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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Govt’s half-hearted action to break shutdowns in Srinagar
Defaulting allottees get threats by the day, consolation by the night

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Oct 28: Omar Abdullah government’s non-serious attempts of breaking the chain of unending shutdowns in the capital city, beginning from the Civil Lines, appear to be doomed to fail---even boomerang. Even as the Directorate of Information has launched a psychological operation to bludgeon the allottees of more than 5,000 government shops into submission---with the motive of failing Hurriyat-sponsored strikes---officials in different government organizations as well as the traders insist that there were “no clear directions from the government”.

According to well-placed informed sources, constitution of a Task Force to initiate action against the defaulting allottees of hundreds of government shops in the capital city was lacking in seriousness. Officials holding key positions in the departments functioning under Ministry of Housing & Urban Development, Ministry of Revenue as also those directly falling in the Chief Minister’s own portfolios, insist that they had no knowledge of a government decision to initiate action against the traders who had violated allotment provisions in operating business from their outlets. “There is no such Cabinet order or circular in the Civil Secretariat”, said an official of the rank of Principal Secretary to the Government.

Traders interviewed by this newspaper maintained that it were in fact they, not the government, who desperately wanted to keep their business running. But the authorities, according to them, had never provided them any sort of security or taken any action against the people involved in harassing the shopkeepers or damaging their structures and merchandise. “We have been left to fend for ourselves. We can’t obviously take on the stone pelters and miscreants. None of the governments since 1990 has provided us any support or security. How can they blame us for observing strikes on the call of separatists and militants and now take arbitrary action against the shopkeepers?” asked a representative of the traders in Lalchowk.

Another shopkeeper at Budshah Flats, wishing anonymity, narrated how the traders, who had lifted heavy loans from banks, had been forced to go for either distress sale of their continuously shut shops or leasing the same out to the third parties. He claimed that without taking the traders into confidence or discussing with them frequent shutdowns, some of the government officers had begun to dole out threats. According to him, these officers had arranged a gathering of unemployed youth at Divisional Commissioner’s office earlier this week with the assurances that the shops of defaulting allottees would be allotted to them on spot.

“They were encouraged to shout slogans, only to harass the traders. How can the government take arbitrary measures to evict the traders and take back the possession? There is a set procedure with each and every government department. For example, nobody other than Deputy Director of Estates is competent by law to revoke allotments or take back possession of the misused premises of his department”, he explained. He alleged that the officers had been talking of “pagdi and nazrana” knowing well that nobody leaves any proof of such illegal transactions. “They clearly mean that sharing a part of such Pagdi and Nazrana would resolve the issue”, he added.

It is an open secret that transfer of possession of a private or government shop allotted to a private person anywhere between the fashionable Boulevard and Jehangir Chowk, happens only after cash payment of money ranging between Rs 20 Lakh and Rs 80 Lakh to the individual in possession of a premises.

Divisional Commissioner, Asgar Hassan Samoon, has constituted a Task Force apparently for the purpose of initiating action against the defaulting allottees. This is widely being interpreted as the government’s first ever move to break the chain of the Hurriyat-sponsored shutdowns in Srinagar. Closure of business centers on the days of shutdown, called by separatists and militants, sends a message to every incoming visitor that the government was merely on papers and only the anti-India forces’ writ was running large in the Valley.

Kashmir has witnessed more than 1750 days of shutdown (nearly 5 years) since the armed conflict erupted in 1989-90. Businesses have remained almost continuously shut with more than 100 days of shutdown since the middle of June this year. Traders as well as government officials claim that the state’s economy was suffering a loss of Rs 100 Crore on each day of shutdown in Kashmir.

An official press release from the Department of Information today claimed that that the Divisional Commissioner’s Task Committee had started the process of identifying the illegal occupants of government shops, government commercial complexes and other government buildings and the allottees who had sub let their premises illegally, without authorization of government or concerned HOD.

“The Committee has also started collecting lists of various illegal constructions, multi-story complexes and encroachment made on government land during recent months” it added, without mentioning that more than 500 unauthorised constructions had come up in this lawless summer, particularly in the ‘Green Belt’ around Nageen and Dal lake.

“The Task Committee has been provided list of 4000 government shops, which actually belong to Estates department, Municipalities, custodians department, R&B, Auquaf and other Government and semi-government institutions. The value of these shops is thousands of Crores in present market. The Committee has received authentic reports that some allotees have sold their allotments through illegal methods by receiving Crores of amounts as pagdi or nazrana in a clandestine manner without depositing the same as premium with concerned government departments, who are the actual owner of such shops and commercial establishments”, the official release said.

