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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Death of infants at GB Panth Hospital

CM snubs Dir SKIMS for ‘cheap publicity’, puts Chib in the dock

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Aug 3: Row over alarming deaths of children at GB Panth Hospital has taken a new turn as both the key actors of the story have landed in trouble. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has taken strong note of the leakage of an inquiry report to media by Director of SKIMS, Dr Showkat Ali Zargar, and snubbed him for “cheap publicity”. At the same time, Chief Minister has for the first time put one of his Ministerial colleagues---R S Chib--- in the dock by referring the GB Panth inquiry report for thorough investigation and fixing of responsibility to Jammu and Kashmir Accountability Commission.

Leakage of an inquiry report to media---first to a leading English daily in Srinagar and later to NDTV---has immediately brought its handler and author, Dr Showkat Zargar, into the eye of a storm in top corridors of power. If well-placed authoritative sources are to be believed, within minutes of the recording of his interview to NDTV, Chief Minister summoned Dir SKIMS, Dr Zargar, to his residence last evening and snubbed him for the latter’s act of seeking “cheap publicity”. Sources said that Chief Minister’s Secretariat was in possession of ‘credible information’ that none other than Dr Zargar had leaked his report to the media.

In the wake of hullabaloo over the high mortality rate at GB Panth Hospital in the month of May, Government had ordered a one-man inquiry to look into reason behind nearly 500 deaths and alleged administrative anarchy at Kashmir’s only hospital for the children. Dr Zargar was assigned to conduct the inquiry and submit his report to the Government within a month. Superintendent of the hospital, Dr Javed Choudhary was removed and replaced by a retired Professor and former head of Social and Preventive Medicine at Government Medical College Srinagar, Dr Munir Masoodi.

Last week, Dr Zargar was reported to have completed the inquiry and submitted his findings to the Government. However, before it could be passed on to Chief Minister and Chief Secretary, excerpts of the report began publishing verbatim in a leading Srinagar-based daily. Within the next couple of days, NDTV too accessed the report and interviewed Chief Minister for his comments. It created an embarrassing position for the Chief Minister who made no bones of his decision of ordering an inquiry as to how the report had reached media before he would study it.

According to NDTV, Dr Zargar had observed that actual rate of neonatal mortality at GB Panth was 35.1% and not 3% as had been projected by the attached Superintendent, Dr Javed Choudhary, supported by Minister incharge Medical Education, R S Chib. Quoting Dr Zargar’s findings, NDTV reported that 2219 infants had been admitted to the hospital from January to May 2012. Of them as many as 312 died. However, files of only 889 admissions were in place and those of 1,330 admissions were “missing”. It also reported that existence of a druggists’ mafia, being hand-in-glove with the previous hospital administration, had been established by Dr Zargar in his report. Besides, MD and MS students had been found ‘forced to pay bribes in cash to the examiners’.

In the very beginning of the NDTV interview, Chief Minister got angry and felt embarrassed over leakage of the report. Asked for his reaction, Omar said: “First, it will not be possible for me to comment about the contents of the report that has not been made public. Clearly, how NDTV has got access to this will be the matter of another inquiry, because such reports, unless they are shared with the government appropriately, for them to be shared with the media before they reach the Chief Minister, I think, is also a matter of concern”.

Sources said that before the interview was on air, Chief Minister summoned and snubbed Dr Zargar while dismissing his action as “cheap publicity”. He told Zargar that people would have automatically appreciated if he had really done some good job to reform things at GB Panth. Dr Zargar did not deny the allegation.

Paradoxically, Dr Zargar himself has now come in the dock with regard to nearly 3,000 deaths at SKIMS in the last 21 months. Last week only, Speaker of Legislative Assembly Mohammad Akbar Lone has taken suo motto notice of reports in the media and constituted a House Committee of 13 MLAs, headed by National Panthers Party’s Balwant Singh Mankotia, to look into reasons of high mortality rate at SKIMS. For over a year of the period in question, Dr Zargar has functioned as Director of SKIMS.

Significantly, in yesterday’s NDTV interview, Chief Minister has made it clear that immediately after receiving a copy of the report on Friday, he would be forwarding it to State Vigilance Organization (SVO) and SAC for thorough investigation and fixing responsibility. While as SVO has the mandate of investigating matters related to government officials, SAC exclusively has the duty of investigating matters involving Ministers, MLAs, MLCs and other public men holding the status of Minister or MoS.

