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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Govt showcases SAC but doesn’t have staff for it

Law Secretary sleeping over repeated requisitions; all key posts vacant

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Oct 13: Omar Abdullah-led coalition government may rightfully claim credit for reviving the defunct Jammu and Kashmir State Accountability Commission (SAC) with the appointment of its Chairman and a Member. However, Law Department’s cold-shouldering of repeated requisitions from the SAC and failure to provide staff to the accountability watchdog have raised serious doubts about the Government’s will to make the Commission functional.

SAC was created in 2003 after Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s PDP-Congress coalition government made a legislation with the support of then principal opposition party National Conference in 2002. It took Mufti’s government nearly two years to appoint SAC’s first Chairman in 2005. However, within a year, Justice RP Sethi tendered his resignation due to a host of reasons. Later, two of its members---G L Raina and Mohammad Muzaffar Jan--- conducted some business but the Commission became fully non-functional with the retirement of its last member, namely Justice (retd) Muzaffar Jan, in 2008-09.

After over two years of suspended animation, SAC got a fresh lease of life when Omar Abdullah’s government recommended Justice (retd) Yash Pal Nargotra as Chairman and Justice (retd) Hakeem Imtiyaz Hussain as its Member on July 30, 2011. Governor accordingly issued the warrants of appointment on August 12, 2011. Both the appointees were sworn in amid fanfare by the coalition government on August 21. In the last nearly two months, SAC has been making repeated requisitions to the state Law Secretary, Ghulam Hassan Tantray, for appointment of staff on key positions but none of the communications has yielded anything.

A private building, hired for the SAC’s summer headquarters, in Sonwar area is being demanded back by its owner. Chairman and Member have got the eviction deferred by personal obligation. Their requests of establishing the headquarters at the old Legislature Complex, where J&K State Information Commission (SIC) has recently set up office, have also been ignored by the state government. Even the vital infrastructure, like computers, furniture and vehicles, has not been provided.

SAC has formally communicated to the Law Department that almost all of its key positions were lying vacant and the posts of Secretary, Deputy Secretary and Assistant Registrar were manned by “ineligible persons drawn from Law Department”. It has pointed out that it needed eligible incumbents, particularly from judiciary and J&K Police. There has been no action by the state government.

Presently, a Special Secretary from Legal Service of the state government is working as Secretary and a Deputy Secretary from Legal Service as Deputy Secretary of SAC. Besides, there is an Assistant Registrar from Law Department in Jammu. Three Junior Assistants have been hired from offices of Public Prosecutors. One female computer operator, engaged by a Deputy Commissioner on contract basis and eight Orderlies, four each in Kashmir and Jammu, are also manning positions at SAC. Authorities at SAC insist that none of these was holding a substantive post as an eligible incumbent.

While the substantive posts of Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Principal Secretary to Chairman, as also both posts of Deputy Registrar and both posts of Public Prosecutor are lying vacant, SAC does not have any official on the post of Financial Advisor cum Chief Accounts Officer. It does not end there. The Commission does not have an individual for one post of PA-cum-Stenographer, both posts of Stenographer and one-odd post of Section Officer. Besides, all four posts of Judgment Writer, all four posts of Computer Operator, both posts of Senior Assistant and both posts of Head Assistant are also lying unmanned.

Under the J&K State Accountability Commission Act, Government of Jammu & Kashmir is supposed to create an independent investigation agency for verification of complaints and inquiry and investigation of the matters brought before the SAC. A senior IPS officer of the rank of Additional DGP has to head the investigation agency with two DIGs to head it at Provincial level in Kashmir and Jammu. It also needs two SSPs, two Dy SPs, four Inspectors, four Sub Inspectors and other subordinate staff. Not a single official has been provided to it by the state Home Department/ Police Headquarters.

Informed sources revealed to Early Times that after failing to get any substantive response from Law Secretary Tantray in the last two months, SAC has now taken up the matter directly with Chief Minister’s Office. Principal Secretary to Chief Minister, Bharat Bhushan Vyas, is understood to have assured the Commission that necessary staff and infrastructure would be provided to it “within a few days”. Sources said that Mr Vyas, as well as DGP, Mr Kuldeep Khoda, were called to the SAC headquarters and made aware of the “extreme steps” the Commission could take by law.

