Total Pageviews

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Peerzada resigns as Education Minister

Sheikh Bashir being removed as Chairman BOSE; Naseem or Tanvir may get charge on Monday

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Feb 11: Becoming second successive casualty for Congress in Omar Abdullah’s Cabinet after Ghulam Mohammad Saroori in 2010, high profile mainstream politician and Minister of Education, Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed, has finally moved out of the Council of Ministers in Jammu and Kashmir, unceremoniously. Responding to directions from AICC, communicated to him through General Secretary incharge J&K Mohan Praskash, Peerzada today submitted his letter of resignation by fax to the Congress and UPA supremo Sonia Gandhi.

In days of submission of its report to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, beleaguered Peerzada today faxed a letter to Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Highly placed political sources disclosed to Early Times that within hours of Chief Minister’s discussion with the AICC leadership in New Delhi, party’s General Secretary incharge Jammu and Kashmir asked Peerzada to “immediately” send his resignation to Mrs Gandhi. Facing flak from a number of Opposition parties, including BJP, over “protecting corrupt and tainted Ministers”, AICC leadership agreed with Omar that retaining Peerzada in the Government would prove politically disastrous for the coalition.

According to these sources, there was complete unanimity between NC and Congress leadership that retaining Peerzada and sacking Saroori in identical matters could not be justified. Even after Peerzada had been isolated by both factions of the Congress, promoted by J&KPCC President Saifuddin Soz and union Minister of Health Ghulam Nabi Azad, some of the leaders in the coalition were in favour of “restraint”. They were calling for registration of FIR and a formal investigation by Crime Branch. According to them, Peerzada should have been asked to quit only after his person was found involved in the J&K BOSE Examgate. Interestingly, NC as well as the opposition PDP, did not seem to be enthusiastic over Peerzada’s resignation, for varied reasons.

With a large number of political and non-political organisations, NGOs and several organs of civil society joining hands to pull down the Minister, NC-Congress coalition decided to remove Peerzada from the Council of Ministers. As already reported in the last several days, Peerzada had fallen in the eye of a storm on account of his foster son Imam Souban’s use of unfair means in Class 10th examination in the year 2009. On January 30th, Srinagar-based daily ‘Greater Kashmir’ had published material evidence of the unfair means made available to the candidate besides details how BOSE authorities and men in Civil Secretariat had covered up the scandal despite desire of action from Raj Bhawan and Chief Minister’s Secretariat.

Following publication of media reports and varied demands of action and investigation from different quarters, Chief Minister had ordered Crime Branch to conduct a preliminary inquiry and check veracity of the reports against Peerzada and his son. Crime Branch found half-a-dozen officials as well as Minister of Education involved in the Examgate. Seeking resignation from the Minister was sequel to Chief Minister’s overnight discussion on the subject with AICC leadership in the union capital.

Sources revealed that the state government had also decided to go for a “complete reshuffle” in BOSE within next two days. According to these sources, all the officials indicted in the Crime Branch inquiry would be removed and attached to the office of Commissioner-Secretary of School Education. Those being removed include Chairman, Dr Bashir Ahmad Sheikh, one joint secretary, one lady academic officer, besides two teachers of School Education department, namely Tariq Gilani and Imtiyaz Ahmad, who had worked as Superintendent and Dy Superintendent and either provided unfair facilitation or remained mute spectators to Imam Souban’s way of taking the examination.

Crime Branch was being directed to file a formal FIR and conduct a formal investigation to determine criminal and non-criminal culpability of the accused officials and the Minister incharge. Sources said that the Minister’s second wife and Souban’s mother, Dr Tabbasum, who was working in state Health Department, would also be questioned.

Sources revealed that one among Commissioner-Secretary of School Education, Naseem Lanker, and Commissioner-Secretary Higher Education, Tanvir Jehan, would be appointed to also officiate as Chairman of BOSE till appointment of a full-time incumbent. Mrs Lanker, who had headed the search committee that recommended Dr Sheikh Bashir (then Secretary BOSE) for the top position of Chairman last year, is reaching superannuation on February 29th.

Some men of consequence in bureaucracy were in favour of handing over Chairman’s charge to Commissioner-Secretary Health and Medical Education, Ghulam Ahmad Pir, who is also retiring from service on March 31st. Registrar of Cooperatives, Dr Syed Mohammad Fazalullah, who has a doctorate and an academic and literary profile, was also said to be a choice. He is due to reach superannuation on October 31st this year.