With his announcement, Chief Minister has made it clear that on the Government’s initiative, Accountability Commission would investigate the involvement and criminal culpability of the Minister incharge Medical Education. It is for the first time in the last 31 months of the coalition government that SAC would be investigating charges against a Minister on the initiative of Chief Minister. Like two removed/truncated Ministers (G M Saroori and Pirzada Mohammad Sayeed), Chib too belongs to Congress party. In euphemism, Omar has named “Secretariat” (not the Minister) but reference of the matter to SAC does automatically identify the accused.

“….the situation in GB Pant Hospital had reached almost dire proportions. There is no denying that failure at multiple levels, right from the hospital to the secretariat resulted in the situation reaching where I had, wherein I myself had to step in, and between myself and officers with me, we put in place certain corrective measures wherein I believe situation has been addressed to large extent. But that doesn't remove from the fact it had been allowed to deteriorate to such extent”, Omar said in the interview.

Omar added: “Now once this report reaches me, which obviously will, there are certain steps which will have to be taken... I believe this report needs to form the inquiry both by the Vigilance and the Accountability commission. I believe responsibility needs to be fixed”.

Of course, they (politicians) should take responsibility. Nobody is above responsibility. Where I have felt that in my own conduct that I have failed, I have stood up and taken responsibility. Therefore, I don't absolve anybody of responsibility of this. I am telling you that responsibility for this stretches from the hospital right to the secretariat. At certain levels it is for individual conscience to take its own call. I can't tell their conscience how to respond. I know how my conscience will respond. As for legally, let me just say, I believe that these are fit cases”, Omar said when asked if the politicians (Minister) should take responsibility of the mess at GB Panth.

Chief Minister further said: “I believe action should be taken on the basis of substantive report. This report points us in the correct direction but it doesn't fix responsibility. It only states facts. Both Vigilance and Accountability commission should inquire about it and fix responsibility. I will assure you action will be taken where responsibility is fixed”.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Govt mulling austerity measurers as officers plunder exchequer for luxuries

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Aug 2: With most of the officers, bureaucrats, Ministers and heads of different boards and autonomous bodies looting the state exchequer on acquisition of luxuries, Government is likely to announce and enforce austerity measures by next week.

Department of Finance, headed by Principal Secretary Iqbal Khanday, has observed that the revenue expenditure, particularly the spendings of public servants and public men on air travel between Srinagar and Jammu, Jammu and Delhi, and Srinagar and Delhi, had increased manifold in the first four months of the current fiscal. It has been noticed that over 60% of such air travels were purely for personal purposes, like visiting families and accompanying children for seeking their admission to different colleges and universities all over the country.

It has been notices that almost all Ministers from Jammu have been invariably leaving Srinagar for their respective homes in Jammu on every Friday afternoon and returning on Monday next. This has also encouraged their subordinate bureaucrats and officers too to shuttle between Srinagar and Jammu every weekend. Having a cascading effect, it has further prompted scores of IAS, IPS and IFS officers from different states to keep frequently shuttling between the summer capital and their respective residences in New Delhi, Chandigarh, different cities of UP, Bihar, Punjab and Rajasthan.

“In most of the cases, officials, bureaucrats and Ministers have justified drawing of the expenditure while showing their tour destinations as venue for one or the other official meeting. One of the Secretaries to Government visited wedding of the son of a former Chief Justice of J&K High Court in Tamil Nadu and claimed entire expenditure of his air travel from a public account he is himself operating. Even the marriage ceremony of the judge’s son has passed off as an official meeting”, said a source in Department of Finance. He pointed out that the Finance Minister, Abdul Rahim Rather, had publicly announced to hold an inquiry and initiate action against the delinquent officials but he too hushed up the matter under some pulls and pressures or expediency.

In addition to air travel, public servants and public men have plundered Crores of Rupees on account of purchasing fleets of vehicles and furniture and fixtures for their offices. According to well-placed sources, it has been observed that all the three most expensive items have been clandestinely diverted to the families and residences of the public servants and public men.

Well-placed sources in Department of Planning and Development revealed that a number of officers had purchased not only expensive upholstery, furniture and fixtures for their own houses out of the state exchequer but had also placed other items, like laptops and official vehicles, at the disposal of their own families and children. Three particular KAS/IAS officers, including a former Director of School Education, have been found to have managed wood paneling and Khattamband ceiling of their own houses out of the construction or renovation of their offices. Same material, workers, suppliers and contractors have been used at their offices and residential houses. Contractors have executed these family jobs of the officers as part of their “commission, payable to the officers”.

