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Friday, March 4, 2011

Honoured by PM, insulted by PSC !

Gold medalists Muzamil and Aatish were dropped by PSC to pick up tail-enders

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Mar 4: Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh awarded them gold medals for securing the first position and wished them “a bright future” but the B V Sc toppers of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology Jammu (SKUAST-J)---Dr Muzamil Maqbool Baig and Dr Aatish Raina---were not found fit by J&K Public Service Commission (PSC) for the ordinary post of a Veterinary Assistant Surgeon.

While as Muzamil ranked at serial number 3 of the academic merit list among the candidates interviewed in Srinagar, Raina stood at No: 2 of the merit list among those examined at Jammu. When PSC’s selection list came out formally on February 17th, both found themselves dropped. Their veritable surprise came in the fact that the selectors had hand-picked even the poor-merit candidates who figured at Serial No: 136 and 133 of the merit list.

On occasion of the 3rd annual convocation of SKUAST-J, that came after three years today, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Governor N N Vohra and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah handed over gold medals, degrees and citations to 332 students of the university. They included 23 Ph D scholars. Six of the highest merit students at the degree level---three each in Agriculture Science and Veterinary Science---received gold medals from the chief guest of the convocation and the Prime Minister for securing first position in B Sc Agriculture and B V Sc in the batches of 2008, 2009 and 2010.

In the Veterinary Science discipline, Dr Muzamil, Dr Raina and Dr Nandini Salaria were awarded gold medals for being toppers of the batches 2008, 2009 and 2010 respectively.

While the girl from Kathua, Nandini, is now pursuing her post-graduation at the prestigious National Dairy Research Institute of India (NDRI), Karnal, her seniors, Muzamil and Raina, had nourished sweet dreams of serving as Veterinary Surgeons in their home state while pursuing higher studies in Veterinary Sciences and participating in other competitive examinations.

Exceptionally meritorious, Muzamil, the boy from Dreygam village of Budgam, passed B V Sc with 83% marks in 2008 and M V Sc with 84.5% marks in 2010. Last year, he also qualified National Eligibility Test (NET) of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) with high marks. He also participated in the highest prestigious competitive KAS examination. He was among 35 Veterinary Science graduates and post-graduates who were declared as selected by the PSC on February 7th. All 35, including Dr Muzamil, found themselves dropped when results for selection of Veterinary Assistant Surgeons were declared by the same PSC on February 17th. Out of top 50 in the merit list, only 9 were selected. All others were picked up from those who figured far beyond 50 and 100.

There was one particular difference in conducting the two selections. Less than 15% marks stood reserved for interview for the KAS that was conducted jointly by all members of PSC, including the Chairman. In the case of Veterinary Assistant Surgeons’ selection, only 30 out of 100 marks were reserved for academic merit. There were 5 marks for M V Sc/ Ph D and 5 each for NCC, “experience” and “publications”. As many as 50 marks stood reserved for interview, conducted by two members of PSC and one “expert”. Marking was made with pencils (perhaps for subsequent adjustment) and the process went on without preserving any audio-visual proof of the candidates’ performance.

PSC has justified the selection with the argument that it was an autonomous body, having its own constitution and the process was conducted as per Rule 51 of Business and Procedure Rules that reduces the marks of academic merit (essential qualification level) to 30 but raises the marks of viva to 50.

“The performance of the candidates in the interview varies and on the basis of overall assessment, the selection is made. It is therefore but natural that a candidate with a relatively higher academic merit may not make it to the final selection”, PSC argued in a press release in defence of the selection on February 23rd. What it conveyed to the Prime Ministers’ gold medallists was that no IAS toppers like Dr Shah Faisal could essentially pass PSC’s selection of assistant surgeons in J&K.

“I am obviously relieved with my selection in KAS and today’s gold medal from Prime Minister but I have a huge sense of loss”, Dr Muzamil told early Times. “Inspite of very high merit, I was not selected (as veterinary surgeon) even last year. Two shocks in two years came to me and my parents who thought that a first position at B V Sc and a gold medal were passport to a bright future. My heart is heavy for my successors like Aatish Raina, Sonalika Mahajan (who also got 83.3% with Raina) and now Nandini Salaria who may not be lucky enough to qualify KAS”, Muzamil added. According to him, something “very serious and very urgent” needed to be done to restore faith of high-merit candidates in the selection process.

