Another official, Bashir Ahmad Banday, who retired as Joint Director in the Department of Horticulture last year, is presently Officer on Special Duty with Minister of Industries.

Even the judiciary has had its share of shadowy appointments. Andhra Pradesh Chief Justice Nisar Ahmad Kakroo, during his tenure as Acting Chief Justice of J&K High Court, ensured the appointment of his son Tariq Ahmad Kakroo as a junior manager in J&K State Power Development Corporation in violation of all norms of appointment set by the J&K Government. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah subsequently picked him up as an OSD in his Chief Minister’s Secretariat.

J&K State Public Service Commission has come under severe criticism as it is not chaired by a serving officer but a retired officer on extension, namely Shiban Lal Bhat. During Ghulam Nabi Azad-led coalition government, PDP had strongly lobbied for Bhat’s appointment as Chief Secretary when he was on Central deputation as a Joint Secretary in Government of India. Four other bureaucrats, Khazir Muhammad Wani, Manzoor Ahmad Bhat, Masood Samoon and KB Jandial, were appointed as PSC members after their retirement. However, Wani and Jandial were reportedly honoured on account of their integrity and performance.

PSC Secretary, Muhammad Ashraf Bukhari, was transferred twice but he managed to stay on. When Bukhari refused to join as Deputy Commissioner and the incumbent Showkat Ahmed Mir’s nephew died in a road accident, Kupwara remained a headless district for several days last year.

Private Secretary to DGP, Shadi Lal, has managed to get extensions every six months for the past two years. DGP’s PRO, Qazi Mohammad Shafi, was also granted an extension after he retired as Information Officer in 2010.

Even those who run employees' unions get their share of extensions. Civil Secretariat Non-Gazetted Employees president Nazir Ahmad Mir got an extension from Chief Secretary for one year after promising not to raise his voice against extensions to retired employees. Sources claimed that identical extensions to service are currently underway in favour of a number of vociferous trade union leaders, including Khursheed Aalam, who have either retired or happen to be at the fag end of their public service.


Monday, January 17, 2011

J&K Judiciary can’t shut eyes to Army chief’s slur

Bar chief Qayoom’s being ‘rabidly anti-India’ doesn’t mean courts have no credibility in J&K

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jan 17: In the middle of 2006, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) completed investigation in the infamous Pathribal fake encounter of March 2000. The Challan produced in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) Srinagar, that happens to be designated court of CBI cases in Kashmir, established that men from a unit of Rashtriya Rifles 7th Bn had kidnapped five innocent civilians from their respective localities in Anantnag district and subsequently killed them all with the label of “foreign terrorists responsible for massacre of 35 Sikhs at Chittisinghpura on March 20, 2000”.

It was probably for the first time that an “Indian” institution had established its credibility in 16 years of the conflict in the Valley. Those found guilty of killing innocent civilians included five officers. One of them, who headed the unit as a Major in 2000, had reached the rank of Brigadier and was posted somewhere in Maharashtra.

Even as CBI contested that special powers could not be misused to protect the personnel committing crime when not on duty, defence lawyers insisted that in any circumstances no soldiers posted in J&K could be tried as normal murderers. They argued that J&K Armed Forces Special Powers Act would serve as immunity to any soldier whether on duty or otherwise. Within days, Army provided institutional support to the accused when one organization of  the Government of India went to fight another organization of the union government (CBI).

Years later, when the Machhil fake encounter surfaced in May 2010, Army sought to make it clear through a host of statements that justice would be done without providing institutional support to the soldiers in any found involved. All the three “unidentified terrorists” were found as none other than the civilians of a Rafiabad village hired as porters. Living witnesses revealed that the innocent civilians had been “bought” for Rs 50,000 each and eliminated as “infiltrators” so as to claim reward money and higher ranks.

Army might have reasons to be disappointed with the way Sopore Police handled the accused. It might have found stimulants of displeasure during proceedings at a civil court in Sopore. But, soon the angry institution, like in Pathribal, delivered its ‘judgment’---of supporting the accused in all circumstances---when it approached far higher judicial forums, while claiming that the soldiers should enjoy immunity under provisions of AFSPA.

Even as both matters were sub judice, Army Chief, Gen V K Singh, delivered his own ‘judgment’ in New Delhi on January 14th---not on AFSPA but on credibility of entire judiciary in Jammu & Kashmir.

"I don't know how much you are aware of the legal system in the valley. There are various pressures out there. You are aware of Mian Qayoom Khan, who was President of the Bar Association and now he is in detention and he has been rabidly anti-India. Now, with that kind of a situation, what kind of a justice we would expect and legal provisions would be followed, leaves a question mark," he told a press conference. Gen Singh was responding to a journalist’s question on the Machhil ‘fake encounter’.

Commenting on the inquiry in the case, he said, the probe was delayed initially "because of the local courts putting a ban on the witnesses being available to the Army and after that, there were lot of legal wrangles in trying to get the issue sorted out."

Tolerating “rabidly anti-Indian” elements has been unmistakably a weakness of the Indian democratic system for which J&K judiciary can not be singularly abused. Citizens from Arundhati Roy to Syed Ali Shah Geelani to Mian Abdul Qayoom are pretty aware of that. Who doesn’t know, Srinagar-based High Court Bar Association of Mr Qayoom served as a constituent of the separatist umbrella, All Parties Hurriyat Conference? Who doesn’t know, Qayoom was appointed as head of the Valley’s first secessionist amalgam, Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, as early as in 1990? Who doesn’t know he has been pleading for Kashmir’s separation from India everywhere, be that a judge’s chamber or a street in Srinagar? Who doesn’t know he told a High Court judge on record that he didn’t consider himself as an Indian citizen?

But, does this infinite tolerance of the Indian democratic system discredit entire judiciary in J&K? Gen Singh perhaps needs to learn that all judges of High Courts, who control the subordinate judiciary, are appointed on warrants of the President of India---Supreme Commander of all Indian defence forces. If, according to him, all judges are susceptible to “various pressures” from the “rabidly anti-Indian” legal practitioners, he is clearly questioning competence of not only the country’s agencies certifying integrity of would-be judges but also that of the Supreme Commander of all defence forces.

Chief Justice is far away in Gowahati and his colleagues on the month-long winter vacation. But a many eyes seem to be inquisitive whether custodians of the sanctity and credibility of judiciary would persist with the tradition of “tolerance” or assert to make it clear whether the Indian Army chief was right or wrong in declaring the J&K judiciary as subservient to “various pressures” from “rabidly anti-Indian” elements. Days to come may make it clear whether the instrument of “suo motto cognizance” was restricted to only “sex scandals” or free enough to the courtyard of the executive’s strongest arm.