In a number of cases, it has been noticed that the officers had purchased expensive still and video cameras, including webcams, printers and scanners, out of the government funds but given the same in custody of their families and children. According to sources, in many of the cases, Ministers and Bureaucrats have either got the vehicles of their subordinate departments attached to their own personal sections and diverted these to their own families or forced the subordinate officers to purchase brand new luxury cars. These cars, alongwith their official drivers, are being spotted ferrying the families, children, guests, friends and relatives of different officers, bureaucrats and Ministers.

Christian Missionary schools like Burn Hall, Presentation Convent, Tyndale Biscoe and Mallinson, as also the prestigious Delhi Public School have become a daily demonstration of the brazen misuse of official vehicles. In flagrant violation of all rules and norms, these flagged vehicles are often fitted with red beacon lights and their windscreens are pasted with thick black tinted glasses in violation of recent orders from Supreme Court of India and J&K High Court.

People in Ministry of Finance, as well as Department of Finance, are reluctant to say anything on the subject on the record. Well-placed authoritative sources still insisted that Government was seriously considering blanket ban on purchase of furniture, fixtures and upholstery besides purchase of fresh vehicles. According to these sources, Chief Secretary Madhav Lal, and Principal Secretary Finance, Iqbal Khanday, had taken serious note of the broad daylight loot of the state exchequer by public servants and public men on account of  non-productive and luxury activities including air travel and purchasing of vehicles. Sources said that a hard-and-fast package of austerity measures was being fine-toned and it was likely to be announced and enforced within next week.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Almost all showrooms on Bypass in brazen violation of law

Minister inaugurated illegally raised showroom; PDP gets details of “explosive violations” from SMC

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Aug 1: Opposition PDP leader Maulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari has got trapped in the net of his own creation by raising the issue of wetland encroachments in Assembly’s budget session. House Committee’s first sword has begun dangling over the fate of his newly created showroom---Ansari Toyota----on the national highway Bypass near Parimpora. With one of the PDP members, namely Nizamuddin Bhat, distancing himself from the House Committee’s “direction” asking Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) to lock Ansari’s under-construction complex, the principal opposition party has collected material to establish, during forthcoming session of legislature, that almost all the automobile showrooms and sale centres on the 18-Km Bypass---Pantachowk to Shalteng---were illegal and raised in brazen violation of law and Master Plan.

Well-placed sources revealed to Early Times that in order to deflect the brunt of the House Committee direction from Ansari’s showroom to other commercial complexes, mostly belonging to friends and relatives of the ruling National Conference (NC) leaders, PDP has decided to prove during next session of Legislature that almost all of these constructions were “illegal” and in “serious violation” of the Master Plan of Greater Srinagar in vogue. According to sources, party’s sympathizers in SMC have provided details of such unauthorized structures to some PDP leaders.

PDP has also obtained a copy of a “secret report” on the unauthorized and illegal commercial complexes in Srinagar, particularly those which have come up on the Bypass till the year 2010. A high level committee, comprising then Additional Commissioner of Kashmir, Ishtiyaq Ahmad Ashai, then Vice Chairman of Srinagar Development Authority (SDA) and now Commissioner Commercial Taxes, Syed Kifayat Hussain Rizvi, then Commissioner SMC, Tufail Ahmad Matoo, and then Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar and now Transport Commissioner, Meraj Ahmed Kakroo, is said to have compiled a detailed report on the illegal commercial structures. Sources said that, according to this report, most of the automobile showrooms and other commercial complexes on the Bypass were illegal.

While some of these structures had come up after the owners fraudulently obtained permission of construction from SMC’s BOCA, others had affected massive changes in laying the buildings in violation of the permission. A number of such permissions for commercial complexes have been found to have been issued in purely residential zones. A number of permissions have been issued without obtaining mandatory NOCs from different government departments. Some of the permissions have been issued for raising of guesthouses but the owners have actually raised automobile showrooms and business centres. In some of such structures, second and third floor has been raised illegally and both, vertical rise as well as stipulated distance from the camber of the highway, have been violated.

Interestingly, last month only, one of the Cabinet Ministers has inaugurated one of such showrooms in Hyderpora on the Bypass. State Information Department is on record to have reported the inauguration of the private business centre by the Minister. This particular showroom had not come up till 2010 and does not figure in the high level committee’s report.

Sources said that PDP was in possession of adequate evidence to establish that Chairman of the committee, Ishtiaq Ahmad Ashai, had avoided formal submission the report to the Government when he came under influence of top corridors of power. Government had constituted a number of sub committees and the final report had been compiled by Ashai-led committee over two years back but the same has not seen light of the day till date.

