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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Omar Govt’s landmark Bill getting Cabinet nod today

Public Services Guarantee Bill proposes penalties on defaulter officers

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Mar 17: A landmark legislation, that has potential of uprooting red-tapism and inordinate delays in basic delivery systems in Jammu and Kashmir, is all set to get Cabinet’s approval today. The historic Bill is likely to be passed in both Houses of legislature during the current session.

A year after BJP-led government of Shivraj Singh Chauhan pioneered its introduction and implementation in Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah will be piloting J&K Public Services Guarantee Bill in both Houses of Legislature next week. Highly placed government sources revealed to Early Times that the state Cabinet, which would be meeting in the morning on Friday, would consider and subsequently approve draft of the groundbreaking Bill to curb inordinate delays in the basic delivery system of public services---and resultant corruption.

After Right To Information Act 2004/2009, this would be the most revolutionary legislation in Jammu and Kashmir in over a decade. While Shivraj Singh Chauhan government in Madhya Pradesh had become India’s first state to launch this law in 2010, Nitish Kumar’s government in Bihar had made implementation of the Bill its key electoral promise last year. However, the Bill is yet to come up for legislation in Bihar. Jammu & Kashmir, which once pioneered anti-defection law during Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s government, would become India’s second state to implement the groundbreaking law. The Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly had passed the historic Bill unanimously on July 30, 2010.

Sources said that Departments of Law and General Administration had fine-tuned the draft much on the pattern of Madhya Pradesh Public Services Guarantee Act/Lok Seva Adhiniyam, 2010. However, with a major difference, J&K law would authorise the government to later identify the public services to be brought under purview of the new legislation. The Madhya Pradesh law had identified some key services--- issuance of Birth Certificate, Death Certificate, Caste Certificate, Domicile Certificate, Water Connection, Khasra copies---and made public servants accountable for every day of delay beyond a stipulated period.

Under the new law, officers responsible for issuing the certificates and other public services would be liable to fine of Rs 500 to Rs 800 per day out of their pocket. However, government in J&K would identify the services after passing the legislation in current session of Assembly and Council. Sources said that immediate senior officials of the defaulting officials would be the appellate authorities and J&K Special Tribunal was likely to be designated as the apex appellate authority. The law would make the officers responsible for delivering various certificates, including issuance of ration cards, driving licenses, water and LPG connections, power connections etc, within a fixed timeline. The defaulting officers would be straightaway liable to fine.

Chief Minister had indicated introduction of the revolutionary law at a conference of Departmental Vigilance Officers (DVOs) in the winter capital in January. The Madhya Pradesh-type law would ensure delivery of time bound services to the public.

With implementation of the new law, the applicant shall receive a receipt when he or she submits an application to the officer for desired service. The time begins from the date of submission which is mentioned in the receipt.

There is a fixed time for every officer to keep a file with him. If the officer in charge fails to provide the service in time the applicant can approach the first and second appellate officers. They would instruct the officer concerned to provide the service.

In case of delay, the officer in charge will have to pay a fine to the tune of Rs. 500 per day, subject to a maximum of Rs. 5,000.

The Appellate officer can also be penalized if he fails to ensure the delivery of service. He shall be fined to the tune of Rs. 800 per day, subject to a maximum of Rs. 5,000 if he is unable to give any valid reason for non delivery of services.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Speaker orders probe into facts carried by Early Times

CS to hold inquiry into Transport officials’ induction into KAS

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Mar 16: Speaker of Legislative Assembly, Mohammad Akbar Lone, today directed Chief Secretary to conduct a detailed inquiry into the facts carried by Early Times regarding mysterious disappearance of the official records of 50,000 driving licenses in Doda-Udhampur besides the accused ARTO’s induction into Kashmir Administrative Service (KAS) in April 2010.

During Zero House, PDP’s MLA from Bandipore, Nizam-ud-din Bhat, sought Speaker’s attention towards today’s banner lead in Early Times regarding the fraudulent appointment of one Bhumesh Sharma as Junior Assistant in state Transport Department and subsequently his fraudulent induction into KAS. Without being specific, Bhat pointed out that a newspaper had contested Minister incharge Transport Qamar Ali Akhoon’s statement given in Assembly regarding an official’s induction into KAS. He wanted to read out two particular paragraphs of the news story.