The Commission has separately taken up the matter with Registrar General of J&K High Court. Both, DGP as well as J&K High Court authorities, have reportedly made it clear that the eligible staff would be provided as soon as a formal requisition would be received from Law Department.

Minister incharge Law & Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Mohammad Sagar, did not respond to phone calls when efforts were made to seek his comment and learn as to why the state Government had not provided staff and infrastructure to SAC.


SAC serves contempt notice on J&K Chief Secretary

Info on Ministers/Advisors sought from CM after default by CS

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Oct 12: Much-hyped Jammu & Kashmir State Accountability Commission (SAC) has been taken for granted not only by many officials and middle-rung bureaucrats but also by Chief Secretary Madhav Lal. Consequently, SAC has now demanded information about nine of the ruling coalition politicians, holding the status of a Minister or Minister of State (MoS), directly from Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and simultaneously served a notice of contempt on the head of the bureaucracy.

In a significant decision today, the full Commission, comprising Chairman Mr Justice (retd) Y P Nargotra and Member Mr Justice (retd) Hakeem Imtiyaz Hussain, took serious notice of Chief Secretary’s non-compliance in the matter of providing information regarding rules of appointment, status and the perks and privileges enjoyed by the politicians who have been holding the rank of a Minister or MoS in the state government. In the order dated September 23, 2011, SAC had asked CS to furnish the information by or before September 28, 2011.

“This being the situation, it is deemed appropriate to seek the said information now directly from the Honourable Chief Minister. The Registry shall issue the communication in this behalf for seeking the said information on or by the next date of hearing”, SAC’s order said. October 20th was fixed as the next date of hearing.

“As regards Chief Secretary’s failure to comply with the direction, it, prima facie, amounts to gross violation and disobedience of the lawful orders of this Commission. Therefore, let a notice be issued to the Chief Secretary for appearing in person before the Commission on the next date of hearing to show cause as to why the contempt proceedings in terms of Section 20 of the Act be not initiated against him”, said the order further.

Early Times learned from informed sources that incharge Deputy Registrar wrote a letter directly to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, seeking the information in the wake of the default and ‘disobedience’ by Chief Secretary. Yet another letter was delivered, manually as well as by fax, on Chief Secretary directing him to appear in person on October 20th and explain as to why contempt proceedings be not initiated against him.

As previously reported in this newspaper, a civilian petitioner has complained to SAC that one of the ruling coalition politicians was enjoying the status of a Minister without being sworn in as a Minister by the Governor and thus claiming all the perks and privileges a sworn in Minister was entitled to. The complainant has alleged that the politician was misusing official position and building fortunes.

Rather than proceeding against the politician directly, SAC decided to find whether the public functionary was really holding the status of a Minister in Omar Abdullah’s government. It also sought information from Chief Secretary about the number of such incumbents, rules and regulations governing their conferment as a Minister and the perks and privileges made available to such individuals by the state government. Chief Secretary, however, did not respond to the communication.

As of now, nine politicians, belonging to the ruling National Conference and Congress, are enjoying the status of a Minister or MoS. They hold offices, use national and state flags on their vehicles, stay in Ministerial accommodations, claim reimbursement of air tickets besides boarding and lodging at luxury hotels outside the state.

NC’s MLA from Iddgah, Mubarak Gul, was appointed as Advisor to Chief Minister in August 2009. Government conferred on him status of a Cabinet Minister. Same party’s MLC from Jammu, Devender Singh Rana, was appointed as Political Advisor to Chief Minister and allotted the status of MoS on January 6, 2009.

Congress party’s former MLA, Khem Lata Wakhloo, who also functioned as MLC and a cabinet Minister in Ghulam Mohammad Shah’s government in 1984-86, was appointed as Chairperson J&K State Social Welfare Advisory on 28-10-2010. Order of her appointment did not mention her status but bureaucratic sources insist that she was offered status of MoS which she declined to accept. She has been struggling to seek status of a Cabinet Minister with the plea that she had functioned as a Cabinet Minister in 1984-86 and is not working under any other authority, unlike several Vice Chairpersons of statutory boards.

NC’s first time MLA from Habbakadal and former MLC, Shameema Firdaus, was appointed as Chaiperson of J&K State Women’s Commission on 19-01-2010. She too has been holding status of MoS.