Sources said that from its contacts in SMC, PDP has obtained details about one particular automobile showroom, situated ay Hyderpora, which, as per records, has sought permission for construction of a guesthouse. Even that had been rejected by BOCA in 2010 with a number of observations. However, in a few months later, SMC issued permission separately in favour of two brothers, for the construction of a guesthouse, for “promotion of tourism” in Kashmir.

However, rather than promoting tourism by raising a guesthouse, the owners set up an automobile showroom, workshops and a sales centre on the premises. They also raised top floor of the building without any permission from SMC and set up master control room and other offices of a private telecommunication company on the illegally raised floors. Distance from camber of the road, running parallel to the highway, to the plinth of the complex has also been found violated by about 20 ft.

“Mr Ansari may not have permission for construction of showroom and sales centre. But, he has duly one for construction of automobile workshop. On the other hand, the showroom opposite to Jamkash Vehicleads in Hyderpora has no permission, even for a workshop. Both will have to be sealed, if law has to be enforced judiciously”, said a PDP activist.

While a number of such illegal constructions are result of the owners’ high political and bureaucratic clout, over 70 percent of them are being widely attributed to wanton corruption in SMC. Commissioners and Executive Officers are known to have collected bribe money, ranging between Rs 10 Lakh to Rs 50 lakh, for issuing each such permission, permitting horizontal and vertical violations, change of land use and finally getting many of such violations compounded after charging nominal penalties from the owners. None of the successive governments has initiated any action against even the Ward Officers or Khilafwarzi Officers with whose connivance an illegal commercial structures boom has been witnessed on the Bypass and other areas in the last 16 years.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Shopian erupts over tanker driver’s death

Residents: Killed by CRPF; Police: Got hit while repairing vehicle

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jul 31: Death of a tanker driver in mysterious circumstances last night has led to mayhem in the south Kashmir district headquarters of Shopian today. Even as Police claimed that the driver had got fatally hit while repairing his vehicle and a Special Investigation Team (SIT) has been constituted to hold a thorough inquiry, hundreds of residents leveled allegation of “killing” against CRPF, enforced shutdown, damaged two ambulances and clashed with Police for several hours of the day.

Independent sources in south Kashmir told Early Times that a 24-year-old driver of a private water tanker, namely Mohammad Aaquib Bhat S/o Mohammad Yousuf Bhat R/o Balpora, Shopian, was admitted to District Hospital Shopian at about 9.00 p.m. last night. Complaining of severe pain in his abdomen, he was bleeding through his mouth. He was brought to the hospital by driver and cleaner of another private water tanker, Mukhtar Ahmad Bhat and Ashfaq Ahmad Ganai, both residents of Qazigund.

Mukhtar and Ashfaq revealed to the doctors that their fellow tanker driver was first examined by Army doctors at MI Room of Headquarters RR 44 Bn but they found his condition as grave and referred him to the District Hospital. On examination, doctors at the Shopian hospital too found his condition unstable and referred him for specialized treatment to a Srinagar hospital. Meanwhile, his uncle, Bashir Ahmad Bhat, and aunt, Haseena, also reached the District Hospital. As they began rushing him to Srinagar in an ambulance, Aaquib breathed his last.

The dead body was brought back to DH Shopian where doctors conducted post mortem in the forenoon today. Late last night, Police recorded the statements of the driver, Mukhtar Ahmad Bhat, and cleaner, Ashfaq Ahmad Ganai. Thereafter, Police recorded the statements of the deceased driver Aaquib Bhat’s uncle, Bashir Ahmad Bhat, and aunt, Haseena.

News of the tanker driver’s death spread like a wild fire in Shopian and its adjoining villages. Within two hours in the forenoon, hundreds of people occupied and blocked different roads leading to Shopian and began demonstrations with the allegation that men of the CRPF camp at Balpora had “killed” Aaquib after a heated exchange and physical fight between him and guards of the paramilitary camp. Hundreds of the demonstrators converged on streets and enforced shutdown of business establishments and traffic, blocking a number of road leading to and originating from Shopian.

As the demonstrators shouted anti-forces, anti-India, anti-government and pro-Azadi slogans, they made repeated attempts to take the dead body into their custody. Police foiled their attempts, got the post mortem conducted by a team of doctors and subsequently handed over the dead body to the bereaved family at Balpora. Funeral prayers and other rites were performed peacefully and the burial took place late in the afternoon.

With most of the roads leading to Shopian blocked by angry crowds, DIG South Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, reached the disturbed township from the tedious Kellar-Shopian route. He, alongwith SP Shopian, managed the crowds but not before violent clashes between the demonstrators and Police. It was during this melee that the crowds resorted to heavy stone pelting on Police and the District Hospital. Two ambulances of the hospital suffered extensive damage.