Speaker did not allow Bhat to read out the text and instead began complaining that some newspapers had carried “manipulated” news stories in the last few days. He pointed out that some of these stories had maligned even a veteran legislator like Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami with their “false reporting of facts”. He warned that such reports, if complained by members, could lead to action against the reporters. With that, Speaker proceeded to other scheduled business.

Speaker, however, called today’s issue of Early Times and went through it while the proceedings were in progress. Thereafter, he made a suo motto intervention and made it clear that his previous statement should not be treated as his “clean chit” to the officer mentioned in the newspaper report. “I am, hereby, directing Chief Secretary to hold an investigation into the facts carried by the newspaper and, if proved correct, initiate necessary action against the officials involved”, he said. He, nevertheless, did not agree to the suggestion that the Minister incharge Transport had misled the House. He clarified that the Minister had only stated the facts obtained from his subordinate officials.

In today’s issue, Early Times had carried an investigative report about the entry of a former RTO’s son, Bhumesh Sharma, through backdoor into government service and established that his appointment as Junior Assistant by then Transport Commissioner on 10-07-1991 was ab initio illegal. It had been pointed out in the report that Transport Commissioner had no competence to make such an appointment. It had been further pointed out that the vacancy had not been advertised and no interview was conducted. Besides, the incumbent had been shown as Bachelor of Commerce on 10-07-1991 while as his result had been actually declared by University of Jammu on 6-8-1991 i.e. 27 days after the date of his appointment. Besides, copies of the appointment order had been provided to nobody in the government other than the appointee and his father who was RTO in Jammu on the date of his son’s backdoor appointment.

Early Times had also detailed in the report that same backdoor entrant had been elevated to different ministerial and executive positions and finally inducted into KAS clandestinely by General Administration Department in April 2010 without bothering to examine his initial appointment order. Furthermore, he had been retained in state Transport Department and appointed as Deputy Transport Commissioner. For some time, he also held charge of Member-Secretary State Transport Authority (STA). It was he who had issued as many as 50,000 driving licenses in Doda and Udhampur districts and got a report filed in Daily Diary of Police Station Doda that original records had disappeared in mysterious circumstances during transportation from Udhampur to Doda.

Until yesterday, 703 commuters and holders of fraudulently issued commercial driving licenses had died in scores of road accidents in Doda-Udhampur in the last two years. Yesterday itself, 12 more people died in another such accident in Sudh Mahadev area near Chinani. However, none of the MLAs today raised any question in Assembly as to how a 28-seater minibus was carrying as many as 68 passengers when it met with the accident.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dy Tr Commissioner’s appointment ab initio fraud

Minister misleads Assembly over official’s induction into KAS by GAD

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Mar 15: In response to the CPI (M) MLA Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami’s demand of CBI inquiry into mysterious disappearance of records in the state Transport Department and induction of an accused official into Kashmir Administrative Service (KAS), Minister incharge Transport Qamar Ali Akhoon informed Legislative Assembly on Monday that General Administration Department (GAD) had inducted Dy Transport Commissioner Bhumesh Sharma after completing all necessary formalities. However, Early Times is in possession of documentary evidence that the back-door entrant’s induction was only the result of interventions from influential quarters and the GAD had not even bothered to examine the initial appointment order of the incumbent.

During an indepth investigation, this newspaper observed that Bhumesh Sharma’s appointment as Junior Assistant in Transport Department on 10-07-1991 was patently a fraud. It was observed that then Transport Commissioner, who had no authorization by law, had appointed Sharma as Junior Assistant by issuing a two-sentence “order”. Sharma had no special qualification other than the fact his father, Brij Mohan Sharma, happened to be Regional Transport Officer (RTO) of Jammu.

Besides, the post of Junior Assistant was not advertised. There was neither any competition nor any interview. The incumbent was directed to report in the office of his father, then RTO Jammu, for further posting. Copies of the appointment order were sent to nobody other than the appointee and his father (RTO Jammu).

Transport Commissioner’s Order No: 8 of 1991 Dated 10-07-1991, copy of which is available with Early Times, reads:-

“Shri Bhumesh Sharma S/o B.M. Sharma R/o 192- Pakki Dhaki  Jammu who has passed B. Com Examination is hereby appointed as a Junior Assistant against the available vacancy in the pay scale of Rs 800- 1500 purely on temporary basis. He will report in the Regional Transport Office Jammu for further posting”.