“The Committee after identifying such cases, who have caused loss to government exchequer and are still illegally occupying these shops, will impose penalties under law and make recovery of arrears as per existing rules in this regard and ensure eviction of such encroachments and illegal occupation”, it warned. On the other hand, a number of traders disclosed that there was a “huge gap” between the government’s daytime threats and the officials’ consolations coming to them by night.

Govt’s curfew, Hurriyat’s shutdown mark Army Day in Kashmir

Demonstrators clash with Police at Bandipore, Baramulla

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Oct 27: Separatists-sponsored shutdown coupled by enforcement of curfew by Police and security forces marked 63rd anniversary of the Indian Army’s first landing in Kashmir valley today. Even as there were no black flags to oblige separatist hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, there were either no reports of any official celebration of the day by the state government or armed forces.

Apprehensive of trouble from followers of the heads of both factions of Hurriyat Conference, authorities had overnight clamped curfew on almost entire Kashmir valley, including this capital city. Chairman of so-called moderate faction of the Hurriyat, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, had called for total shutdown, described the arrival of the Indian Army in 1947 as a ‘Black day’ and asked the Kashmiris to stage a march to high security Sonwar and submit a memorandum to the observers at UNMOGIP headquarters. Hardliner Geelani had supported Mirwaiz Umar’s call and additionally called upon the people to hoist black flags on their houses and wear black badges on their arms to register their “protest” to the presence of the Indian Army in the “disputed state”.

Curfew remained strictly in force in downtown Srinagar as also in Sopore, Baramulla, Kupwara, Bandipore, Pulwama, Pampore, Shopian and Kulgam townships. Without a formal announcement, authorities relaxed the restrictions in uptown Srinagar and several other towns when there was neither any mobilization of people nor reports of any clash with Police and security forces till afternoon.

Reports said that shops and business establishments, including a number of banks and government offices, remained closed for the day in several areas but, in contrast to the scenes from July to middle of the current month, private transport operated in certain localities. Even on Geelani-sponsored ‘total shutdown’ on Oct 25th and 26th, a large number of private and official vehicles were seen in movement and, for the first time this year, even the commercial passenger buses and trucks were seen plying on different routes in defiance of the call for a ‘civil curfew’. In Srinagar, there were even traffic jams at several places that otherwise appear to be the drivers’ and commuters’ headache on normal days of business.

A number of private vehicles operated today but all modes of commercial transport were off the road today. Almost all the government offices remained open but reports said attendance was extremely thin. No black flags or badges were, however, spotted anywhere in the Valley. It was late in the afternoon that authorities formally announced relaxation in curfew.

Police and CRPF bandobust in the capital city served as a barrier to followers of the separatist leaders who failed to gather and stage a march to UNMOGIP.

Informed sources said that scores of demonstrators clashed with Police and paramilitary forces at Palan in Bandipore. While three Policemen sustained injuries in the heavy stone pelting, officials said that five of the ‘miscreants’ also got injured in the retaliatory action. They were later provided medical treatment at District Hospital of Bandipore. Reports of relatively minor clashes poured in from Baramulla, and Palhalan. An official spokesman said that late last night, a civilian was injured when miscreants taergeted and damaged his Scorpio vehicle at Nowhatta. He was rushed to Soura and admitted at SKIMS.

Some civilian vehicles were reportedly damaged in stone pelting at Tahab in Pulwama district.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

5,000 Govt shops remain shut to keep Hurriyat’s shop open
J&K Govt is the biggest taker of Geelani’s shutdown calls in Srinagar

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Oct 26: Hapless Gullas and Sullas shut one or two or three shops each but Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s government happens to be the biggest contributor to the success of separatist hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s unending calls for total shutdown and ‘civil curfew’ in Kashmir valley. Over 5,000 shops of different departments of the state government, allotted to residents of Srinagar, remain shut on the diktats of separatist leaders and militants in this capital city----mostly in the Civil Lines areas and fashionable markets spread between Jehangir Chowk and Boulevard. With the business having come to a grinding halt since June this year, Valley has observed over 1750 days of shutdown (nearly 5 years) since the armed conflict erupted in 1989.