Medico-legal formalities, including post mortem, and collection of viscera, other organs and tissues for a detailed forensic analysis, were carried out amid mayhem in the town. Within same time, under directions from top corridors of the state government, including DGP Ashok Prasad’s personal discussion with top rungs of bureaucracy and political establishment at Civil Secretariat, Shopian Police registered a “murder case” against unidentified assailants. Sources said that case FIR No: 249 of 2012 dated 31-07-2012 was lodged under section 304-A and 279 Ranbir Penal Code even before conducting necessary inquest under section 174 or 176 CrPC and obtaining results of the post mortem and the forensic analysis.

This action, to an extent, pacified the crowds though they persisted with their protest and shutdown at the district headquarters. A Police party, headed by SP Shopian, later escorted the dead body to Balpora and handed it over to the bereaved family. Emotional scenes marked arrival of the dead body. Reports said that some youngsters subjected the Police party to stone pelting but Police observed restraint and returned to Shopian.

Speaking to Early Times over telephone, DIG Vijay Kumar said that Police registered case FIR No: 249 under sections 304-A and 279 RPC. He said that under his orders, SP Shopian constituted a SIT, comprising Dy SP Headquarters Shopian, SHO Shopian and a Sub Inspector for the purpose of detailed investigation into the circumstances that led to the young driver’s death in mysterious circumstances.

DIG said that all the accused, including men of the CRPF camp at Balpora, would be questioned to know the reality. He said that another tanker driver, Mukhtar Bhat, and cleaner, Ashfaq Ganai, stated before Police that they were taking siesta after evening prayers in their vehicle at 8.30 p.m. when they heard a scream. As they rushed out, they found Aaquib’s tanker some 20 yards away from the place he had parked it. He was bleeding through mouth and complaining of severe pain in his abdomen. They rushed him to the adjoining camp of Army’s RR 44 Bn headquarters where doctors examined him but referred him to DH Shopian.

According to the details available with DIG, doctors at DH Shopian found Aaquib in a critical condition and they referred him to a Srinagar hospital. On calling by Mukhatr and Ashfaq, Aaquib’s uncle and aunt reached DH Shopian. As he was being rushed to Srinagar at 9.45 p.m, Aaquib revealed to his uncle and aunt that he had got hit by his own tanker which was in neutral gear. It was in this brunt that he got badly hit in the interior of his abdomen. DIG said that both, Bashir Ahmad Bhat as well as his wife, Haseena, got their statement recorded before Police last night in which they declared that Aaquib had made a statement to them while dying.

On the other hand, residents of Shopian town leveled allegations that men of CRPF camp had “killed” Aaquib during an altercation. DIG said that the investigation would be conducted in a fairly professional manner and law would take its own course without succumbing to any pulls and pressures.

Police calls it accidental death
An official press release from zonal Police Headquarters said: “On 30-07-2012 at about 2130 hours, one Aaqib Ahmad Bhat son of Muhammad Yousuf, resident of Balpora, while repairing water Tanker bearing registration number JKo1A/9595 at Balpora got injured.  He was shifted to local Hospital where from he was referred to Srinagar hospital for further treatment. However, he died on way. Police has taken cognizance and started the investigation and FIR No. 249/12has been registered in Police Station Shopian. Today after conducting postmortem of the body the body was handed over to his legal heirs for last rites.

NC, Govt calls it ‘killing’
A press release from Department of Information of the Government of Jammu & Kashmir said: “Deputy Chairman State Legislative Council, Mr. M.Y. Tang has expressed deep anguish over the killing of youth Aquib Yousuf at Balpora, Shopian. He has demanded immediate enquiry in the matter so that culprits be brought to book immediately. While expressing sympathies with the bereaved family, he has demanded that due compensation may be released in their favour”.

Senior separatist leader and JKLF chairman, Yasin Malik, participated in a condolence meeting at Balpora. In his speech on the occasion he alleged that Aaquib had been killed by CRPF. He alleged that the real criminals were the mainstream (pro-India) politicians. In another statement, Chairman Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, too called Aaquib’s death a ‘killing by CRPF’. He argued that such “killings” would continue in Valley as long as armed forces enjoyed impunity under AFSPA.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

On militancy’s ‘Silver Jubilee’, Yasin listens to a horrible tale at SKIMS

‘What did they get out of lobbing a grenade on us?’ injured woman tourist asks JKLF chief

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jul 30: Just two days short of the ‘Silver Jubilee’ of Kashmir’s armed strife, pioneer of the gun culture, Yasin Malik, did listen to a horrible tale of the innocent bloodletting at SKIMS, Soura. JKLF’s chairman, Malik was a key member of HAJY Group (Hameed Sheikh, Ashfaq Majeed, Javed Mir and Yasin Malik) that triggered off hitherto unending insurgency with the first grenade attack on Central Telegraph Office (CTO), Srinagar, on July 31, 1988. Twenty-five years later, he has the distinction of being the only separatist politician to visit SKIMS and inquire about the condition of five female tourists from Mumbai who sustained injuries in a blast on their bus near Bijbehara on July 28th.

