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Friday, April 30, 2010

State of anarchy: Stone pelters kill civilian in Srinagar

Geelani’s supporters smash head of a middle-aged Govt official on way to his duty

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Apr 30: Two months after killing an eleven-day-old infant in the lap of his mother in Baramulla, Kashmiri separatists calling the practice of stone pelting as their ‘only tool of resistance against the state repression’, today killed a middle-aged civilian by smashing his head with a heavy stone in Batmaloo area of this capital city. While as police have as usual completed the formality of registering a murder case against “unidentified persons”, most of the Kashmiri politicians, including those who have been providing moral and intellectual support to this anarchical form of ‘resistance’, have condemned the killing of a civilian by the unruly street demonstrators.

According to the information gathered from varied sources, a group of six to eight youngsters, in age group of 15-25 years, began disrupting vehicular traffic in Batmaloo area at around 0820 hours when there was no Police or CRPF deployment. Hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani had called for a march to the UNMOGIP headquarters at Sonwar after conclusion of the Friday afternoon prayers. He had not, however, called for a shutdown and had even urged the people not to indulge in stone pelting on Police or armed forces. Notwithstanding Geelani’s advice, youngsters identifying themselves with his political cause appeared at several places in Srinagar, Baramulla, Sopore and Anantnag townships and engaged Police and paramilitary forces in intense stone pelting.

As soon as a Tata-407 minibus, carrying passengers from Chhanpora to General Bus Stand of Batmaloo, via Exhibition Chowk, reached close to its destination, youngsters from an alley subjected it to heavy stone pelting. A weighty stone, thrown from a distance of five to ten yards, smashed a windshield and hit one of the commuters straight into his head. As blood began gushing out of his head and he fell unconscious, driver of the bus rushed him quickly to SMHS Hospital for medical treatment.

The 46-year-old victim of the stone pelting was identified as Shafeeq Ahmed Sheikh S/o Ghulam Nabi Sheikh R/o Dilsoz Colony, Nattipora. A class 4th employee of J&K State Board of School Education, Sheikh was on way to his office and close to reaching a connecting service to Bemina when he was fatally hit in his head.

On finding his condition as “extremely critical”, doctors at SMHS Hospital referred Sheikh to Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Soura. Driver, conductor and some fellow passengers said that Sheikh breathed his last at Safakadal. SKIMS Medical Superintendent, Dr Syed Amin Tabish, told Early Times that Sheikh seemed to have been hit with a heavy stone in his head. He said that there was no other injury on his body. When it was brought to his notice that some people had been holding a “gunshot wound” responsible for causing Sheikh’s death, Dr Tabish asserted that doctors who examined him at SKIMS described Sheikh as “brought dead”. He said that no other injury, let alone gunshot wound, had been found on Sheikh’s body.

SP City, South, Mohammad Irshad, said that Sheikh’s body was brought back to Police Control Room where doctors conducted post mortem at a Police hospital. He said that the post mortem report was still awaited but claimed that “nothing other than a heavy stone of 1.5 Kg” could have caused Sheikh’s death. He said that the stone had been found in the bus and later seized by Police. SP South said that Police Station Batmaloo registered case FIR No: 46 of 2010 under sections 302 (murder), 148, 149, 336 and 427 against the “unidentified persons”. He said that some of the hooligans of the group had been got identified but none of them could be arrested as all of them had immediately gone into hiding.

SP South said that all the hooligans, who had resorted to stone pelting and killed an innocent civilian, had been identified as the supporters of the hardline separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani. He said that all of them would be arrested and brought to justice and none of them would be spared under any pressure.

SSP Srinagar, Javed Riyaz Bedar, as well as SP South, Mohammad Irshad, maintained that there was neither any disturbance nor any Police or CRPF deployment in Batmaloo area when the stone pelting hooligans began striking on vehicular traffic without any cause or even a call from separatist leaders. They said that after killing an 11-day-old infant in his mother’s lap in Baramulla on February 22nd this year, stone pelters enjoying material, moral and intellectual support from several separatist as well as mainstream political leaders, had now killed second innocent civilian in a broad daylight strike.

Geelani’s spokesperson, Ayaz Akbar, according to KNS, asserted that gunshot wounds had caused Sheikh’s death. KNS reported that Ayaz quoted eyewitnesses who performed Sheikh’s funeral rites before his burial was conducted amid emotional scenes at Nattipora. Akbar’s phones were found switched off till late tonight. Without directly blaming the state agencies and armed forces for Sheikh’s killing in keeping with a 20-year tradition, Geelani’s spokesman has simply called for “an independent probe”. However, Dukhtaraan-e-Millat Chairperson, Asiya Andrabi, in her press release called Sheikh’s killing a tragedy and alleged that the “Government’s paid agents” had caused his death to sabotage Mr Geelani’s peaceful march to the UNMOGIP.

