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Saturday, November 26, 2011

CM’s order observed in breach to lend credibility to Geelani

Replacement of extortionist SHOs brings little relief to victims of 2008 madness

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Nov 26: Forty-five-year-old pharmacist Meraj-ud-din Bhat was among hundreds of residents of this capital city who heaved a sigh of relief over Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s announcement and began to dream about peaceful days ahead. Without calling it a healing touch, Chief Minister had declared that detention of no innocent person would be tolerated; that relatives of militants and stone pelters would not suffer on account of the involvement of others; that even the detained or wanted stone pelters, if not booked in heinous offences, would be released on an undertaking from their parents and mohalla elders.    

To the worst of their disappointment, they soon realized that the relief was restricted to only the family members of high profile militant commanders like Syed Salah-ud-din and Burhan-ud-din Hijazi and the ordinary victims of turmoil would continue to suffer. Meraj-ud-din was one among them who approached this newspaper in 2010 with the hope that an intervention would force Police to implement Chief Minister’s order in letter and spirit.

Early Times conducted its own investigation and found this middle aged man completely innocent. During week-long investigation, it surfaced that Meraj-ud-din was among dozens from his locality from whom SHO concerned had collected money by way of harassment and extortion--- Rs 10,000 to Rs 30,000 from those who had been captured on camera while participating in a demonstration or pelting stones on Police and Rs 2,000 to Rs 10,000 from those who were completely innocent and uninvolved. With no history of his---or any of his friends’ or relatives’---involvement with militancy or street turmoil, Meraj-ud-din belonged to category No:2 of the SHO’s targets.

SHO extorted cash worth Rs 2,000 from Meraj-ud-din and permitted him to enjoy freedom. But when the turbulence began rising and SHOs were given free hand to pick up ‘urchins’ at their sweet will, SHO began to demand more from his known victims. Not ready to cough up more, Meraj-ud-din decided to seek the relief Chief Minister had announced on television. Rather than doing a story on the Police extortion, Early Times forwarded Meraj-ud-din’s complaint verbatim to the new SSP of Srinagar, Syed Ashiq Hussain Bukhari.

SSP sought a written and signed application from the complainant and ordered a departmental inquiry without losing a minute. Within two days, it became crystal clear to him that the SHO had extorted a sum of Rs 2,000 from Meraj-ud-din and threatened him with implication in a matter of unlawful activity if he failed to pay another installment of Rs 2,000. Perhaps first time in Srinagar, SSP made the SHO not only apologize but also return the amount in full to Meraj-ud-din in presence of his family members, neighbours and other mohalla elders. Within days, SHO Inspector Bashir was removed and shifted to an insignificant posting.

Residents of not one but three mohallas gave a written undertaking to SSP that the SHO’s victim Meraj-ud-din was not only a peace-loving citizen, with not an iota of involvement or sympathy with militants, demonstrators or stone pelters but also helpful to all patients in the locality. His father had died 20 years back and he was the bread-earner for his 77-year-old mother and three children. His eldest daughter, Shafqat, was a Class 11th student and youngest son, Adil, a class 9th student but 17-year-old daughter, Saboo---a mentally deranged---was the veritable liability.

When complainant Meraj-ud-din refused to succumb to continued threats and harassment of the extortionist SHO and he did not withdraw his charges, the Inspector moved out disgracefully but not before inserting Meraj-ud-din’s name in as many as three FIRs. A year later, Meraj-ud-din learned last week that he was still a “wanted stone pelter” as the departmentally indicted and punished SHO had put his name among a group of 12 ‘urchins’. Even after learning about Meraj-ud-din’s innocence and the indicted SHO’s guilt, SSP as well as new SHO are now helpless.

“We are aware that he is innocent and, in fact, a victim of previous SHO’s excesses but we can’t release him until he gets bail from a court of law”, the incumbent SHO asserted. He confirmed that there was neither a verbal evidence nor a photograph or video or any other material evidence of Meraj-ud-din’s involvement in any unlawful activity. Meraj’s colleagues in Budgam district insist he attended duty even on the worst turbulent days and curfew in 2008 as well as 2010.