NC’s former MLA from Surankote, Mushtaq Ahmad Shah Bukhari, who served as MoS in Dr Farooq Abdullah’s NC Government in 1996-2002, was appointed Vice Chairman of Jammu and Kashmir State Advisory Board for Welfare and Development of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) on 19-01-2010. He too enjoys status of MoS.

NC’s incumbent MLA from Kalakote, Rachhpal Singh, was appointed as Vice Chairman of J&K State Advisory Board for the Development of Kissans on 19-01-2010. He too was conferred status of MoS.

Congress party’s Choudhary Bashir Ahmad Naz was appointed as Vice Chairman, J&K State Advisory Board for Development of Gujjars and Bakerwals with the status of a Minister of State on 10-02-2010. On the same day, Congress party’s former legislator, Smt Swaran Lata was appointed as Vice Chairperson, J&K State Advisory Board for Welfare and Development of Schedule Castes.

Same party’s Kuldeep Raj was appointed as Vice Chairman Jammu and Kashmir State Advisory Board for Welfare and Development of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) on 15-02-2011. While as Mr Naz, Mrs Swaran Lata and Mr Kuldeep Raj are also enjoying the status of MoS, none of the three is a sitting legislator.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah himself has been functioning as Chairman of the Boards operated by non-legislators Mushtaq Bukhari, Bashir Naz, Swaran Lata and Kuldeep Raj besides, legislator Rachhpal Singh.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

SAC calls record of IT contracts from Sectt, LAWDA

Complaint: Ministers have allotted projects to favourites without tenders

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Oct 12: Taking cognizance of a complaint, which claims that a couple of Ministers in Omar Abdullah’s coalition government have allotted multi-Crore contracts in Information Technology sector to their favourites in violation of codal procedure, State Accountability Commission (SAC) has called for relevant records from Civil Secretariat and J&K Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA).

On the directions of SAC, comprising Chairman Justice YP Nargotra and Member Justice Hakeem Imtiyaz Hussain, a communication went today to Vice Chairman of LAWDA, Irfan Yasin, asking him to furnish all relevant information regarding the multi-Crore IT project by or before October 19th. According to the complaint under investigation before SAC, LAWDA has allotted the contract to the favourite of a Minister without calling for competition under rules.

“Whether it is a fact that an amount of Rs 356 Cr has been sanctioned by the Central government for conservation/ preservation of of Dal Lake and, in connection therewith, a project (High Resolution Satellite Data Analysis) using Information Technology tools to give complete information including maps of the affected areas and further to identify potential microsheds and develop them in respect of said catchments has been undertaken by the Government? If so, whether a contract in this behalf has been allotted to any firm, the details thereof with the relevant record?” Deputy Registrar of SAC has asked the LAWDA chief.

The complaint is understood to have surfaced in SAC amid reports that one of the Ministers was actually a “sleeping partner” to the beneficiary of the multi-Crore IT contract in LAWDA. According to reports, LAWDA was preparing the map work with Geographical Information System (GIS). The allottee firm is acquiring the high resolution satellite imagery from Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) at the fixed rate of Rs 7500 per sq Km but an exorbitant rate has been approved and allotted without going for codal procedure that includes calling of quotation in an open competition.

Dealing with another complaint, SAC directed Commissioner-Secretary of General Administration Department, Mohammad Sayeed Khan, to furnish all records and information regarding computerization of database of nearly 500,000 government employees, acquisition of smart cards and installation of biometric system for maintaining attendance of the employees at government offices.

Mr Khan has been asked to reply, and furnish supporting documents, as per a questionnaire that reads:

“Whether any contract has been allotted for preparing smart cards for the Secretariat employees? If so, the name of the firm/person in whose favour the contract has been allotted and also the procedure adopted for such allotment”.

“Whether any project for computerization of employees’ database, commonly known as Computerized Personal Information System, in respect of the employees of the state has been undertaken by the Government? If so, whether any contract has been allotted and agreement executed in this behalf by the government, and details thereof”.

“Whether any contract for imparting Secretariat training to the Secretariat employees was allotted in favour of any person or firm within the period of ten years? If so, details thereof including the procedure adopted”.