Omar Abdullah may play it down as an ‘inheritance of loss’ but the fact remains that, during 22 months of his government, continued shutdown for over one hundred days, particularly around the seat of power in the capital city, has served as a big statement of the separatists’ writ running large. In absence of an efficacious mechanism, authorities may well be helpless before the traders---whether they shut their shops for their political conviction and regard to the separatist movement or under the fear of grenades and stones. But, the successive governments’ lack of initiative appears to be more than evident in the matter of the government’s own commercial properties.

According to the official statistics available with Early Times, Government of Jammu and Kashmir owns more than 5,000 shops, mostly in the top business areas from Jehangir Chowk to Boulevard. From time to time, these shops have been leased out to private persons for the purpose of making their livelihood and keeping merchandise of sorts available to the customers. All the agreements invariably mention that the allotments could be withdrawn and the properties taken back for genuine use by fresh bidders and contenders if the same were not used for convenience of the common public.

Authoritative sources said that the lately appointed Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir, Asgar Hassan Samoon, known for his bold action as Deputy Commissioner of Anantnag against the public property grabbers, has been assigned with a challenging task. Embarrassed with continued shutdown in Srinagar Civil Lines, Omar Abdullah government is understood to have asked Asgar Samoon to do what all of his predecessors, including elder brother Masood Samoon, have failed to do. Veterinary surgeon-turned-IAS officer from the border areas of Gurez, Asgar is succeeding in the hot seat a many veterans, including his relatives Masood Samoon, Khursheed Ahmed Ganai and Basharat Ahmed Dhar. He also happens to be the brother-in-law to high profile but controversial bureaucrat Iqbal Khanday.

Asgar Samoon could be reached over telephone but he dropped the line on the very introduction. However, sources in his office revealed that an exercise was already underway to find the number of the shops situated in government properties, those sub-let or disposed off illegally and the possibility of keeping the business establishments open on the days of Hurriyat-sponsored shutdown. Documents made available to the Divisional Commissioner mention that Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) was the owner of as many as 1576 shops established in its properties, followed by Srinagar Development Authority (1500 shops), R&B Department (805), Estates Department (251) and Custodian of Evacuees Properties (212).

Sources said that, in addition, J&K State Road Transport Corporation was the owner of nearly 40 shops, including a post office, a branch of J&K Bank Ltd, a cooperative joint (Apna Bazar) and a major business outlet of J&K State Handicrafts Sales & Export Corporation in the ground floor of its Lala Rukh building at Lalchowk. These all remain shut on the day of a bandh inspite of being the CRPF-guarded accommodation of a large number of Durbar Move officials.

In addition to these 4400 shops, Government-controlled Wakf Board happens to be the owner of major business complexes, including Hotel Gulmarg at Boulevard, Sulaiman Shopping Complex at Dalgate as also a major 4-storeyed business centre of more than 200 shops at Budshah Chowk. None other than Chief Minister---always a Muslim---is the supreme controller of the Wakf Board. Officials said that Wakf Board and SRTC were yet to submit the detail of their shops but the state-controlled religious organization was estimated to be the owner of 600 to 1,000 shops in Srinagar alone.

Additional Commissioner, Abdul Majeed Mir, confirmed to Early Times that a high level committee, headed by him, had been constituted by the Divisional Commissioner and it had held ‘just an introductory meeting’ on Monday. He said that 1,000 to 2,000 shopkeepers were believed to have sub let the government-owned shops in violation of contract. Exact number of the defaulters, according to him, would be available in a couple of days, following which the authorities would launch an unprecedented exercise to either take back the possession and issue fresh allotment in favour of unemployed youth or ensure that these remained functional on all days of business, as prescribed by Labour Commissioner, irrespective of calls for shutdown.

DC Srinagar Meraj Ahmed Kakroo, Vice Chairman Srinagar Development Authority Syed Kifayat Hussain Rizvi, Vice Chairman of LAWDA Irfan Yasin, Labour Commissioner Shahid Inayatullah, Director Local Bodies Farooq Reenzu, Director Employment Shafat Noor, Custodian General Lateef-uz-Zamaan Deva and Director of Estates Khursheed Ahmed Shah have been appointed as members of the Task Force.