Even after his continuing as a victim of Police atrocity, Meraj’s family members, relatives and neighbours describe the new SSP as well as the new SHO as “angels”.

“We have for the first time seen the human face of Police. Previous SHO was more cruel than Gabbar Singh. He arrested scores of innocent men like Meraj-ud-din, extorted money from them without anybody’s fear. He would publicly tear out the bail orders and manhandle the detainees. Things changed completely when new SSP and new SHO took over. Until last year, Police Station was like a slaughter house for us.When we enter the Police station today, we feel we are entering our home. Everybody is incredibly kind and compassionate. We must be proud of such Police officers”, detainee Meraj-ud-din’s relative Bashir Ahmed and 30-year-long friend Mohammad Shafi, both small time businesspersons, maintained.

They said that Srinagar has witnessed a watershed since the day Government removed many of the old rankers, known for their cruelty and corruption, and appointed young, highly educated Inspectors and Sub Inspectors as SHOs. “This is a wonderful lot. Almost all of them are hardworking, humane, merciful, professional and committed against corruption and traditional Police atrocities”, they echoed the popular perception in a downtown locality on the road to Hazratbal.

Contrary to Bashir Ahmed’s and Mohammad Shafi’s observation, Hurriyat (G) Chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani, in his yesterday’s statement, described J&K Police officers as “cruel, corrupt, unprofessional, guilty of jailing innocent youth, involved in custodial killings”. He is incontrovertibly right as long as Inspectors like Bashir exist as SHOs in J&K Police. But, neither Bashir nor Geelani should worry as this coalition government has neither history nor habit of taking cognizance of newspaper stories!


Friday, November 25, 2011

Geelani’s shutdown partial; 40 stone-pelters arrested in Mirwaiz bastion

MI official’s pistol recovered from Hurriyat (G) activist in Sopore

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Nov 25: Nearly a dozen photojournalists and television camerapersons today became victim of intermittent clashes between Police and stone pelters in this capital city even as Valley witnessed a partial shutdown against ‘detention of minors’ over the separatist hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s call. Police confirmed the arrest of 40 youth in today’s incidents of stone pelting and said that law would take its course against them.

Head of the radical faction of Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Shah Geelani had called for “civil curfew” in entire Kashmir valley, asking people to register their strong protest against ‘detention of minors’ by Police. First time this year, Government got Geelani confronted by a senior Police officer who questioned the separatist leader’s call and claimed that almost all the 38 minors were involved in heinous crimes like murder, rape and sodomy. DIG Central Kashmir and senior IPS officer, Abdul Gani Mir, made an unusual appearance on Doordarshan last evening and said that the separatist leader was misleading was exploiting the sentiments of common people and misleading them with his anti-Police tirade. He claimed that not a single of the minor detainees was a ‘political prisoner’ as claimed by Geelani.

Hurriyat (G) retaliated with a had-hitting statement today and alleged that quite a many officers in J&K Police had grown “more loyal than king” and they had inherited the traits of “unprincipled pro-India politicians”. It alleged that many Police officers were brazenly involved in arresting the “innocent youth” and later releasing them on cash payment or bribes and extortion. It claimed that as many 28 minor boys had been detained in just two Police stations of Nowhatta and MR Gunj in Srinagar down. It dismissed the Police statement as “baseless” and claimed that not one of these detainees was involved in any social crime. It alleged that most of the officers in J&K Police were not only involved in custody killing of civilians but were also resorting to broad daylight extortion and corrupt practices.

SSP Srinagar, Syed Ashiq Hussain Bukhari, told Early Times that the separatists had planned major disturbance on occasion of Geelani’s shutdown in Srinagar. He said that immediately after learning about these plans, Police swung into action overnight, conducted raids and made some arrests to pre-empt disruption in the capital city, particularly downtown Srinagar. He said that thin groups of youth still came out on the streets in Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s stronghold in Saraf Kadal and Rajouri Kadal localities and they engaged Police and CRPF in ding dong clashes.