Not exactly reminiscent of what Chief Minister Omar Abdullah faced on his visit to SKIMS in the thick of bloodshed and street mayhem in 2010, JKLF chairman’s interaction on Sunday with the victims of the Bijbehara blast fits well in his political archives. Relieved by Omar Abdullah government’s version that the group of eight female tourists from Mumbai had been the victim of an LPG cylinder blast, Malik walked all the way to the extension of a post-operative ward at the state’s only tertiary care hospital.

Two of the group had died on spot. Third one had breathed her last on her arrival for treatment at SKIMS. Fourth one, 70-year-old Indira Parvathi, was in coma and likely to be declared dead in the hospital’s surgical ICU any moment. Malik learned that she had splinter injuries on entire body but her head injuries could prove to be fatal.

Of the remaining four, Jaswanthi Thakkar (72), asked Malik: “What is our sin? What’s the wrong we had done (in visiting Kashmir)? Even a dacoit gets something for his act. What did they get out of it?” Jaswanthi had multiple splinter injuries in her left leg. 

That conversation made Malik speechless. He, nevertheless, inquired from another injured woman, Pratima, whose only daughter and father were far away in Australia: “Was it not a gas cylinder?” To his disbelief, Malik learned from the proverbial horse’s mouth that neither the tourist group not the driver of the ill-fated Tempo Traveler carried any LPG cylinder. Like others of the group, Pratima’s body was perforated with splinters. “Had it been a gas cylinder blast, we would have burnt”, added she.

The injured woman narrated an eyewitness account as to how two boys came close to the slowly moving vehicle and lobbed a hand grenade through an open glass pane. Within seconds, she said, it went off, causing havoc.

And, when Malik returned from the hospital with a blushed face, he began feeling what Albert Einstein, the American scientist whose formula led to creation of atom bomb, was faced with at the end of Hiroshima Nagasaki. All what Malik could do was that he mellowed down his statement of the day and called it only a “mysterious blast”---unlike other separatist and mainstream politicians who in chorus dismissed it as a ‘gas cylinder blast’. Don’t ask names the two top men in the Council of Ministers, joined by a senior and brilliant Police officer, who floated the theory of the ‘gas cylinder blast’.

FSL’s forensic examination and the ballistic analyses are expected to make everything clear within a week’s time. Sources close to the investigators, as also the doctors treating the victims and the ballistic experts who collected the samples in Bijbehara on Sunday, are sure that the findings could turn a many faces red in the Government as well as in the valley’s separatist camp. They insist that Police had also recovered a pin that had been removed from the grenade before it was thrown into the bus. But all and sundry in Ashok Prasad’s Police are now tightlipped with regard to the source of the blast.

Meanwhile, two of the injured tourists, namely Neetha and Jaswanthi, were discharged from SKIMS today. Sources said that, accompanied by their family members, they flew back to home in Mumbai in the afternoon. SKIMS sources said that Geetha and Jaishree were still under treatment and observation at the post-operative ward after one of them passed through an orthopedic surgical procedure last night. These sources said that 70-year-old Indira Parvathi was continuously in coma and her chances of survival were “extremely bleak”.


Monday, July 30, 2012

FSL team notices clear signs of ‘grenade explosion’

Officials under pressure to hide source of Bijbehara blast till Yatra end

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jul 29: Ballistic experts of Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) Srinagar today collected samples of Saturday’s explosion on a tourist bus in Bijbehara that had left three women from Mumbai dead and five more injured. Even as the FSL’s prima facie observation is “an explosive device” (grenade or IED), officials associated with the investigation have been barred from revealing source of the blast till the end of the annual Amarnath pilgrimage next week.

Well-placed authoritative sources disclosed to Early Times that the FSL team today collected necessary samples from the damaged Tempo Traveler as well as from the site of yesterday’s blast. Although conclusive findings would be available only after a thorough ballistic and forensic analysis, the FSL team, according to sources, noticed “clear signs of an explosive device” (grenade or IED). “There are no indications of an LPG cylinder blast”, said a source associated with the investigation. He said that all the officials had been immediately barred from revealing source of the blast till next weekend.