According to the Transport Commissioner’s “Order”, Bhumesh Sharma had “passed B. Com Examination” when the Order No: 8 of 1991 was issued on 10th July 1991 and circulated to only the appointee and his father vide No: 266-67/ TC Dated 10-07-1991. During the investigation, Early Times discovered that incumbent Bhumesh Sharma had not passed B. Com Examination on the date of his appointment by then Transport Commissioner. Official records of the University of Jammu, copies available with Early Times, clearly mention that Bhumesh Sharma’s result of B. Com was actually declared on 6-8-1991 i.e. 27 days after the date of his appointment.

Sharma secured a total of 959 marks (53 percent) out of 1800 in his Bachelor of Commerce. It is clear without an iota of ambiguity that Sharma’s appointment was ab initio fraud and based on suppression of facts by then Transport Commissioner. Nobody from State Vigilance Organisation to Crime Branch took any cognizance of the complaints submitted anonymously by the officials who feared that their promotion prospects were being marred through fraudulent means.

Within a short period, Bhumesh Sharma was not only “regularized into permanent service” through backdoor and elevated to higher positions but also shifted from the inferior job a junior clerk to field executive positions in Motor Vehicle Department. He was subsequently appointed as Chief Inspector of Board of Inspections and thereafter Assistant Regional Transport Officer (ARTO) of Udhampur with additional charge of ARTO Doda. It was during this posting that he issued 50,000 driving licenses in just 26 months---as many as 30,000 in Doda and 20,000 in Udhampur.

Entire records of private as well as commercial licenses issued by Sharma from January 31, 2001, to March 25, 2003, were destroyed. One of his subordinate clerks approached Police Station Doda and made an entry in Daily Diary that the records had “disappeared in mysterious circumstances” during transportation from Udhampur to Doda. In reply to VOJ inquiry, ARTO Doda Bipan Singh Charak (now under suspension) wrote on 20-12-2010 that original records of all the 30,000 licenses issued during the period in question were “untraced”. Inspector Devender Singh is still continuing the lackadaisical “preliminary inquiry” and contrary to Minister Akhoon’s statement in Assembly, VOJ has not issued any “clean chit” in favour of the accused.

 Sharma faced an inquiry by Vigilance Organisation Jammu in a matter of creating assets disproportionate to his known sources of income. VOJ conducted raids on hotels and Education Colleges in Jammu, Katra and Patni Top and collected all evidences to establish the charges. However, entire records disappeared mysteriously from the possession of the Inquiry Officer, Inspector Nisar Hussain Shah. While Shah was placed under suspension and a criminal matter of destroying the evidence with criminal intention was assigned to CBI, Bhumesh Sharma was allowed to escape free.

The investigation carried out by Early Times discovered that GAD, that directly functions under Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, did not bother to even examine the initial appointment of Bhumesh Shrama, when he was inducted into KAS under Govt Order No: 441-GAD of 2010 Dated 12-04-2010. Enjoying blessings of influential politicians and bureaucrats, Bhumesh Sharma was not only retained in Transport Department but also appointed as Deputy Transport Commissioner. For some time, he also functioned as Member-Secretary of State Transport Authority (STA).


Monday, March 14, 2011

Tarigami demands CBI probe in Transport scam

Early Times reports made part of Assembly proceedings

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Mar 14: CPI (M) State Secretary and MLA Kulgam, Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, today presented two particular issues of Early Times to Speaker of Legislative Assembly and demanded a thorough investigation by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the charges of corruption and other malpractices against the officials of the State Transport Department. In a series of reports on March 13th and 14th, this newspaper had revealed how one group of corrupt officials had sponsored a “sting operation” against another group of corrupt officials in an attempt to grab “plum postings”. It had also published an investigative story on how a junior assistant had been inducted into the prestigious Kashmir Administrative Service (KAS) and retained on a prize position in Transport Department inspite of the fact that records of all inquiries against him, as also official records of the 50,000 driving licenses issued by him in two years in Doda-Udhampur, had been destroyed.

