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Saturday, June 9, 2012

All eyes on Raj Bhawan’s judgment in appointment of CVC, VCs

Govt’s obstinacy as well as PDP’s dissent has to be dispassionate

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jun 8: Broadly, there are two types of Governors in India: Career bureaucrats and public servants including retired military, Police and intelligence officers; and, politicians, or call them public men. Being ‘agents’ of the Central government, they genetically and instinctively act in the direction of the breeze blowing from the North Block and the South Block in New Delhi while taking crucial decisions. In the special status state of Jammu and Kashmir, we have had both. Some of them act blindly to enforce New Delhi’s writ but others stick to their own conscience in making assessment on politically sensitive matters.

L K Jha, in 1975-77, was no exception. Head of the Emergency era government at the Centre, Indira Gandhi, wanted him to dislodge Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, following withdrawal of support by J&K Pradesh Congress Committee, and restore Government to a nominee of her party. Sheikh called upon the Governor to dissolve the Assembly and hold fresh elections. The pro-establishment intelligentsia all over the country wanted Jha to go by the Centre’s advice and unseat Sheikh through Mufti’s no-confidence motion. Sheikh firmly stuck to his wicket and argued that the Governor was legally and constitutionally bound to dissolve the Assembly and hold fresh elections on Chief Minister’s advice.

Amid a nation-wide controversy, Jha went by Sheikh’s advice. He dissolved the Assembly. A year later, he further established his credentials as a conscientious Governor when he conducted the history’s fairest ever election in J&K---unbeaten till date. By the time elections happened in June 1977, Morarji Desai’s Janata Party (JP) had taken over at the Centre. An opportunistic alliance between almost all the opposition parties in the state and the JP Government at the Centre joined hands to defeat Sheikh. Sheikh’s National Conference swept the polls in Kashmir and returned to power with a thumping majority.

Middle of the next decade witnessed Jagmohan taking all the diktats from Indira Gandhi-led Congress government at the Centre. It did not take him long to dismiss Sheikh’s successor, Farooq Abdullah, who had grabbed the throne with a massive mandate after his father’s death in 1982. Former chief executive of Delhi Development Authority, Jagmohan, was a tropical plant in a temperate zone as the NC’s votebank in Valley knew him only for his demolition of Turkman Gate in Delhi. Inspite of emerging as a great builder---in the Governor’s rule following Shah’s termination---Jagmohan failed to correct his image of being “New Delhi’s agent”.

None of the career politicians manned Raj Bhawan in the last 23 years of armed insurgency.  Still, even the most unexpected of them, like Lt Gen (retired) S K Sinha, did one or the other act to pose themselves as guardians of the constitution as well as protectors of Raj Bhawan’s sanctity, integrity and propriety.

Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed forcefully pushed fresh entrant Rafi Mir’s nomination as a Member of Legislative Council. Governor Sinha returned the file with his recorded objection, making it clear that Mr Mir had no contribution to education, science, art and culture or social or cooperative service as was mandatory for the nominee under section 5o sub-section 3 of the J&K Constitution. Mir was nominated a year later--- only after Mufti pressed hard and repeated the Government’s recommendations.

It is purely for Governor N N Vohra whether to base his judgment merely on “legality and technicality” of the law and a signal from the corridors of power in Srinagar and New Delhi or to uphold the wider canvas of propriety in judging recommendations of a high power committee before appointing Chief Vigilance Commissioner and the two Commissioners for State Vigilance Commission. Contrary to the three Government members’ recommendations in favour of the outgoing DGP, Kuldeep Khoda, as CVC besides two retired IAS officers (RK Jerath and MS Khan) as VCs, PDP President, Mehbooba Mufti, has recorded her dissent to Mr Khoda’s nomination. Wild, yet serious, allegations have been leveled to block Mr Khoda’s appointment.

Meaningfully, Ms Mufti has avoided making comment on Mr Khan’s nomination as VC. Khan happens to be intimately close to several leaders of her party and falls in close relation of two key functionaries of the PDP. Late last year, when Omar Abdullah’s government called for nominations for the SVC top brass from General Administration Department (GAD)--- regulator of KAS, IAS and other civil services in J&K---Mr Khan put his own name on the top of the list. Then Commissioner-Secretary GAD, Mr Khan was due for retirement in next few months. This blocked entry of a number of IAS officers who too were about to reach superannuation and were not in any manner inferior to Mr Khan in competence, honesty and integrity.