SSP Srinagar said that in reply to stone pelting from the demonstrators, Police used tearsmoke and baton charge to disperse the violent crowds. He said that Police arrested 40 persons, including half-a-dozen minors, during today’s clashes. They included three or four photojournalists and videographers who got trapped in the groups. Associations of the photojournalists and videographers complained that nearly a dozen of the mediapersons were arrested and beaten up mercilessly and their cameras were shattered. SSP Bukhari asserted that ‘just three or four” media professionals were among the groups rounded up by Police but all of them were released within minutes. He said that allegations of the photojournalists that many of them had been roughed up and wounded were being investigated.

Eyewitnesses maintained that more than three dozen youth, who included several mediapersons, were beaten up ruthlessly by Police and huddled in two Police stations. However, the mediapersons were later let off. SSP said that law would take its course against the detainees who, according to him, had been arrested for attacking Police and public properties and would be accordingly booked under different offences.

Reports available from independent sources said that most of the shops and other business establishments were shut in Srinagar Civil Lines as well as Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s bastion in downtown Srinagar. Incidents of stone pelting and clashes remained restricted to only a couple of downtown localities. Sgutdown was partial in other parts of the capital city. In many of the uptown localities, shops and all other business establishments were open as usual and there was very little impact of Geelani’s call. Even the passenger transport services were operational in some segments.

Government offices, educational institutions and banks operated as usual in entire Valley, including the capital city. Reports of partial shutdown poured in from about half-a-dozen towns in north and south Kashmir.

SSP Bukhari said that there was no significant cause of concern though tendency of radicalism was “highly worrisome”. According to him, it was “definitely a cause of concern” that the elders in downtown were followers of moderate Mirwaiz but their sons had hardliner Geelani’s pictures on their mobile phones. He, however, added that such people were not a majority even in downtown Srinagar.


Meanwhile, reports from north Kashmir said that Sopore Police today recovered the service pistol of Military Intelligence official, Naik Kamlesh Kumar Mishra, from a 19-year-old youth, namely Mudassar Ahmed Dar S/o late Gulzar Ahmed Dar on Onto Hamam, Sopore. A crowd of Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s followers had captured the MI official when he was clicking pictures of Geelani’s rally at Iqbal Market on November 11th. They had severely beaten up the overpowered official, snatched away his camera, pistol and identity card. He had been, however, rescued by Police with the help of some local people.

SP Sopore, Imtiyaz Hussain Mir, revealed to Early Times that Police worked on different leads and got most of the people involved in attacking the MI official identified and arrested. During the course of investigation, nearly 15 persons were interrogated whose disclosures led to identification and arrest of the youth who had decamped with the pistol.

Mudassar Dar was arrested and the pistol was recovered from his possession. SP Imtiyaz Mir said that in all six persons, including Dar, had been booked in attacking a soldier of Army and snatching away his service weapon. He said that some 300 people had participated in Geelani’s rally in Sopore on November 11th and the MI official had been captured by the participants when he was taking pictures of the rally. He said that most of the participants, like Mudassar Dar, belonged to broken and socially challenged families.

Regarding Mudassar Dar, SP Sopore said that his father had died few years back, his mother had married again and Dar lived with only his younger sister. He said that Police would book him under relevant laws but would also initiate some measures to transform and rehabilitate Dar and others of his ilk who had held over a lakh of residents hostage with their street turbulence mainly on Geelani’s persuasion.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mustafa Kamaal---Ministry’s jilted lover or NC’s whistleblower?

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Nov 22: In early 1980s, Mrs Indira Gandhi’s Congress party, in close coordination with a central agency then known as the Department of Dirty Tricks, succeeded in creating first fissures in the indefatigable Sher-e-Kashmir’s National Conference (NC). Within two years of Sheikh Abdullah’s death, his successor son and Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah was dismissed and the mantle of power put on Ghulam Mohammad Shah. The mission was meticulously accomplished as the head of NC’s breakaway faction was none other than Sheikh’s daughter, Khalida.