According to reports from New Delhi, Peerzada has taken umbrage on Chief Minister’s overnight statement to media in which Mr Abdullah was quoted to have said that Peerzada’s fate would be determined in “next 24 to 36 hours”. In his conversation with a news agency, Peerzada has questioned Chief Minister’s prerogative and asserted that he was nobody to determine his fate as Minister. He is quoted to have observed that Mrs Sonia Gandhi was his “boss” and he was AICC’s nominee in Mr Abdullah’s Cabinet. According to him, they alone in New Delhi could ask him to continue or retain his berth. Asked what made him resign, Peerzada, according to agency, said that he had submitted his resignation to the Congress President over Chief Minister’s remarks and she would take her decision.

Peerzada has a track record of ignominy. Inspite of having functioned as J&K President of Youth Congress and Minister of State for Education in 1987-1990, later as J&K Pradesh Congress Committee chief and Minister of Rural Development Department, he was dogged by controversies one after another. His tenure as Minister RDD in Mufti Sayeed-led PDP-Congress coalition in 2002-2005, Peerzada faced serious charges of corruption in Panchayat Electrification Scam. In Ghulam Nabi Azad-led government later, he faced charges of accepting bribe from independent MLA Shoib Lone’s sister for recognition of her ETT school in Baramulla. He was indicted by State Accountability Commission but got the action stayed from High Court.

Azad forced Peerzada to resign both as JKPCC President and Minister of Education following pandemonium on the MLA’s charges against him and his wife. Later, he was yet again inducted as Minister of Education when Omar Abdullah formed NC-Congress government on January 5th, 2009.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

CB finds Minister, BOSE officials involved in Examgate

Peerzada’s son migrated to Humhama school; Budgam office bypassed in appointment of exam staff; SP School’s math expert filled up answers; Lady academic officer absconding in Delhi; Minister’s exit being discussed with AICC

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Feb 8: Senior Congress leader and Minister of Education, Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed, and Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir State Board of School Education (BOSE), Dr Bashir Ahmad Sheikh, are among nearly half-a-dozen government functionaries who have been found by Crime Branch involved in the unfair means scandal involving the Cabinet Minister’s foster son, Imam Souban Bhat, in the year 2009. Under pressure from different quarters, including public outcry over the academic scam, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is understood to be taking up the matter of action against the Minister with the Congress high command in New Delhi.

Highly placed authoritative sources told Early Times that Crime Branch (CB) has finally completed and handed over to Chief Minister findings of its “preliminary inquiry” into media reports which alleged that Minister incharge Education Peerzada Sayeed, then Secretary and now Chairman of BOSE, Dr Bashir Sheikh, and other officials had facilitated and later covered up use of unfair means by Imam Souban in the Matriculation examination of November 2009. Even as nobody in CB responded to phone calls from media, sources maintained that involvement of a Minister and senior BOSE officials had been established.

According to these sources, CB’s sleuths seized records and interrogated over a dozen officials of BOSE and Department of School Education, trying to explore how the high-profile candidate had enjoyed the illegal facilitation and how the BOSE officials, as well as bureaucrats from CM’s Secretariat to General Administration and School Education departments, had brushed the whole academic scandal under the carpet.

Investigators inter alia noticed that officials in GAD and School Education had conveniently ignored instructions from both Raj Bhawan as well as CM’s Secretariat and facilitated declaration of the candidate’s result--- even after an in-house BOSE inquiry--- in violation of all rules and norms. Nevertheless, sources said, no specific action has been recommended by CB against the delinquent officials and bureaucrats in two particular departments at Civil Secretariat.

These sources insisted that not more than six people, including Peerzada, Dr Bashir Sheikh, then Deputy Director of Academics Merajuddin Zargar (who is working as Principal of Iqbal Memorial School after his retirement), Academic Officer Ms Aaliya (who is reportedly absconding in New Delhi since the day Examgate was exposed by media), SP Higher Secondary School’s teacher and expert of mathematics Mr Imtiyaz (who was allegedly used to write answers) besides a teacher Tariq Gilani (who was posted as Superintendent of the centre in question), were under the cloud.