Ms Mufti did not stop with her critique of the outgoing DGP. She assiduously projected retired Financial Commissioner Samuel Varghese as well as retired DGP (Prison) Dr Ashok Bhan as the “most suitable incumbents” for the top position of CVC.

Before treading on, one needs a rehash of the not-so-old past. Like invariably all the successive Chief Ministers, head of the PDP-Congress coalition Mr Mufti made it a point that Varghese did not get a very important position. He retired unceremoniously on a dull note. Not even a valedictory ritual-- let alone the grand gala that was witnessed at the state’s most expensive hotel on June 1st--- was held in his honour. Similar was the case with Dr Bhan over a year back.

Uncharitable labels were attached to Bhan, not only by NC but also by PDP. Some of the NC leaders publicly accused the former IG CID of burying the infamous ‘Srinagar sex scandal’ under the carpet during Mufti’s rule. In a little over two years, Ms Mufti and her PDP trained their guns on Bhan. As DGP Khoda was on leave in USA, Bhan was officiating as head of the state Police when two young women were found dead in mysterious conditions in Shopian, in May 2009. Ms Mufti, alongwith 18 of her party’s MLAs, marched through Lalchowk and courted arrest with her forceful demand of dismissing the DGP and proceedings against the “killers and rapists” of the Shopian females.

Even when the NC-led coalition stonewalled constitutional and intellectual opinion in nominating five of the coalition’s defeated candidates as “representatives of intelligentsia and academia” in violation of Section 5o (3) of the J&K Constitution, PDP did not raise the question of propriety and morality. Two of the State Accountability Commission convicts were proudly retained in Mufti’s party. One of them, formerly a senior official, was even blessed with a seat in Legislative Council.

Governor alone can not be held responsible for the ‘shortened distance’ between Chashma Shahi and Nawa-e-Subah. He can not be expected to proactively function like a leader of the Opposition. It was none other than Mr Vohra who returned the file to the Civil Secretariat in 2009 when the ruling coalition submitted recommendations for appointing two of the retired judges of J&K High Court as Members of the State Accountability Commission. It was duly pointed out to Chief Minister that the Leader of the Opposition, who happened to be a member of the selection committee, could not be bulldozed in the matter of such recommendations.

Clearly, the ball of agitating the issues of propriety and morality in the SVC appointments is lying in the court of the principal Opposition party. It has got to push the merit of its argument without restricting itself to individual bias and hatred or wild allegations. Now that it has questioned why Supreme Court’s directions, passed in PJ Thomas case, were being “brazenly ignored” in J&K, it has to convince Raj Bhawan how appointment of CVC was far wider an issue than the bureaucratic exercise of appointing an executive engineer. PDP’s flexibility or silence at this stage could be potentially harmful to its image and interest.

On the other hand, Government too has built considerable prestige on its recommendations. As desired by law, it has to convince Governor on the ‘deficiency of merit’ in the opposition member’s dissent. Crucially at a time when voices are rising for a “locally elected” Governor and the demand has been upheld by the Centre’s interlocutors in their report, Mr Vohra has got to assess all pros and cons of accepting and rejecting the Government’s recommendations as well as the opposition’s dissent thereto. One thing is clear that the man at Raj Bhawan can not be seen to be taking cues from the political and bureaucratic corridors in New Delhi or Srinagar. It is none other than Mr Vohra who can define whether his Government had a real commitment to fight corruption or the institutions were simply being created for post-retirement rehabilitation of his regime’s blue-eyed officials.


Iqbal Khanday fails to become Director on Board for 6 months

Govt goes unrepresented in J&K Bank due to Finance Secretary’s continued absence

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jun 5: Government of Jammu & Kashmir has gone unrepresented in around half-a-dozen important agenda meetings of the Board of Directors (BOD) of Jammu and Kashmir Bank in the last over five months. Senior IAS officer, Mohammad Iqbal Khanday, was appointed as Principal Secretary Finance by Omar Abdullah’s Cabinet on December 16th, 2011, but he has not been appointed or declared as Director on Board in J&K Bank since last year even as the bank’s most important annual event, Annual General Meeting (AGM), is being planned here within a month.