Participating in the discussion on grants of CAPD and Transport Department in Assembly, veteran legislator Tarigami expressed his concern over reports of rampant corruption in both the departments. He said that a scandal over pilferage of sugar had surfaced in recent past and an investigation was underway. Tarigami referred to the March 9th incident---when BJP MLA from Basohli, Jagdish Raj Sapolia, presented cash worth Rs 20,000 and a CD to Speaker and demanded an inquiry against ARTO of Doda---and said that the story behind the story was equally appalling.

The CPI (M) leader waved both issues of Early Times and presented them to incharge Speaker, Chowdhary Mohammad Ramzan, with the request that the same be made part of the Assembly proceedings. He said that the inquiry previously ordered by Minister incharge Transport over demand of the MLA and endorsement of Speaker (being conducted by RTO Jammu against the ARTO Doda) would not be effective in light of the fresh facts exposed by the newspaper. He urged the Speaker to refer the entire scandal of sting operation, coupled by mysterious disappearance of the records of 50,000 driving licenses and disproportionate assets of the accused officials, for a detailed investigation to CBI or any other effective forum.

Incharge Speaker, Ch Ramzan, received both the issues of the newspaper and made them part of the House proceedings. Since Speaker, Mohammad Akbar Lone, was not in chair, Tarigami’s demand is expected to be disposed off in a couple of days. Later, in his reply to the discussion, Minister incharge Transport, Qamar Ali Akhoon, claimed that the accused official had been inducted into KAS by General Administration Department only after he got NOCs from State Vigilance Organisation (SVO) and CBI.

Notwithstanding an exceptionally clean image of Minister incharge Transport, Qamar Ali Akhoon, as well as Transport Commissioner, Dr Syed Mohammad Fazalullah, corruption and manipulation of prize postings has become a routine in the Transport Department. Touts operating on behalf of middle-rung officials in State Transport Authority (STA) as well as several offices of Regional Transport Officers (RTOs) and Assistant RTOs, have been collecting fixed amounts of bribe money for everything from issuance of driving licenses and registration certificates to commercial route permits and fitness certificates. Licenses and certificates of many “paid clients” are conveniently delivered at their residences.

One of the officials, who had been got appointed by his father (then RTO Jammu) some 17 years back as a Junior Assistant, has risen to executive positions of ARTO and Chief Inspector of the Board of Inspections. According to insiders, he also managed to neutralize all inquiries against him and got entire records destroyed. In 2001-2003, same official functioned as ARTO of Udhampur, with additional charge of ARTO Doda, and issued as many as 50,000 driving licenses in just 26 months of his tenure. Original records of 48,000 of these driving licenses have been destroyed. Officials have written in response to a query to Vigilance Organisation Jammu that just Xerox copies of 1930 licenses were now available in the office of ARTO Doda.

The middle-rung official of the Transport Department, allegedly responsible for issuing licenses in violation of codal formalities and subsequently destruction of original records, has been inducted into KAS and retained on a higher position in the same department. More surprisingly, same official, with patronage of senior bureaucrats and politicians, was now collecting certificates of “high integrity” from government functionaries and aspiring for a gold medal from Omar Abdullah’s government.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

-------How 700 commuters died in road accidents in Doda--------

Records of 50,000 driving licenses ‘missing’

Accused ARTO inducted into KAS; SVO conducting half-hearted probe

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Mar 13: Records of almost all the 50,000 driving licenses, issued by an Assistant Regional Transport Officer (ARTO) in Doda-Udhampur from January 2001 to March 2003, are completely missing in the state Transport Department. While as no departmental inquiry has been conducted by successive governments and the State Vigilance Organisation (SVO) has now begun a half-hearted investigation, the well-connected ARTO has been not only inducted into the prestigious Kashmir Administrative Service (KAS) but also retained on a coveted position in the Transport Department.

Well-placed sources in the state Transport Department revealed to Early Times that official records of almost all the 50,000 driving licenses, issued by one particular ARTO in Doda-Udhampur from 31-01-2001 to 25-03-2003 were “completely missing”. Even as the matter was well in the knowledge of all high ups from Transport Commissioners to Commissioner-Secretaries of Transport and successive Ministers incharge Transport, no departmental inquiry was ever conducted in the last seven years. According to sources, most of these driving licenses, private as well as commercial, had been issued against cash payment of bribes and without completion of codal formalities.