The state government, according to sources, was keen to hide details and findings of the FSL analysis and Police investigation till winding up of Amarnath Yatra. “There are apprehensions that revelation of the source as grenade or IED could scare away pilgrims and tourists”, said a senior official. He said that revelation of source could also come as a negative commentary on the security bandobust put in place for a bustling tourist and pilgrim season. On the other hand, theory of an LPG cylinder blast also soothes all actors across the divided political spectrum in Kashmir---from NC to PDP and Congress to Hurriyat.

According to these sources, even the doctors who treated the injured at SKIMS since yesterday and also those who performed post mortem of the three dead bodies at Jawahar Lal Nehru Memorial (JLNM) Hospital Rainawari today, had observed, beyond any confusion, that the ill-fated female tourists had been victims of an explosive device. As already reported, two women traveling on the Jammu-based Tempo Traveler had died on spot and six others of the group had sustained injuries in the mysterious blast. Later, one more woman died while under treatment at SKIMS.

Sources at SKIMS today described the condition of a 70-year-old woman, namely Indira Parvathi as “critical”. They said that she was comatose since the timing of the blast on Saturday. Admitted and under supervision at Surgical ICU, Indira has been described as a patient of polytrauma subdural hemorrhage (SDH). “She has multiple injuries on whole body but her head injuries are grave”, said a doctor. He said that her coma scale (GCS) was just 4 out of the normal reading of 15, suggesting that prospects of her survival were bleak. Officials said that her family members today arrived in from Mumbai.

Doctors said that remaining four of the female tourists group had sustained minor injuries. They were still under supervision but being discharged in the morning on Monday. Sources said that they would be all returning home by a Srinagar-Mumbai flight tomorrow.

Taking the first of its kind explosion this Yatra and tourist season seriously, IGP Kashmir, S M Sahai, today drove all the way to SOG camp at Sangham, Bijbehara, and he questioned a number of eyewitnesses and probable evidences with regard to the blast. Among others, he quizzed driver of the ill-fated bus, Ashok Kumar of Udhampur, who narrated details of his journey from Jammu to Katra (Vaishnu Devi temple) and Katra to Bijbehara. IGP took a meeting with senior officials, including DIG South Kashmir and all SPs, asking them to ensure that incidents like Saturday’s in Bijbehara did not occur till conclusion of Amarnath pilgrimage next week.

Sources said that Police had been already on the high alert as one particular militant outfit had been repeatedly asking its commanders over a radio network since last fortnight to attack either a tourist carriage or a pilgrims’ vehicle.

Sources said that the investigators found some conflicting facts in the driver’s statement but collected graphic details of the all-female group’s journey from Khannabal to Bijbehara and Zirpora. It became clear that the vehicle had halted for about 25 minutes at Sharma Veshnu Dhaba in Bijbehara where the tourists sipped tea and the driver took his lunch. Two members of the group also desired to take meals but they did not like its quality and were content with just a cup of tea. Owner of the Dhaba was also quizzed by Police today. Sources said that the investigators were trying to find if anybody had planted an IED on the bus while it remained parked on the highway.

Holding investigation of FIR No: 232 dated 28-07-2012, under section 3/5 of Explosive Substances Act, investigators today learned that the Police deployment across the Padshahi Bagh bridge on the river Jhelum at Bijbehara had disappeared from the spot immediately after the Holy Mace passed towards Mattan yesterday. It became clear today that the Pahalgam-bound Tempo Traveler, having diverted through Bijbehara-Srigufwara-Sallar route, was negotiating two speed-breakers after zipping past Government Higher Secondary School at Zirpora, when the blast occurred in it.

Sources said that putting the LPG cylinder theory at No: 3, investigators in their preliminary investigation were now zeroing in between a grenade that could have been lobbed into the vehicle at its lowest speed on the two speed-breakers and a timer-fitted IED that could have been planted on board when the carriage was parked for a tea or lunch break.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Three Mumbai women killed in Anantnag blast, 5 injured

80 sq inch crater on floor indicates grenade blast; driver says motorcyclist threw in a grenade; Police calls it LPG cylinder blast but awaits FSL opinion

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jul 28: Three female members of a Mumbai family, including two NRIs living in England, died and five others sustained injuries in a mysterious blast on their Pahalgam-bound bus at Bijbehara in the south Kashmir district of Anantnag today. Even as preliminary reports described it as a grenade attack and Police later asserted it was an LPG blast that happened accidentally on the bus, most of the officials sounded confused with regard to source of the explosion.