Son of an elderly farmer of Ranbir Singhpura, namely Jasmit Singh, who earned his living out of working as a private driver until he lost stamina, Aatish Raina also passed an all-India competitive examination among over 10,000 candidates with 3rd highest rank in merit in the country and was subsequently admitted for M V Sc in Animal Genetics and Breeding at the prestigious National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), Bareily. This Prime Minister’s gold medallist said that he was “already prepared for the shock PSC gave to him and his family”.

“With the selection list on February 17th, we had completely loss faith in all of our systems. Now, we feel a ray of hope as Early Times has exposed what had become a routine at PSC for the last several years”, Raina told this newspaper. He said that the gold medal he received would only intensify the pain of his wounds. “We are far more shocked over the fact that tail-enders, who had ordinary B V Sc degrees and figured beyond 130 in the merit list were selected by the PSC”, Raina added. “Everybody was 100 percent sure of my selection. Now everybody has lost 100 percent faith in PSC”, he said.

SKUAST-J’s batch-2010 topper in B V Sc, Nandini Salaria, seems a little bolder. Financial stability at home may be a reason. Nandini’s father is an accountant in Civil Defence and mother is an employee in the state Agriculture Department. Her brother is a trainee pilot with Indian Air Force after passing a tough competition at National Defence Academy.

“While participating in all competitions in J&K, we are ready for such worst injustices. There is rampant corruption and most of the institutions, including media, are defunct. Isn’t it a sad statement that all newspapers, except Early Times, and all television channels are completely silent over the injustice done to high-merit veterinary graduates and post-graduates?”, asked she. “I have plans of higher studies but would also participate in the PSC selections---of course bearing in mind that I could be sacrificed for a tail-ender like many of my top merit seniors”.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Three Rajas in PM’s SKUAST-J procession

Vigilance seeks their prosecution; Registrar puts them to honour Singh, Omar

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, March 3: Within a small domain, three academics are known as A Rajas of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology Jammu (SKUAST-J) on account of their alleged involvement in corruption, malpractices and financial bunglings spearheaded by a former Vice Chancellor. Even as Governor N N Vohra ordered a thorough investigation and two major organs of the state government---Department of Finance and State Vigilance Organisation---held them guilty and sought their prosecution, all the three would be following Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in the ceremonial academic procession at the university’s annual convocation here on Friday.

Highly placed sources in SVO revealed to Early Times that permission for prosecution of 17 officials of SKUAST-J was awaited from Vice Chancellor Dr B Mishra. Those found guilty in the financial irregularities and corrupt practices, spearheaded by former VC Nagendar Sharma, during his tenure in 2005-08, include three senior Professors of the University, namely Dr A K Srivastava, Dr M R Bhagat and Dr Karnail Singh Rissam. All the three academics have been included in the Academic Procession that would be following Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh as well as Chief Minister Omar Abdullah at the SKUAST-J convocation on Friday.

Prime Minister has been invited as chief guest to present gold medals and degrees to fresh graduates and post-graduates of the university. Governor Vohra and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah would be attending the function, particularly the academic procession, as Chancellor and Pro-Chancellor of SKUAST-J respectively. Vice Chancellor, Registrar, all members of the University Council, all members of the Academic Council and Board of Management would be among two dozen-odd dignitaries to form the Academic Procession in their ceremonial robes.

The same procession includes SKUAST-J’s former Director Resident Instruction Dr A K Srivastava. Appointed as Director National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), Karnal, in 2008, Dr Srivastava would be attending the Convocation as the representative of Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) in SKUAST-J’s Board of Management. He is also holding lien of five years with SKUAST-J. While as Dr M R Bhagat would be in the PM’s procession as the university’s  Director Resident Instruction, Dr Karnail Singh Rissam stands invited as Director Extension. SKUAST-J officials confirmed that all the three had been invited and would be among participants of the Academic Procession.

Responding to serious allegations of corruption, favouritism and other malpractices against former VC, Dr Nagendar Sharma, Governor Vohra had ordered a high level inquiry in 2008. Then Financial Commissioner Agriculture Production, S L Bhat, was appointed by Governor as incharge VC of SKUAST-J. Well before the appointment of Dr B Mishra as the full-time VC, Commissioner-Secretary Finance in Omar Abdullah Government, Sudhanshu Pandey, directed Wali Mohammad, then Director Audit and Inspection and now Director General of Accounts and Treasuries, to conduct a focused investigation into the serious charges against the former VC and his coterie of officials.

Dr Nagendra Sharma, who superannuated at the age of 65 years in September 2008, when he had completed just three years of his tenure, faced the allegations of having recruited faculty and other staff on the basis of corruption, favoutism and nepotism. He also faced charges of malpractices in placing supply orders and work contracts, threreby raising a cumulative liability of over Rs 40 Cr, still unsettled.