“We are not at fault. Who of the shopkeepers would like to keep his business shut and become bankrupt?” said a shopkeeper, Abdul Majeed Mir. He claimed that the shopkeepers, particularly those in Civil Lines markets, had been repeatedly asking the government to provide for them a safe and secure environment to enable them carry out their business but the officials had never responded. Yet another shopkeeper spewed cynicism. “Officers know that Pagrhi (face value) of our premises ranges between Rs 40 Lakh to Rs 80 Lakh. They will just blackmail the defaulters (unauthorized sub lessees), extort huge amounts of money from them and finally tell the Chief Minister that persuasion in a continuous process would be a more intelligent exercise”, he said on the condition of anonymity.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Omar holding Cabinet meeting near LoC on Oct 27
Pre-Darbar Move reshuffle likely in Police, Forest, civil administration

Early Times Report

SRINAGAR, Oct 25: Exactly on the anniversary of the Indian Army’s arrival in Srinagar, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is holding Jammu & Kashmir government’s first ever Cabinet meeting outside the capital city. According to highly placed authoritative sources, all the Cabinet Ministers would be flown in two helicopters to the border township of Tangdar, in Karnah sector, on October 27th where a full-length Cabinet meeting would be held at a place close to LoC.

Sources told Early Times that agenda was being set for the Cabinet meeting, being held first time since 1947 outside the capital cities of Srinagar and Jammu. In 1987, then head of the NC-Congress coalition government, Dr Farooq Abdullah, had organized some Cabinet meetings at picturesque spots like Hakakhal, Khansahab, in Budgam district. However, agenda of those meetings was restricted to the development of particular districts. Bureaucracy has been describing such events as District Development Board meetings attended by Chief Minister and his Ministerial colleagues.

As regards the Cabinet meeting scheduled for Oct 27th, sources said that the state Cabinet was likely to take certain routine administrative decisions besides considering a major reshuffle in Police and civil administration. According to these sources, Cabinet was likely to appoint senior IFS officer, R D Tiwari, as the new Principal Chief Conservator of Forests against the vacancy that has been created in the incumbent PCCF Jagdish Keshwan’s departure for a central deputation on October 20th. As a temporary arrangement, PCCF’s charge has been handed over to Mr Tiwari, who stands posted as Director J&K State Forest Research Institute.

Cabinet is also likely to confirm decisions of two high level screening committees that have cleared four senior IFS officers for the grade of PCCF besides recommending a number of CCFs as Additional CCF and CFs as CCFs. Sources said that some changes were likely at Conservator and DFO levels in the wake of proposed grade promotions and Mr Tiwari’s formal appointment as PCCF.

In the routine pre-Darbar Move reshuffle, Cabinet is expected to order changes at district level in Police as well as civil administration, particularly in the districts where Deputy Commissioners have put in over two years of tenure and the Superintendents of Police have shown poor performance in restoring order in the last over four months of the turbulence. Sources said that incidents of continued stone pelting at around a dozen of spots in periphery of the capital Srinagar city, Srinagar-Humhama-Budgam Road, Srinagar-Chadoura Road, Tengpora and Boat Colony on National Highway Bypass, besides Pampore and Palhalan on the highway were being viewed with remarkable concern by the government.

Cabinet is expected to consider and order reinstatement and posting of five officers of the rank of SSP/SP who have remained suspected/attached on account of varied developments in the last over one year. Then SSP Baramulla, Sheikh Mehmood, had been attached to the Home Department when he was taken ill and admitted to a private hospital in Srinagar on the day of a major law and order problem at Baramulla in August. He was replaced by Mansoor Ontoo. SSP Samba Ranghubir Singh had been removed and attached after Police was found involved in transportation of bovine animals earlier this year.

SSP Security Kashmir, Rafeeq-ul-Hassan, was removed and attached when a suspected Police official, Abdul Ahad Jan, managed his entry through the VVIP entrance and occupied Secretary in Home Department, Tarshi Dioorje’s seat in the VVIP pavilion and finally hurled his shoe on the Chief Guest and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on occasion of the Independence Day ceremonial parade at Bakhshi Memorial Sports Stadium in Srinagar on August 15th. Thereafter, IG Security, Ram Lubhaya, was attached though he was busy with the President’s tour in Ladakh on that eventful day.

Additional SP of Rajouri, R K Bhat, was placed under suspension on account of his negligence and alleged involvement in fake promotion cases in Police in his district.

Then SP Ramban, Javed Iqbal Matoo, was removed, placed under suspension, attached and arrested on account of his alleged negligence or involvement in what exploded as the “rape-cum-murder” of two young women when he was previously posted as SP Shopian in May 2009. Matoo as also three of his colleagues have been exonerated of all charges by Central Bureau of Investigation after it held an extensive investigation last year. They have all been reinstated by the state government last month and three of them have also been posted. Matoo is said to be among six senior Police officials whose reinstatement and posteing is likely to be considered by the state Cabinet in its next meeting.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Interlocutors get lukewarm response in Valley
Gen Moosa, Sehrai refuse to meet; Scribes, KU teachers oblige Delhi team

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Oct 24: Even as most of the separatist leaders, including the prisoners at Srinagar Central Jail, today refused to interact with the Government of India’s interlocutors on Jammu & Kashmir, some mediapersons and teachers of the University of Kashmir obliged the three-member team from New Delhi with separate meetings.