While making an attempt to come out of his “house arrest” to perform Friday prayers at Masjid-e-Hamza Amirakadal and to, subsequently, lead a march of his followers to UNMOGIP, Geelani was taken into custody and lodged at Police Station Humhama.

Geelani had called for a march to UNMGIP to register “Kashmir’s strong protest” against a Delhi court’s pronouncement of death sentence on three convicts, including two Kashmiri youth, found involved in killing of 13 persons in a car bomb explosion at New Delhi’s business hub of Lajpath Nagar in May 1996. He had also cited ‘human rights abuse by the Indian armed forces and Police’ in Kashmir as another cause of action while announcing his demonstration here earlier this week.

Sheikh’s death in today’s stone pelting brought a pall of gloom to his residential colony of Nattipora, in Srinagar outskirts, where his funeral was conducted amid emotional scenes. His uncle and a brother said after the funeral that Sheikh had been religiously attending his duty without any regard to calls for shutdown by separatists or curfew by Police. They said that he had, as usual, left for his office but was brought back dead for none of his faults. Amid strong protest against Sheikh’s death in stone pelting, shops were closed in Nattipora and scores of youngsters came out on the streets. Some of them later clashed with Police with the allegation that their neighbour had been shot dead by CRPF.

Reports said that shops and business establishments remained open in entire Kashmir valley, including in Srinagar, after residents learned in the morning that armed forces had simply detained the separatist leaders Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq at their respective residences and there were no restrictions on the movement of traffic.

However, after conclusion of the Friday afternoon prayers at different mosques---excluding Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s religious seat of Jamia Masjid---scores of people staged demonstrations and engaged Police and CRPF in ding dong clashes at about six spots in Srinagar downtown and about 12 spots in Baramulla, Sopore and Anantnag towns. Reports said that groups of unruly youngsters resorted to heavy stone pelting on Police and CRPF and the forces in retaliation used batons and tearsmoke to disperse the crowds. Over two dozen demonstrators and Police personnel are estimated to have sustained injuries in these clashes.

Mirwaiz Umar’s second and third line leaders walked through streets in downtown localities and even made an unsuccessful attempt to get him out for proceeding on a notified programme to Anantnag in South Kashmir. Security guards and Police at Mirwaiz Manzil foiled all such attempts and did not allow the Hurriyat Chairman to keep his programme of visiting Anantnag.


Monday, April 26, 2010

PDP comes on streets for demilitarization, repealing of AFSPA

Green flag installed on clock tower at Lalchowk; 15 injured in baton charge

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Apr 26: Opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) today came out on the streets to press its trademark demand of withdrawal of troops and revocation of Jammu & Kashmir Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) even as over a dozen of its activists suffered minor injuries when Police made unsuccessful attempts to disperse a rally in the summer capital. Shouting slogans against human rights abuse by the Indian security forces, PDP activists installed a green colour flag on the clock tower at historic Lalchowk.

PDP President Mehbooba Mufti led a rally of her party activists from Sher-e-Kashmir Park while shouting slogans on public address system and carrying banners for resolution of the Kashmir dispute, ending human rights abuse by the Indian security forces in Kashmir, withdrawal of troops and revocation of AFSPA. All through the march towards Lalchowk, she was flanked by senior party leaders including Maulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari, Qazi Mohammad Afzal and Aga Syed Mehmood.

Hundreds of men and women in the rally resisted Police action and trampled over the barriers that promptly evoked a baton charge near Polo View. Police swooped on the rally at three spots but the PDP leaders managed to reach their ultimate destination of Lalchowk where they installed green colour party flags on a clock tower. Addressing the rally, Mehbooba Mufti complained that human rights abuse by the Indian security forces during last 16 months of Omar Abdullah-led National Conference-Congress coalition government had phenomenally increased in the Valley.

Mehbooba alleged that the ‘unbridled’ armed forces and Police had begun wanton abuse of human rights and taken Kashmir back to the ‘pre-2002 dark era’. She referred to a number of recent incidents in which security forces and “pro-government gunmen”, according to her, had eliminated dozens of innocent civilians. Making a particular mention of the controversial killing of a 70-year-old begger in Kupwara district and another civilian in Shopian by Army during the current month, Mehbooba asserted that human rights violation by troops would continue until AFSPA was removed and the plains were demilitarized.

Ms Mufti called upon followers of all political ideologies, including those “fighting for Azadi” to unite for putting pressure on India and Pakistan for immediate resolution of the Kashmir crisis. She claimed that Omar Abdullah’s government had failed on all fronts, including governance and providing electricity and rations to the hapless residents of the state. She asserted that PDP would continue its campaign that had been launched as per the programme previously chalked out by the party patriarch Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

Even as Police claimed that it did not use any extraordinary force against the PDP rally and maintained that nobody was injured, PDP leaders insisted that nearly 15 of the participants, including six women, sustained injuries in the baton charge by Police. Independent sources put the number of the injured at 12 and added that Police did not spare even the photojournalists covering the rally. One photojournalist working for ‘Srinagar Times’ and a correspondent of ‘Greater Kashmir’ were among the mediapersons thrashed by Police.