Like in several other districts of the state, rate of Rs 2,000 to 4,000 had been fixed for issuance of each light motor vehicle license. Officials, directly as well as through touts, openly charged Rs 5,000 to Rs 8,000 for heavy and hill driving licenses in the lucrative commercial category in Doda and Udhampur. The bribe money, running into Crores of Rupees, was shared between officials from top to bottom in full knowledge of the department as well as the applicants. Then ARTO Udhampur, who also held the additional charge of ARTO Doda, is believed to have issued 20,000 driving licenses in Udhampur district and 30,000 more in Doda in just two years of his tenure.

With all complaints falling on deaf ears of the authorities, SVO finally launched a half-hearted ‘preliminary inquiry’ vide No: SVO-Veri-UD-47/2010-148569 late last year. Incumbent ARTO Doda-Kitshwar, Bipan Singh Charak, wrote to the Inquiry Officer (IO) on 20-12-2010 that the records of almost all the 30,000 driving licenses in question were “missing”. He made it clear to the SVO that photocopies of just 1,930 licenses, issued from 3-10-2001 to 4-10-2002, were available in his office but original records of these too were “untraced”.

Apparently well versed in the art of keeping his personal records clear, the 2003 ARTO has been found to have informed Police Station Doda, through a subordinate clerk, that the official records of all the driving licenses issued during two years of his tenure, had “disappeared in mysterious circumstances” during transportation from Udhampur to Doda. Police made necessary entry in its Daily Diary but did not conduct any investigation.

By virtue of his high connections in bureaucracy as well politics, the accused ARTO has risen from his initial appointment as Junior Assistant in Motor Vehicle Department to a coveted position in the state Transport Department in less than 18 years. Sources said that the ARTO’s father, who also remained posted as RTO Jammu, also faced SVO investigations but managed to get clean chit from top judicial courts from J&K to New Delhi.

In the year 2006-07, SVO launched an investigation into the assets of the ARTO, allegedly disproportionate to his known sources of income, and conducted a series of raids on his hotels and Education Colleges in Jammu, Katra and Patni Top. While the investigation was nearing completion and all necessary evidences had been collected, entire records disappeared mysteriously in the custody of IO, Inspector Nisar Hussain Shah. While the accused ARTO escaped free, Commissioner of Vigilance Dr Ashok Bhan ordered suspension of the IO besides a departmental inquiry against him.

The ARTO’s godfathers in then Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s government managed to send the investigation against the IO in the matter of “destroying evidences with criminal intention” to the CBI. Vigilance Organisation Jammu finally closed the matter as “not admitted” and buried the investigation. CBI later returned the matter with the remarks that no “criminal intention” was evident in the act of “destroying the evidences”.

Even previously, when Transport Commissioner M K Mohanty shifted this well-connected official from the posting of Chief Inspector Board of Inspections and also relieved him of the additional charge of ARTO Udhampur, Commissioner-Secretary Mushtaq Ahmed Ganai lost no time to teach the top-ranking Police officer a lesson of his life. Within a day, the official’s dignity was restored and the Transport Commissioner was snubbed with the remarks that he had no authority to touch officials above the rank of Inspector. For several years, this official became famous for his connections to then Minister incharge Transport Ajat Shatru Singh.

With the number of drivers and commuters killed in scores of road accidents in Doda-Kishtwar spiraling upto 703 in the last few years---and all inquiries being hushed up in broad daylight---Government of Jammu & Kashmir inducted the junior assistant-turned-ARTO into the prestigious KAS. As the “indispensable” insisted to continue in Transport Department, he was not only posted against a coveted position but also given the department’s “most lucrative” charge of Member-Secretary State Transport Authority. Sometime back, he was made to clear the slot for a former Chief Secretary’s son.

Refusing to reconcile, he hired the services of a national television news channel’s cameraman and got a number of his rivals trapped on his spy camera. Knowledgeable sources insist that only one ARTO’s video clip was used to spread terror through Assembly and all others, captured in action, were being blackmailed. They include RTO Jammu, Virender Salathia, who has been pitiably appointed by Minister of Transport as head of the inquiry into charges of corruption against the suspended ARTO of Doda!