According to informed sources, one particular Minister, with the involvement of his department’s administrative secretary, has arranged NOC from National Informatics Centre and subsequently allotted a major contract in the IT sector to a favourite. Here again, the Minister is allegedly a “sleeping partner” of the allottee and the contract has been granted completely in violation of codal procedure and without going for competitive bids.

Minister incharge IT, Aga Ruhulla, and Secretary IT, manoj Kumar Divedi, could not be reached for their comments.


Govt presents rosy picture of flagship schemes to PC team

Did Sayeeda Hamid digest ICDS, NRHM, NREGA lies in J&K?

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Oct 11: Has the Government of Jammu & Kashmir succeeded in telling and selling lies on implementation of the centrally sponsored flagship schemes to the Planning Commission (PC) team, currently visiting the Valley, would become clear only after Sayeeda Hamid and her colleagues are back in the union Capital. What is, however, unmistakably clear at this point of time is that Omar Abdullah’s bureaucracy is literally burning midnight oil to narrow the gap between its PowerPoint presentations and the actual achievements in the field.

Successive governments in J&K have been invariably complaining of non-cooperation and non-availability of funds from the Centre. It is also a common factor of all regimes that they take refuge behind street turbulence, insurgency and hostile weather whenever New Delhi demands performance reports, utilization certificates and other accounts of the Centrally-sponsored developmental programmes.

Incumbent Minister incharge Health could not be singularly to blame for the phenomenal failure of National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) in J&K. He has statistics to support his claims of success. According to him, Centre had generously committed and provided whopping sum of nearly Rs 1200 Cr for implementation of different schemes under NRHM during Ghulam Nabi Azad’s regime. Not more than Rs 47 Cr was the actual expenditure for over half of the NRHM life span. In the last two-and-a-half years, Mr Sharma has taken it to around Rs 400 Cr.

Even if the official statistics are correct---without questioning how the expenditure was raised---it remains an incontrovertible reality that two-third of the committed outlay, or Rs 800 Cr, is still unutilized and the missions is scheduled to expire on March 31, 2012. Dozens of embezzlement cases have surfaced in the last nine months alone. Irregularities have been galore in everything from engagement of human resource to acquisitions and constructions.

Performance has been dismal particularly in Reproductive & Child Health (RCH), Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP), National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP), Integrated Disease Surveillance Project (IDSP) and National Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB). All eyebrows raised by common people and media over the way funds are being swindled in the name of Immunization, Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP) and National Iodine Deficiency Disorder Control Programme (NIDDCP) have been completely ignored by the powers that be in the last three years.

It may require a thorough investigation and reality check how dispensaries and public health centres have failed to come up due to either lack of initiative by the bureaucracy or conflict of constituency interest between the politicians. Nevertheless, just a cursory look on the wages being paid to the staff would make it clear how a huge gap is existing between what the doctors and paramedics are being paid in J&K and what their counterparts have been taking home in all other states of the country.

In the final year of the scheme, Mr Sharma seems to be out from the long slumber of four years. In the thick of the PC team’s visit, he has announced that, n0w on, Rs 25,000 would be paid to doctors and Rs 15,000 a month to the paramedics to be engaged under NRHM.

Had the officials and bureaucrats not escorted the PC team, members would have seen how only half of the amount reaches the beneficiaries through ASHA. Arguably, over 50 percent of the mothers and pregnant women don’t know what has happened to the amounts drawn in their names and who have swindled it fully.

In the district Sayeeda Hamid visited today to learn about the condition of Anganwari Centres, a Minister of Omar Abdullah’s Cabinet has got his own aunt appointed as Worker-cum-Helper at one of these Centres. Her husband happens to be the owner of two cars, each costing Rs 4 Lakh to 6 Lakh. To cap it all, he is shortly expected to get district franchise of Maruti Udhyog Ltd. In the process, all 30-odd contenders, almost all living below poverty level, have been sidelined. None, repeat none, was invited for interview though nobody’s application was entertained in absence of a postal envelop.

In the same district, Public Analysts of Food and Drug Control Organisation have lately observed that adulterated nutrition items, dangerously harmful to young children, had been provided to most of the 1500-odd centres, imperiling the life of nearly 30,000 children. Samples collected from all the ten medical blocks of the district have been found adulterated. Chief Medical Officer has written to F& DC Organisation for registration of a criminal case but there has been no action. Ignoring the culpability of officials of Social Welfare Department responsible for receiving and supplying the adulterated quantities, CMO has sought registration of FIR under the obsolete Prevention of Food Adulteration Act and not the effective legislative that came into force earlier this year.