By convention, as well as by the bank’s Article of Association, state government’s administrative Secretary of Finance Department becomes Government’s nominee and Director on Board. However, the procedure involves filling up of a small form and customary recommendation of the bank’s Nomination Committee that sets the agenda of Finance Secretary’s appointment as Director for meeting of the Board of Directors. State Government has 53.17% share in the government-controlled company.

Even as IAS officer of 1978 batch, Mr Khanday, was appointed as Principal Secretary Finance on December 16th last year, J&K Bank’s official website continues to show his predecessor, Sudhanshu Pandey, as a Director on Board. With Khanday’s appointment as Principal Secretary Finance, Mr Pandey had been transferred and appointed Commissioner-Secretary of Power Development Department on the same day. Neither Pandey nor Khanday has attended any of the bank’s BOD meetings in the last over five months. Sources in bureaucracy insisted that the bank had not invited anybody from the state government (Finance Department) since the day of Mr Khanday’s appointment in December 2011.

Government’s representative Director was also conspicuously absent at today’s BOD meeting at the bank’s Corporate Headquarters. With this, Government went unrepresented also in Audit Committee meeting, Shareholders/Investors Grievance Committee meeting, Integrated Risk Management Committee meeting on June 4th as well as in Management Committee meeting, Monitoring of Large Value Frauds Committee meeting, IT Strategy Committee meeting, Estates Committee meeting and Legal Committee meeting on June 5th.

Chairman and head of the BOD, Mushtaq Ahmad, nominated Director on Board and RBI’s representative, Hari Narayan Iyer, besides other Directors on Board namely Mohammad Ibrahim Shahdad, Vikrant Kuthiala, Prof Nisar Ali, Abdul Majid Matoo, Rakesh Kumar Gupta and Nihal Garware participated in different groups in the said meetings. Sources disclosed to Early Times that like in the last three meetings, today’s BOD meeting had crucial agenda that necessitated presence of the Government’s director and Secretary Finance.

Bank’s Company Secretary, Abdul Majid Bhat, was not reachable foe his comments on telephone. However, officials not authorized to speak on record argued that the fault lay somewhere in Finance Department of the state government. According to them, Mr Khanday, like all other nominee directors including Chairman, was supposed to fill up a small declaration form prior to his recommendation by the bank’s Nomination Committee. On the other hand, well placed sources in Finance Department insisted that “some people in the bank” had been deliberately delaying the process. “Their callousness could be gauged by the fact that the bank’s website does mention Mr Pandey as a Director, though he has ceased to be one in the middle of December last year”, said a senior official. Minister of Finance, Abdul Rahim Rather, as well as Mr Khanday had their cellphones switched off for several hours of the day.

Officials at Corporate Headquarters of the bank refused to admit that the state government had gone unrepresented in all the BOD meetings in the last nearly six months. “Out of eight Directors, we have one representative from RBI. All others, including Chairman, as nominees of the state government”, said a senior official. He claimed that the process of formally appointing Mr Khanday as a Director on Bank was currently underway.

With the two seniormost Directors, namely Mohammad Ibrahim Shahdad and Vikram Kuthiala, scheduled to retire later this month, appointment of two Directors is likely to be a key agenda item of the forthcoming AGM. Even as both, Shahdad and Kuthiala, have completed eight years each in the BOD, both of them are eligible for fresh appointment if re-nominated by the state government. If appointed, each of them could continue in BOD for the next two years. Draw of lots is not happening in the process of elimination this year as the total number of seniormost Directors is not more than two. Normally, a high power body, comprising Chief Minister and Finance Minister, picks up the nominees from a list prepared by Finance Department which finally gets sanction of the shareholders at the AGM.

With existence of Chairman and seven Directors, including the RBI representative, four slots are presently vacant in the bank’s highest decision making body. The vacancies include that of the state government’s Finance Secretary.

Previously, two Executive Directors, namely A K Mehta and Abdul Majid Mir, were also part of the bank’s BOD. While as Mehta retired on May 31, 2011, Mir reached superannuation on June 30, 2011.  However, their replacement too has not come in the last over one year. In the topmost executive level, bank has currently three Executive Presidents, namely Tafazal Hussain (36 years of service), Sahibzada Ghulam Mohiuddin (37 years of service) and Parvez Ahmad Nengroo (14 years of service). None of them has been elevated to the rank of Executive Director.