Track of the academic scandal has been mapped right from Imam Souban’s unjustified migration from prestigious Tyndale Biscoe School to the newly established Vision Public School at Humhama Crossing, almost at the border of Srinagar Municipality. It has become clear during the course of investigation that a scheme of providing illegal support to the candidate in his Matriculation examination was in place between the Minister, his family and officials of BOSE. One of the well placed sources, quoting CB officials, said that Imam Souban’s “enrolment” in the lousy Government Higher Secondary School Jawahar Nagar for appearing in Class 12th examination (in which he secured distinction with 77.4% marks last week) was also part of a plan between the BOSE officials and the Minister’s family.

It was not clear whether it has been recorded in the report or not but the CB sleuths, according to these sources, learned during the course of investigation that BOSE’s Budgam Sub Office had been intriguingly bypassed in appointment of staff at Al-Ameen Chinar Valley Secondary School where Imam Souban appeared in Matriculation examination in November 2009.

According to sources, Tariq Gilani, who was posted as Superintendent, engaged SP Higher Secondary School’s mathematics expert, Mr Imtiyaz, as Deputy Superintendent without competence and knowledge of BOSE’s Sub Office Budgam, only to provide illegal favour to the Minister’s ward. Instead of Budgam, a suo moto confirmation of Gilani’s action came from then joint secretary Merajuddin Zargar from the BOSE headquarters at Bemina. Interestingly, nobody questioned Gilani how he had engaged the Deputy Superintendent of his own and that too from a different district i.e. Srinagar instead of the list of staff provided by Chief Education Officer of Budgam.

Sources said that then Section Officer and now Assistant Secretary at BOSE’s Sub Office Budgam, Mushtaq Ahmad Rishi, confronted Mr Zargar in front of CB team and reminded him that Budgam Sub Office had been completely bypassed in appointment of the Deputy Superintendent.

Significantly again, CB sleuths did not interrogate officials of BOSE’s Strong Room and Secrecy Section (custodians of the answer sheets and other records) to learn how photocopy of answer scripts of the candidate had reached newspaper offices in Srinagar after over two years. Two officials, identified as Mr Jalu and Assistant Secretary Secrecy, Nazir Ahmad Siraj, have surfaced as major witnesses, though, of late, they have become known for their clash with the Chairman.

Meanwhile, top ranking political sources disclosed to Early Times that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and others in CM’s Secretariat were deeply studying the CB report. Amid rumours of Peerzada’s resignation, coupled by a Cabinet Minister on some different agenda, Chief Minister was said to be under tremendous pressure from different quarters in taking action against the Minister. However, under tenets of so-called coalition dharma, Mr Abdullah has got to discuss this matter with the coalition partner, Congress.

Sources said that after a possible conversation with J&K Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Prof Saifuddin Soz and union Ministers, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Dr Farooq Abdullah, CM was likely to discuss action against Peerzada with AICC General Secretary incharge J&K, Mohan Prakash, and even the AICC and UPA supreme, Sonia Gandhi.

Even after the CB report, Peerzada has been pleading innocent and dismissing the Examgate as nothing but a conspiracy of his exit from the Cabinet. Without making any specific clarification, he has been asking how the BOSE officials have preserved answer books beyond the mandatory period of six months after declaration of results.

Significantly, Peerzada seems to have been isolated by almost all of his colleagues in the party, including Soz and Azad. The only voices in his support, however feeble, came from some Ministers and MLAs/ MLCs of National Conference who have been the known beneficiaries of the Education Minister’s largesse in sanction and upgradation of schools in their responsive constituencies. Through backdoor of the much infamous Sarva Shiksha Abhyan, RMSA and other centrally sponsored flagship schemes of the UPA Government, a number of J&K’s Ministers and legislators have arranged absorption of their relatives and supporters in government service.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Geelani’s yet another shutdown fails in Valley

Groups upset over hardliner’s meetings with BJP, ‘recognition’ to Maulana Shaukat’s killers

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Feb 7: With some of the separatist outfits publicly flaying Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s “recognition” of the detained ‘killers’ of Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadith (JAH) chief Maulana Shaukat and others distancing from his current bonhomie with BJP leadership in New Delhi, the Hurriyat hawk’s call for shutdown against shifting of Kashmiri prisoners to jails outside the state evoked a lukewarm response in Kashmir valley.