Informed sources in south Kashmir told Early Times that at around 1330 hours, a powerful blast occurred inside a tourist bus, bearing registration No: JK02AP/0676, at the entrance of Government Higher Secondary School at Zeripora, across Padshahi Bagh bridge on the river Jhelum, in Bijbehara. Coming from Katra, the passenger carriage was on way to Pahalgam via Sallar. Three women passengers died and five more, having sustained multiple injuries, were evacuated and rushed to Srinagar for medical treatment. They were admitted to SKIMS.

Three women killed in the blast were identified as Neesha Jeetwah W/o Anil Jeetwah, Nirmala Rathore W/o Jai Raj and Indu Bhai. Neesha and Indu, according to official sources, were NRIs living in England. Five more of the group, who were admitted to SKIMS, were identified as Bharti W/o Ashwini Kumar, Neeta Jeetwah W/o Bharat Jeetwah, Preetama Jeetwah W/o Vinod Jeetwah, Jayshri Desai W/o Arun Kumar and Jaswanti Thakur W/o Vasant Thakur.

Doctors attending the injured women at SKIMS told Early Times that 60-year-old Nirmala Devi succumbed to injuries when she was under treatment. “70-year-old Indira is critical with multiple injuries on her body”, said a doctor. He said that Neeta (59), Geeta (50), Jaswanti (70) and Jaishri (55) had sustained minor injuries and were under observation in a ward. All the four would be most likely discharged in the forenoon on Monday, he said.

Initially, officials maintained that the blast had occurred when militants lobbed a hand grenade on the bus. With that, condemnation statements began to pour in from different political parties. However, later in the afternoon, Kashmir zone headquarters of J&K Police issued a statement, seeking to clarify that an LPG cylinder had exploded accidentally on the bus. “Today a cylinder exploded in a vehicle which was on way from Srinagar to Pahalgam bearing registration number JK02AP/0676 at Zuripora, Anantnag, falling under the jurisdiction of police station”, it said and released identification of the three women killed in the blast as also that of the five injured females.

Police officials, who conducted as inspection of the ill-fated bus, said that the blast has created an 8 inches x 10 inches crater on the board which serves as a strong indication that it was either a grenade or an IED. They said it was unlikely that a 5-kg LPG cylinder could have caused such a huge damage and a crater on the floor.

Driver of the bus, Ashok Kumar S/o Dev Raj R/o Sunder Tekri, Udhampur, was discharged in the evening from a Srinagar hospital. He was at Police Station Bijbehara to record his statement late this evening. Sources said that the driver made it clear that he had carried the family of eight women from Jammu to Katra where they performed pilgrimage at Mata Vaishnu Devi shrine. Thereafter, they wanted to visit Pahalgam.

According to the driver, the Mumbai group of Vaisnu Devi pilgrims had no programme of pilgrimage to Amarnath shrine. Rather than taking the routinely crowded Yatra route of Khannabal-Pahalgam (KP) Road, he diverted through Bijbehara. He stated that when the bus was passing through Bijbehara, he spotted two motorcycle-borne youth coming close to the vehicle. One of them, according to the driver, threw a grenade inside the bus through an open glass pane. Suddenly, there was a blast that left two women dead and six of the group wounded. (Later, one of the injured died at SKIMS).

However, one of the injured women passengers stated to Police that the group was carrying a 5-kg LPG cylinder.

DIG South Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, told Early Times that the explosion occurred at 1.30 p.m. when he, alongwith a team of senior Police and civil officers of J&K Government, was in a meeting with the Supreme Court-appointed high power committee on Amarnath Yatra deaths, at Pahalgam. He said that initially there was a lot of confusion as the inputs invariably said that a grenade had exploded inside the bus. He said that later a team of officers, including SDPO and SHO of Bijbehara, said that an LPG cylinder had actually gone off on board the bus.

Vijay Kumar said that a team of forensic experts from FSL Srinagar would arrive in Bijbehara in the morning on Sunday to collect necessary samples and conduct a thorough ballistic analysis. “That alone could ascertain whether it was an explosive device or an LPG blast”, Vijay Kumar said. He said that Police had registered a case and seized the bus that was now parked on premises of Police Station Bijbehara.

DIG said that Police were investigating whether the bus had stopped for lunch or tea at any highway stations between Udhampur and Bijbehara. He ruled out the grenade attack as, according to him, not a single glass pane or wind screen of the bus had broken. He maintained that the confusion between the LPG blast and an explosive device would be cleared with the ballistic examination tomorrow.