Following submission of Finance Department’s inquiry report, Chancellor-Governor Vohra desired a thorough investigation by SVO. During the course of a detailed investigation, SVO found as many as 17 SKUAST-J officials involved. They included former VC, Dr Sharma, Dr Srivastava, Dr Bhagat, Dr Rissam, the accused VC’s henchman and Comptroller (chief of accounts). Even before completion of the SVO investigation, Comptroller was placed under suspension at the moment of his reaching superannuation on March 31, 2009. Assistant Registrar, A K Kaul, who had been appointed as incharge Registrar, was also placed under suspension before his retirement on November 30, 2009.

Sources revealed that on the basis of its detailed investigation, SVO under rules sought permission from the new incumbent VC, Dr B Mishra, for the prosecution of 17 SKUAST-J officials. VC, in turn, sought the advice and opinion of the state Law Department that happens to be the university’s Legal Advisor. According to these sources, Law Department too favoured prosecution of the 17 accused officials. Permission for the prosecution is reportedly in infinite pendency due to the pressure generated by Dr Srivastava and few others at ICAR.

Vice Chancellor as well as Registrar were not immediately reachable for comment. However, sources not authorized to speak on the subject in SKUAST-J said that efforts were underway to rectify the error---and thus stave off a big embarrassment for the PM, Governor and CM---by removing the Vigilance-tainted academics from the Academic Procession.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Crime Branch tosses PSC ball to Vigilance

3 relatives of a dismissed Minister among those selected under RBA

Early Times Report

JAMMU, Feb 27: Crime Branch (CB) has tossed the ball of investigating the irregularities committed in recent selection of Veterinary Assistant Surgeons to State Vigilance Organisation (SVO). Meanwhile, a network of touts and agents, that also arranged selection of three relatives of a dismissed cabinet Minister, has built tremendous pressure on CB and SVO to prevent registration of an FIR and a detailed investigation into serious charges of corruption.

Informed sources revealed to Early Times that Crime Branch on Saturday forwarded its status report on alleged irregularities and practice of corruption in the selection of 55 veterinary surgeons to the Commissioner of Vigilance, P L Gupta with the argument that investigating corruption and misuse of official position was primarily the responsibility and jurisdiction of his organization.

“A group of the dropped candidates had approached us with a complaint and supportive documentary evidence with regard to alleged corruption and misuse of official position by the PSC committee. They also provided details of transactions which, according to them, established that unfair means including payment of bribes had taken place during the process. I received a detailed status report from SSP Crime, Kashmir, and forwarded the same to Vigilance Commissioner Mr P L Gupta as investigating such charges is the responsibility and jurisdiction of State Vigilance Organisation”, IGP Crime, Raja Aijaz Ali told Early Times.

Meanwhile, all the selected candidates and “agents”, identified in the RTGS bank transactions as well as taped conversations , have switched off their telephones. According to informed sources, immediately after the controversial selection list appeared in media and J&K High Court got it stayed over a petition of the high-merit dropped candidates, all those who have alleged paid bribes are demanding the money back from. As of now, their selection has fallen in doldrums and the money paid has also gone down the drain.

However, nobody has so far touched a Jammu-based advocate who reportedly got more than a dozen of the least-merit candidates selected. He is reported to have managed selection of a dismissed Cabinet Minister’s son and two more of his relatives in the RBA category. One of them was otherwise also disqualified for the competition as few years back he had set up an industrial unit, namely a stone crusher, under Khadi and Village Industries Board (KVIB), then headed by the politician from Kishtwar. KVIB got a huge amount sanctioned in favour of the industrial unit from a bank and also paid 33% of the amount as subsidy to then unemployed veterinary science graduate.

Sources said that extremely high-flying people involved in the PSC selection scam have begun building huge pressure on the coalition government, particularly Crime Branch and State Vigilance Organisation, to ensure that no FIR was registered and no investigation was conducted. The argument being projected from these quarters is that PSC is “an autonomous body” that works “under its own business rules and constitution”. So, even if there is prima facie evidence of corruption, misuse of official position or any other unfair means, none of the government agencies had any role to investigate.

However, contention of a large number of legislators, including CPI (M) State Secretary, Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, and many others from National Conference and Congress itself, is that PSC is the creation of J&K Legislature and thus not only accountable before it but also subject to scrutiny by Police organizations. “It is a very serious allegation from the dropped candidates that there are hundreds of calls between the Jammu-based advocate and the expert engaged by the PSC. How can it be proved right or wrong in absence of a professional inquiry and examination of the call detail record?, an independent MLA asked.