Reports said that PDP workers took out rallies at almost all the district headquarters in the Valley. Party’s MLAs, MLCs, former Ministers and prominent leaders had gathered at their respective district headquarters to launch today’s campaign with remarkable media exposure.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Why should retiring officials shamelessly cling to their chairs?

30-60 an ideal solution as public opinion is overwhelmingly against service extensions

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Apr 25: Notwithstanding the government’s policy of not granting extension of service or re-employment to any of the retiring public servants, state bureaucracy had, of late, prepared a proposal of extension in favour of nearly a dozen of its blue-eyed boys. Chief Secretary, S S Kapoor, and General Administration Department (GAD) are understood to have decided to acknowledge off-the-office services of certain retiring officials without Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s knowledge. Chief Minister has summarily turned down the proposal with reasonable application of mind but not taken the trouble of asking his bureaucracy as to what made it push a proposal that runs patently in breach of his government’s policy.

Much like stalling the Bill of increasing the salaries of MLAs and MLCs (including Ministers), lately aborted strike of the government employees is believed to have influenced Chief Minister’s decision of not granting extension of service to a host of the retiring/ retired officials. Highly placed sources in Civil Secretariat insist that individual files were being “re-submitted” to Chief Minister’s Secretariat as a last ditch effort to get necessary approval from head of the government on the eve of a possible administrative reshuffle before Durbar’s passage to the summer capital next week.

Going by the bureaucracy’s recommendation earlier this month would have been unmistakably disastrous. Omar Abdullah’s government has been already at a receiving end of criticism on account of granting rehabilitation to a number of the retired officials whose track record has been meritorious only in the matters of their extra-curricular activity. One of them, who remained posted as MD of J&K Tourism Development Corporation for several years, had put the government in tight spot by way of implementing recommendations of the 6th Pay Commission months before the critical policy decision was adopted by the Cabinet.

Even after retirement from service, darlings of the state bureaucracy have been holding extra-cadre positions of OSDs etcetera. Tourism Minister Rigzin Jora’s proposal of engaging a retired Director General of Tourism as an “Advisor” in his department has accidentally got stalled. Few of the Ministers have re-employed a number of their relatives and favourites who had retired from active service years before.

Sources told Early Times that Government was in possession of reports according to which nearly 30 senior officials, who would be reaching superannuation in 2010 and 2011, had played a key role in making recent strike of the government employees a success. They were reportedly not only encouraging the trade union leaders to take a tough stand on the demand of raising the retirement bar from 58 to 60 years but also persuading their subordinates to ensure complete shutdown of all the offices under their influence. Some reports even suggested the possibility of a number of HODs, including nearly a dozen Chief Engineers and Superintending Engineers and at least three DCs, having sent huge monetary contributions to the trade union leaders.

For each of these retiring officers, extension of two years to service means an extra income of Rs 12 Lakh. Those indulging in corruption could be earning an extra of Rs 30 Lakh to 1.50 Crore. Besides, there is a confluence of the vested interest between these HODs and senior trade union leaders. At least five of the senior most trade union leaders, some of them known for insertions in their own service records, are normally scheduled to retire within the current financial year.

On the other hand, Omar Abdullah’s government has failed to provide the much promised jobs to hundreds of thousands of the unemployed youth. Contrary to NC’s Election Manifesto of 2008 and the much hyped “Vision Document”, Government has even failed to fill up vacancies of trained professionals in Forest and Agriculture departments. Immediately after taking over as Minister incharge Agriculture, Ghulam Hassan Mir had asked 3,000 Agriculture graduates and post-graduates to find other avenues in private sector.

Even as most of the 600-odd Forestry graduates have already reached close to their age bar of 37 years, equal number of posts have been lying vacant in Forest Department, Forest Protection Force, State Forest Corporation due to mysterious slumber of four successive Forest Ministers. This may have benefited individuals (read Ministers and bureaucrats) by way of getting their junior favourites appointed against senior positions but not the Government in place.

Under the circumstances, 60 years of age or 30 years of continuous service, whichever earlier, is widely endorsed as an ideal solution to the employees’ demand of increasing the bar of retirement for state government servants. Even 35-60 could be perceived not only as the Government’s abject surrender before a particular group of trade union leaders and retiring senior officials but also an act of closing the opportunities for thousands of unemployed youth, particularly doctors, engineers, paramedical trainees, Forestry and Agriculture graduates.