Not a single separatist leader has so far mustered courage to go in defiance of the hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s diktat of boycott to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s three interlocutors on Jammu & Kashmir---journalist Dileep Padgoankar, academician Radha Kumar and former Central Information Commissioner M M Ansari. On its day two of the maiden visit to Kashmir valley, Padgoankar’s team made two unsuccessful attempts to meet Geelani’s detained confidantes, Abdul Aziz Dar alias Gen Moosa and Ashraf Sehrai, at Central Jail Srinagar.

Jail authorities revealed to Early Times that Padgoankar’s team desired arrangement of separate meetings with some prominent militants leaders, like Nisar Ahmed alias Gazi Misbah-ud-din, a former “Chief Operational Commander” of Hizbul Mujahideen, his ace colleague, Muzaffar Ahmed Dar, as also a number of the young detainees involved in stone pelting and attacks on Police and public properties in the last four months of the turbulence. They were particularly keen to meet senior Jamaat-e-Islami ideologue and now General Secretary of Hurriyat (G), Ashraf Sehrai, as also Geelani’s confidante, Gen Moosa, who happened to be Hizbul Mujahideen’s “District Commander” for Srinagar in 1990-92.

None of them chose to oblige the interlocutors who made two visits to Central Jail Srinagar today after their first interaction with some prisoners last evening. Sources said that most of the prisoners made it clear to Padgoankar, Kumar and Ansari that they would never interact with them in defiance of Geelani’s call of boycott. The jail authorities, nevertheless, succeeded in arranging the visitors’ meeting with less than a dozen of insignificant detenues, who included two youths from Kreeri and two more from Anantnag.

 Situation was no different outside. Everybody in the Valley’s separatist camp, from Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Bilal Gani Lone to Zamrooda Habib and Yasmin Raja conveyed to the interlocutors in unambiguous terms that none of them could be taken for a ride to satisfy Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s and Home Minister P Chidambarm’s ego. Most of them, according to sources, pointed out that Government of India had always strengthened and encouraged the hardliners at the graves of the moderates and “saner elements”. Informed sources said that even the ‘independent’ activists, like Hashim Qureshi and Hilal War, had not shown any enthusiasm to the interlocutors’ open invitation.

One-odd significant meeting of the interlocutors so far has been with the former Deputy Chief Minister and senior PDP leader, Muzaffar Hussain Baig. They called on Governor N N Vohra this evening and had a detailed meeting with him on the two turbulences of 2008 and 2010. Sources said that Vohra shared with his guests his personal experiences when he himself used to be New Delhi’s interlocutor and pointman with the agenda of interacting with the Kashmiri separatists and arranging their meetings with the Central government nearly a decade ago.

After an hour-long meeting with a Gujjar delegation, the interlocutors today interacted with two prominent journalists---editor of a leading English daily in Srinagar and Bureau Chief of a major south Indian English daily---who briefed the New Delhi team on the Kashmir issue and current political scenario. After their meeting with the two journalists at a government guest house, the interlocutors drove all the way to Hotel Dar-us-Salam on the banks of Nigeen Lake where they had a threadbare discussion on the Kashmir problem and current political upheaval with Nasir Mirza, who teaches journalism and mass communication at the University of Kashmir, and Prof Gul Mohammad Wani of the University’s Department of Political Science.

In its meeting with the interlocutors earlier, the Gujjar and Bakerwal delegation demanded a separate Pir Panchal Region or area and a Tribal Hill Council in Jammu and Kashmir for the Gujjars and Bakerwals Scheduled Tribe community. It urged for strong recommendations for an irreversible provision along with constitutional guaranties to reserve categories and pressed hard for grant of social, cultural, economic and political empowerment of the community residing in for-flung and difficult areas of the state.

The delegation led by an official of J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages and Secretary of Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation, Javed Rahi, told the interlocutors that the Gujjars constituted 20% population of the State but their presence in the State affairs was minimal. It emphasized that on account of their unique identity, culture and ideology, the Gujjars had been aspiring for a separate region with tribal council for them within the state on the pattern of the Hill Development Councils in Leh and Kargil.