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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Stink Operation!

KAS officer hired TV channel cameraman to trap ARTO

CDs of STA official, RTO Jammu, ARTO Ramban, ARTO Rajouri also “under process”

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Mar 11: Inquiry into allegations of corruption against the suspended Assistant Regional Transport Officer (ARTO) Doda-Kishtwar is likely to unravel official-media nexus to grab “prize positions” through unclean practices. Even as the investigation, ordered by Minister of Transport Qamar Ali Akhoon, on the direction of Speaker Mohammad Akbar Lone, is still underway, a middle rung official in Transport Commissioner’s office has been found to have engaged the cameraperson of a national television channel for the “sting operation”. However, the purpose appears to be blackmailing and settling personal scores, rather than exposing corruption in government offices.

BJP MLA from Basohli, Jagdish Raj Sapolia, had waved cash worth Rs 20,000 and a CD on the floor of Legislative Assembly on March 9th to substantiate his allegation that fitness certificates to old commercial vehicles were being issued in Doda district against payment of bribes. He emphasized that death of over 700 commuters in a large number of road accidents in Doda-Kishtwar area was the result of operation of old commercial vehicles. On the MLA’s insistence, Speaker asked Minister incharge Transport to order an inquiry and take necessary action if any of his subordinate officials was found guilty. According to the MLA, the CD presented to Speaker contained audio-visual evidence of money changing the hands.

Minister Akhoon promptly placed ARTO Doda-Kishtwar, Bipan Singh Charak, under suspension and directed RTO Jammu, Virendar Slathia, to conduct an inquiry into the allegations of corruption and submit a report to the Government.

Early Times today learned from well-placed sources that prima facie findings of the inquiry were more sensational than the allegations leveled in the Assembly. During questioning of witnesses, it has surfaced that the character, who made the CD and passed on Rs 20,000 to the MLA, has, in fact, concealed and retained the first installment of Rs 30,000. The Jammu-based cameraperson, working for a national television news channel, has been found to have conducted the “sting operation” against cash payment for an officer of Kashmir Administrative Service (KAS) posted in the office of Transport Commissioner.

Enquiries revealed that the middle-rung KAS officer, had been relieved of his assignment as Member-Secretary of J&K State Transport Authority (STA) some time back on serious complaints of corruption. It was alleged that the official had been charging bribe money of Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 from each of 100-odd applicants every day. His assignment was given to Joint Transport Commissioner, Sheikh Fayaz Ahmed. Trapping the new Member-Secretary of STA, as also the relieved official’s opponents---RTO Jammu, ARTO Doda, ARTO Ramban, ARTO Rajouri---has emerged as the only motive of the “sting operation”. The KAS officer hired the services of the television cameraman who was “famous” in Jammu for carrying out such operations with the help of his spy camera.

Interestingly, the Inquiry Officer himself (RTO Jammu Virender Slathia) has landed in an unenviable position as officials of his own office have been captured on the spy camera while allegedly demanding and accepting bribes for fraudulently passing condemned commercial vehicles. The cameraman is understood to have made similar CDs on the practices of corruption in the offices of ARTOs of Ramban and Rajouri.

ARTO Doda, Charak has been trapped for his act of referring a matter against the KAS officer to the State Vigilance Organisation (SVO). Even as SVO had almost completed the investigation against the KAS officer, entire records disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Inquiry Officer, Inspector Nisar Hussain Shah, was placed under suspension for “carelessness”.

Interestingly, none of these CDs has been passed on to Speaker through the BJP MLA. Investigators are looking into complaints according to which the KAS officer and his hired cameraman were “blackmailing” the Transport officials and threatening them that their CDs would also be presented in the Assembly in the next few days. The KAS officer’s prime target appears to be the Joint Transport Commissioner and son of a National Conference MLC, whose removal could mean the KAS officer’s fresh posting as Member-Secretary STA.