Insiders insist that over 70 percent of the centres, claimed to have been opened and operated under Phase-3 of the scheme, are either fully non-functional or function for once or twice a week. Statistics indicate that protest demonstrations occurred at over 100 places this year, latest being in Langet area of Handwara today, but authorities have chosen to remain mute spectators. Even the complaints submitted to Director and State Vigilance Organization have gone unheard. According to insiders, Commissioner-Secretary Social Welfare, Jeet Lal Gupta, is averse to referring matters to SVO simply for the fact that his brother, PL Gupta, happens to be the Vigilance Commissioner. Bureaucracy has been particularly ineffective in stopping the culture of allotment of high-cost constructions without floating tenders by the Directorate.

MN NREGA has shown some positive results in only two districts of the state out of 22. In Kashmir valley, Kupwara alone has some presentable indicators.


Separatist groups concerned over political corruption

Anjuman exposes Minister’s BMW, Jamaat says all organs of Govt are corrupt

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Oct 10: Two of the Valley’s prominent religious organizations, who have been espousing the cause of ‘Azadi’ since 1990, have also jumped into the mainstream anti-corruption bandwagon. With many of the political outfits as well as civil society organs calling for a credible inquiry into the serious revelations of political corruption made by two National Conference (NC) activists, Anjuman-e-Shari Shiaan and Jamaat-e-Islami have expressed concern over the menace in Jammu and Kashmir.

Last week, a local news agency circulated an item, which was reportedly based on the email of Anjuman-Shari Shiaan, claiming that one of the Minister’s in Omar Abdullah’s Cabinet had recently received a Rs 50 Lakh BMW car from a company. The high-end luxury vehicle, it claimed, had been gifted to the Minister in lieu of allotment of providing and installing solar lighting community units in several districts of the state. It reported that 2500 units were being installed in each of the districts selected.

The prominent religious organisation, that has been a constituent of the separatist Hurriyat Conference since 1993, has neither followed up the campaign against the Minister nor disowned the email till date. The statement, perhaps unprecedented in the last over two decades, has expressed serious concern over the way Omar Abdullah’s Ministers were “openly practicing corruption” and receiving cash and kind from beneficiaries of the government’s contacts and allotments without any fear of accountability.

If the statement and the news item are correct, it is for the first time that any Minister in Jammu and Kashmir has acquired a Rs 50 Lakh car allegedly as gratification from a beneficiary company. Interestingly, none other than the already beleaguered NC patriarch Dr Farooq Abdullah is the Minister incharge of solar energy in the UPA Government at the Centre. Anjuman has, however, restricted its tirade to only Dr Abdullah’s counterpart in Omar Abdullah government.

With the political analysts noticing the Anjuman tirade against the Minister with keen interest, Jamaat-e-Islami today complained that almost all of the government’s organs had been corrupted by the menace. Strongly pro-Pakistan, Jamaat-e-Islami has also been espousing the cause of ‘Azadi’ and arguing since 1990 that talking about “non-movemental issues” would distract the public attention from the “freedom struggle” and thus harm the Kashmiris’ “political cause”.

In a statement issued to media here today, Jamaat complained that all of the organs of the government that, according to it, included all from Traffic Police to judiciary to law-making and law-enforcing agencies, had been infected by the malaise of corruption. It lamented that ordinary people were badly suffering on account of corruption in J&K. Jamaat called upon intellectuals and “pro-religion youth” to join hands in eliminating the menace of corruption in the state. It said that Almighty had wiped out nations which had alarmingly indulged in the menace of corruption.

Meanwhile, in a statement, ruling National Conference spokesman and MLA, Dr Mustafa Kamal, took exception of the PDP President Mehbooba Mufti’s appeal to Anna Hazare. Mehbooba had urged the anti-corruption icon to also focus his campaign on Jammu and Kashmir where political corruption had assumed menacing proportions. Dr Kamal dismissed Hazare as RSS-backed activist and asserted that there was no room for him in J&K. He said that it were the people of the state, not Hazare, who would eradicate the menace of corruption. It is first time that NC has overtly dismissed Hazare as an RSS man.