Out of 16 Presidents, three (Madan Lal Gupta, Abdul Rashid and Mohammad Afzal Khan) have retired recently and these slots are also lying vacant.


Sunday, June 3, 2012

PDP leader roped in to resolve CVC appointment crisis

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jun 2: A middle rung leader of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is being roped in to resolve crisis between the ruling coalition and the principal opposition party over appointment of the outgoing Director General of Police, Kuldeep Khoda, as the first presiding officer of Jammu & Kashmir State Vigilance Commission. The intermediary, having low profile in politics but high profile in business, is trying hard to deflate the balloon of criticism against Mr Khoda but has not achieved any success in the last three days.

Well placed political sources said that two middle rung leaders of the PDP had been, of late, roped in with the crucial task of conflict resolution over Mr Khoda’s appointment as Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC). One of the intermediaries, according to sources, was holding an important position in the party but was more prominent on account of his flourishing business in horticulture sector. Another was described as a young legislator from Baramulla district. Even as the duo, according to sources, attempted their crisis management task on behalf of the outgoing DGP, it was not immediately clear whether it was the contender’s personal initiative or the State government’s covert operation to protect its prestige on Mr Khoda’s appointment. The high profile businessman-politician was reportedly trying to mobilize support in Mr Khoda’s favour while roping in some legislators and top brass of his party.

Sources said that the two middle-aged politicians, both from Baramulla district, drove all the way to the PDP patriarch Mufti Mohammad Syeed’s residence and pleaded that blocking Mr Khoda’s appointment would not be an act of prudence for the opposition. Inspite of a slew of reservations, Mufti is understood to have, in turn, spoken to his daughter and the party President, Mehbooba Mufti. However, Ms Mufti argued that preserving the credibility of the institutions like SCV, State Accountability Commission (SAC) and State Information Commission (SIC) was more important for the principal opposition party than obliging individuals and favourites of the government. According to sources, she asserted that even a minute flexibility in the PDP’s stated position on this subject could enormously harm interests of the party.

Mufti Sayeed, according to sources, did not press what the two middle rung leaders of the party had desired directly and indirectly.

Sources attributed ‘delay’ in General Administration Department’s letter to Raj Bhawan to the latest conflict resolution process, suggesting that the stakeholder was “desperately trying” to clear the decks for the CVC’s appointment. While as Secretary GAD, Mushtaq Ahmad Sheikh, did not respond to phone calls, Principal Secretary to Governor, Naveen Choudhary, maintained that no such communication had passed through his desk till this evening. As already reported in media, albeit without denial or confirmation from the Government, minutes of the May 28th meeting of the high power search committee had been recorded and got signed by GAD from all the three Government members---Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, Deputy Chief Minister, Tara Chand, and Minister of Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Mohammad Sagar---as well as the only member from opposition, Mehbooba Mufti.

After her strong objection to Mr Khoda’s name and nominating retired IAS officer, Samuel Varghese, and retired IPS officer, Dr Ashok Bhan, as the suitable candidates, Ms Mufti has reportedly recorded her dissent with detail in the draft of the minutes. This document is supposed to be forwarded to Governor, with detailed rejoinder of the Government members, for issuing warrant of appointment under law. On recommendations of the high power search committee, the competent authority can appoint CVC as well as the Vigilance Commissioners, not more than two. Three of the Government members are reported to have unanimously recommended Mr Khoda as the CVC besides two retired officers (former Financial Commissioner RK Jerath and former Commissioner Secretary GAD, Mohammad Sayeed Khan) as Vigilance Commissioners.

Sources in Department of Law said that Governor had the prerogative of accepting or rejecting Ms Mufti’s note of dissent and the three Government members’ recommendations in favour of Messers Khoda, Jerath and Khan. However, they said, Governor was likely to seek opinion from Advocate General and eminent legal and constitutional experts including those based outside J&K. These sources said that Raj Bhawan had already obtained authentic text of all related laws in the state as well as at the national level and a particular study was underway of the Supreme Court of India judgment, dated March 3rd, 2011, in the famous PJ Thomas petition. 

According to these sources, there was no major hitch after clean chit to Mr Khoda in the so-called Bhaderwah triple murder case by J&K High Court but moral aspects of Mr Khoda’s appointment were now in sharp focus.