Notwithstanding closed shops and business establishments in Srinagar Civil Lines and parts of few towns in South Kashmir, Geelani’s call for shutdown did not evoke a substantial response in the Valley today. Even in the capital city, which has been a nerve centre of the separatist sentiment and politics for the last over two decades, business remained unaffected in most of the segments. Shops, trade centers, groceries, pharmacies, bakeries, restaurants, petrol filling stations, showrooms and workshops worked without paying attention to the call and traffic---public, private and commercial---operated without any disruption.

Reports said that attendance in most of the private and government offices, banks and educational institutions was normal. However, few lawyers and officials attended J&K High Court and subordinate courts in Valley, mainly due to High Court Bar Association’s support to Geelani’s call. Reports from the countryside said that the shutdown was partial in some townships in South Kashmir and had little impact in over a dozen major townships in North Kashmir. According to these reports, traffic operated as usual and most of the shops and other business centers remained open. There was no shutdown in the central Kashmir districts of Budgam and Ganderbal.

Official, as well as independent reports, said that the only incident of a minor clash between some stone pelters and Police took place in downtown interior of Habbakadal in Srinagar. Police forced the thin group of demonstrators disperse with baton charge. Nobody was reported injured or detained in the clash.

Geelani had called upon the Kashmiris to observe total shutdown against the government’s move of shifting detainees and prisoners to jails outside the state of Jammu and Kashmir. HCBA and Pakistan-based guerrilla conglomerate, United Jihad Council, had supported the call. Geelani’s call came close on the heels of reports that a number of detainees, arrested for their alleged involvement in the JAH chief Maulana Shaukat’s assassination on April 8th, 2011, were being shifting from Srinagar Central Jail to some detention centers outside J&K.

JAH promptly came out with a sharp reaction to Geelani’s call and questioned his act of recognizing the slain cleric’s ‘killers’ as representatives of the Kashmiris’ freedom struggle. According to the JAH statement the other day, it was “surprising” that a veteran separatist leader like Mr Geelani was lending sanctity and recognition to Javed Munshi alias Bil Papa and others arrested by Police for their hand in Maulana Shaukat’s assassination in a bomb blast. Significantly however, almost all over separatist outfits remained non-committal on both, Geelani’s call as well as JAH’s negative reaction to it.

Meanwhile detained hardliner and icon of 2010’s street clashes in Kashmir, Massarat Alam, came back to news when his organisation Muslim League, which happens to be a constituent of Geelani-led faction of the Hurriyat Conference, today distanced itself from the latter’s activities in New Delhi. In a statement, carried by local newspapers today, Muslim League said categorically that it had distanced itself from Geelani’s current activities in New Delhi.

A decade after spurning interaction with Ram Jethmalani-led Kashmir Committee, Geelani has had a series of meetings with the eminent lawyers and BJP-led NDA government’s former Law Minister in the union capital. After calling on Jethmalani, initially with condolences on the death of his daughter, Geelani has unfolded an unexpected political mat. In a significant development, he has also met with Bollywood’s icon of yesteryears and veteran BJP leader, Shatrugan Sinha.

Jethmalani, who called on Geelani in Srinagar few months back, has shown remarkable receptivity to Geelani’s mission of fighting for the release of Kashmir’s separatist detainees. According to reports from New Delhi, Jethmalani has agreed to represent in the Supreme Court of India a number of Kashmir’s separatist prisoners, including Dukhtaraan-e-Millat chief Asiya Andrabi’s husband and Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen supremo, Ashiq Hussain Faktoo alias Mohammad Qasim. Convicted with life imprisonment, Faktoo has completed his doctorate in Islamic Studies in jail. He has been convicted for killing veteran human rights activist late Hriday Nath Wanchoo.

Geelani’s lengthy shutdown calendars froze the Valley during street clashes and demonstrations in 2008 and 2010. However, his success met with anti-climax on both occasions. After months of clashing with Police and armed forces in Amarnath Shrine land allotment row, Kashmiris en masse participated in the Assembly elections of October 20008, followed by the Parliamentary elections or April 2009. Again after months of similar clashes, that left over a hundred civilians dead, Kashmiris registered the highest ever participation of 80% turnout in Panchayat Elections in 2011. Since that watershed, they have not shown much of enthusiasm to Geelani’s calls for shutdown.