The second attempt did not mature. Even after Farooq Abdullah was bludgeoned into surrender by Mrs Gandhi’s successor son and forced to share power with Congress, efforts of winning away yet another member of Sheikh’s dynasty vanished in the embryonic stage. This time around, all eyes were on Dr Mustafa Kamaal. His ‘naa’ sent ripples across Gupkar Road. Kamaal was then demonstrably emerging as “the most competent member of Dr Abdullah’s Council of Ministers”. This phrase in his honour came from the most unexpected corner in Legislative Assembly---Jamaat-e-Islami icon and Muslim United Front’s MLA Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

When the high profile Works Minister of NC-Congress coalition of 1987-90 cut a sorry figure as Minister incharge of Health as well as Minister of Industries in Dr Abdullah’s NC government in 1996-2002, many in the party began saying that his 1987-90 image was actually the crafty creation of his pair of aides, Farooq Shah (now Director of Tourism Kashmir) and Showkat Mir (now DC Ganderbal). In 2002, Mustafa got a dressing down at the hustings in NC’s stronghold of Tangmarg. He polled not more than 20% of the vote.

Mustafa, nonetheless, lives different from all run-of-the-mill politicians. In the thick of militancy, he was among very few of NC’s leaders who stood back in Valley and did not announce an apologetically drafted resignation through paid advertisements in the vernacular dailies. He, in fact, kept shuttling between his first home at Tangmarg and cousin Sheikh Nazir’s fortified residence at Maulana Azad Road in Srinagar. The highway had been almost completely conquered by militants within weeks of firing their first shots on a tourist bus near Chichlora in 1989.

Without singing songs in praise of militants and describing Kashmir as a “fundamentally political problem”, and also staying clear of elder brother Farooq Abdullah’s hyper-nationalism, Mustafa seemed to have inherited the skills of creating ripples. In 2007, when PDP’s pseudo-separatist jingoism on AFSPA, followed by Amarnath land row, was threatening to bring down the principal coalition partner Ghulam Nabi Azad’s government, Mustafa drove all the way to the guerrilla-infested Palhalan village, in Pattan, to extend his condolences to the two families whose sons had died in an encounter with Army. He did it before PDP and Hurriyat reached there to shed their stock of tears.

Those having lived close to late Sadiq Ali and Bashir Ahmad Kichloo must have proficiency in learning that neither the post of Cashier nor General Secretary carries an iota of significance in NC. Knowledgeable sources insist that even the President in 2002-08 lacked either initiative or mandate to raise funds for the party. These operations are believed to have been the exclusive prerogative of two particular members of the Sheikh dynasty for decades. Current sequence of drama, in which Mustafa is playing the stellar role, is potentially dangerous for NC as the unpredictable, intractable ruling family member’s single finger of suspicion over “cash-for-berth” (Haji Yousuf episode) could trigger off a major political storm.

As of now, Mustafa’s tirade is directed on selective leaders like Prof Saifuddin Soz in Congress and PDP. But, with every passing day, this foolishly straightforward political maverick is making the inward movement. His latest interviews to media have finally evoked a sharp Twitter reaction from Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. He desperately wishes to be left away from this “essentially Mustafa-Farooq conflict”.

Even as men of consequence in the coalition dismissed Mustafa’s fiery remarks against Dr Abdullah and the Chief Minister as ‘insignificant frustration”, the enfant terrible showered his explicit anger---over his disgraceful removal as NC’s Chief Spokesman and Additional General Secretary after dragging Rahul Gandhi’s name in the NC-Congress skirmishes---through Srinagar-based news agency KNS. Mustafa virulently targeted Dr Abdullah and Omar to assert that his dismissal was only to appease Sonia Gandhi and her son.

Mustafa, however, made no bones of his grouse against the brother and nephew. “Yes, I am upset over having been dropped from the Cabinet. My name had been finalized and even a Ministerial car was provided to me. But, at the eleventh hour, some outsiders as well as insiders played the trick and I was left away’, he is reported to have said. But more significant is his claim that he was ‘growing more popular than Omar”. He claimed that it was because of this “factor of insecurity” that the young Chief Minister forced father Farooq Abdullah to dismiss him on the key party positions. Is he going to halt it there or blowing more as an “approver” in the NC, amid charges of political corruption from the opposition, nobody really knows.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Zaffar fired as Jora puts his foot down against ‘verbal’ extension

Kashmir Festival in doldrums; No coordination between sponsors

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Nov 20: With the state government still looking for the coordinating agency amid reports of no camaraderie between a host of sponsoring departments and organizations on proposed Kashmir Festival in New Delhi, Minister incharge Tourism and Culture, Rigzin Jora, has finally succeeded in getting rid of Zaffar Iqbal Manhas as Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture & languages.

After rising to high positions in the last over 30 years, Zaffar Iqbal reached superannuation as Secretary of Cultural Academy on August 31, 2011. As the government constituted a committee, headed by eminent litterateur and former Secretary Mohammad Yousuf Taing, to pick up new incumbent, Manhas was asked to continue in the hot seat for two months beyond the date of his retirement from service. Even after the period of his brief extension expired on October 31, he continued to function as Secretary of Cultural Academy for over two weeks.

Authoritative sources revealed to Early Times that during the course of an official meeting on Friday last, Mr Jora observed that most of the arrangements were still either underway or yet to be initiated for organizing a major cultural event at India International Center, New Delhi. The festival, involving a number of government and non-government organizations, is scheduled to be held in the union capital with a major contribution of Resident Commissioner’s office on December 2nd, 3rd and 4th. According to sources, Cultural Academy had been assigned the pivotal role of coordination between different sponsoring organizations.

According to sources, Mr Jora took umbrage over the fact that the retired Secretary was holding office even after reaching the end of his active service on August 31. When he desired to know as to how Mr Manhas was continuously operating as Secretary and taking major decisions even after the period of his extension had ended on October 31, he was told that “someone in Chief Minister’s Secretariat” had verbally asked the outgoing Secretary to stay put. Soon it dawned on the meeting that most of the arrangements were either underway or yet to be initiated.

Thereupon, an exasperated Minister incharge Culture straightaway trooped into the CM’s Secretariat and enquired from a senior official as to how Mr Manhas had been holding the office of Secretary of Cultural Academy far beyond his retirement.  Within minutes, Manhas was unceremoniously relieved and the charge of Secretary was temporarily handed over to Commissioner-Secretary Tourism and Culture, Atul Duloo. Sources said that nobody in the corridors of power owned “verbal orders” of Mr Manhas’ extension. Questions are now being raised over the legality of decisions and orders, involving financial implications, which have been issued by Mr Manhas in the last 18 days of his overstay in Academy.

Efforts are now frantically underway to ensure that existing deficiencies did not come in the way of organizing the much publicized cultural bonanza. Sources said that nearly a dozen government and non-government organizations and departments are associated with the mega cultural event. Directorate of Tourism is now being roped in to function as Coordinator between the host of sponsors. According to sources, even the boarding and lodging arrangements for 300-odd participants are yet to be finalized, let alone rigorous choreography and rehearsals.

Nearly three-year-long infamous conflict of authority between Jora and Manhas has badly affected the working of Cultural Academy. Jora has reportedly got the flow of funds choked amid allegations of various hues--- corruption, nepotism, favouritism--- against the outgoing Secretary. Enjoying support of some influential leaders in Congress and National Conference, Manhas refused to give in and, instead, maintained questioning the authority of the Minister incharge Culture. Academy is an autonomous body by Constitution and Chief Minister stands designated as its President.

The Search Committee comprising Mohammad Yousuf Taing, Prof Neelambar Dev Sharma, Prof Rehman Rahi, Commissioner Secretary Tourism and Culture, Atul Duloo, and Commissioner-Secretary General Administration Department, Mohammad Sayeed Khan, has reportedly processed CVs of nearly two dozen aspirants and finally submitted a panel of five names to Chief Minister and President of Academy, Omar Abdullah, at the end of September last.

Five names the Search Committee recommended include Director of Libraries, Khlaid Bashir Ahmad, retired Registrar of SKUAST-Jammu, Prof Ayaz Rasool Nazki, Conservator of Forest and author of 27 books in English, Dogri and Hindi, Om Vidhyarthi, seniormost Additional Secretary of Academy, Saveeta Bakhshi, who is currently functioning as Additional Secretary Jammu and Abdul Aziz Parray alias Aziz Hajini, Lecturer of Higher Secondary education who is currently on deputation with J&K State Board of School Education and also Convener (Kashmiri) with Sahitya Academy.