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Friday, September 23, 2011

Three Ministers in SAC’s dock over fresh charges of corruption, raising huge assets

CS asked to provide details of all politicians enjoying status of Minister/MoS by September 28

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Sep 23: State’s highest accountability watchdog, Jammu & Kashmir State Accountability Commission (SAC), has received complaints, containing serious allegations, against two Ministers and one particular politician, enjoying the status of a Minister in Omar Abdullah’s coalition government. While as the complaints against the two Ministers have been forwarded to them for their respective comments, third one concerning a prominent politician has been treated with a difference. SAC has asked Chief Secretary Madhav Lal to provide details about all the politicians of the ruling coalition who are not in Chief Minister’s 22-member Council of Ministers but are enjoying the status of a Minister or Minister of State.

Resuming its functioning after suspended animation of over three years, SAC has entertained complaints against both the Ministers and forwarded the same to them for their respective comments. One of them, according to informed sources, has returned the document with a detailed response in defence. Commission is now examining the Minister’s response in light of the complaints and awaiting a statement from another respondent. The complainants have sought action against the two Ministers while being knowledgeable that they would be liable to punishment under the law in case their accusations against the public men proved to be motivated or unfounded.

SAC has initiated action over the complaints without publicly revealing identities and specific contents as desired by the amended law in anticipation of commencement of a regular inquiry.

Early Times, however, learned from authoritative sources that all the three complaints against the coalition functionaries have been taken seriously by the lately revived SAC. On the direction of Chairman, Justice (retd) Y P Nargotra, and Member, Justice (retd) Hakeem Imtiyaz Hussain, Registrar of SAC today sent a letter to Chief Secretary Madhav Lal, asking for names of the politicians holding status of Minister or MoS, emoluments, perks and other facilities available to them, rules and regulations governing appointment of such government functionaries besides procedure and criteria, if any, adopted for conferment of status of Minister/MoS on the politicians who are not otherwise members of the Council of Ministers.

Chief Secretary has been directed to furnish complete information by or before September 28th.

Dealing with the third fresh complaint, concerning a politician who has been holding status of a Minister, SAC is understood to be obtaining details about all the eight politicians of the NC-Congress coalition government enjoying this privilege. There are currently 22 members in Omar Abdullah’s Council of Ministers who are all on oath. Two slots, each belonging to NC and Congress in the power sharing arrangement, have been continuously vacant since 2009.

Congress party’s MLA from Inderwal and high profile Minister of Works, Ghulam Mohammad Saroori, had been removed in the middle of last year when CBI began investigating charges of his daughter having hired an outsider for appearing in a competitive examination to ensure her selection for MBBS. Anticipating clean chit to Saroori---that could lead to his re-induction---Congress has not insisted over replacement in the last one year.

Under a law amended during Ghulam Nabi Azad’s regime, total strength of the Council of Ministers has to be 25 in Jammu and Kashmir. However, Omar government has conferred status of Minister/MoS on as many as eight politicians. NC’s MLA from Iddgah, Mubarak Gul, is the only among eight who is holding the superior status of a cabinet Minister since August 2009. He stands designated as “Advisor to Chief Minister”.

NC’s MLC from Jammu, Devinder Singh Rana, who was appointed as “Political Advisor to Chief Minister” a day after Omar Abdullah assumed office on January 5th, 2009, has been holding the status of a Minister of State.

Making amendments in law, Omar government also deleted few other positions from the list of Office of Profit to protect its legislators from disqualification. Senior Congress leader and former MLA/MLC, Khem Lata Wakhloo, who functioned as a Cabinet Minister in Ghulam Mohammad Shah’s government in 1984-86, was appointed as Chairperson J&K State Social Welfare Advisory on 28-10-2010. Order of her appointment did not mention her status but bureaucratic sources insist that she was offered status of MoS which she declined to accept. She has been struggling to seek status of a Cabinet Minister with the plea that she had functioned as a Cabinet Minister in 1984-86 and is not working under any other authority, unlike several Vice Chairpersons of statutory boards.

NC’s MLA from Habbakadal, Shameema Firdaus, was appointed as Chaiperson of J&K State Women’s Commission on 19-01-2010. She too has been holding status of MoS.

NC’s former MLA from Surankote and one-time MoS in Dr Farooq Abdullah’s government in 1996-2002, Mushtaq Ahmad Shah Bukhari was appointed Vice Chairman of Jammu and Kashmir State Advisory Board for Welfare and Development of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) on 19-01-2010. He too enjoys status of MoS.

NC’s incumbent MLA from Kalakote, Rachhpal Singh, was appointed as Vice Chairman of J&K State Advisory Board for the Development of Kissans on 19-01-2010. He too was conferred status of MoS.

Congress party’s Smt Swaran Lata was appointed as Vice Chairperson, J&K State Advisory Board for Welfare and Development of Schedule Castes on 10-02-2010. Same party’s Kuldeep Raj was appointed as Vice Chairman Jammu and Kashmir State Advisory Board for Welfare and Development of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) on 15-02-2011. Neither of them is a member of J&K Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council. Both are holding status of MoS.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah himself has been functioning as Chairman of the Boards operated by Mushtaq Bukhari, Rachhpal Singh, Swaran Lata and Kuldeep Raj.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

We’ll recommend J&K’s solution within Indian Constitution: Padgoankar

After 11 months of equivocation, interlocutors uncover themselves to the best of Delhi’s liking in Srinagar

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Sep 21: This autumnal equinox has come with veritable change of colour among the Centre’s interlocutors who raised speculations of an “out of box” solution for the last eleven months of their academic picnic but wrapped up their Mission Kashmir today to the best of their masters’ liking. Head of the three-member team, Dileep Padgaonkar, made it unambiguously clear that the final report, to be submitted to union Home Minister P Chidambaram before October 12th, would recommend solution to the political problem of Jammu and Kashmir “within the framework of the (Indian) Constitution”.

Hours before concluding their 11-month-long study tour and interaction with stakeholders---remarkably without any separatist leader’s involvement---Centre’s interlocutors, Dileep Padgoankar, Radha Kumar and M M Ansari, made it clear at their news conference that their report to New Delhi would recommend a solution to the political problem of Jammu and Kashmir “within the framework of the (Indian) Constitution”. “Any solution outside the Constitution is impossible and impracticable. Not only people across the country but also majority of the state subjects in all three regions want a solution within the framework of the Constitution. That’s what we are recommending in our report”, principal interlocutor Dileep Padgaonkar said.

Padgoankar asserted that solution to the political problem would have to be in conformity with the aspirations of the people of entire Jammu and Kashmir state. He claimed that solution to all problems within the Indian Constitution was the aspiration of almost all the people in Jammu and Ladakh regions besides a reasonable majority in Kashmir valley. He revealed that his team would submit the final report to the Centre before October 12th next---shortly before completing its one-year life.

The interlocutors said that there were many ways and means to satisfy the economic, developmental, social and cultural aspirations of the people living in different regions of the state but the political problem would have to be addressed on an all-inclusive basis and with regard to aspirations of the majority of the state subjects. They claimed that during their numerous visits to all three regions of the state and interaction with cross-sections of the population, they observed that most of the people wanted a solution within the framework of the Constitution.

Without indicating treatment to any of the proposals and formulae---including the much speculated Greater Autonomy of National Conference and Self Rule of PDP--- Padgoankar made it clear that the interlocutors’ final report would not recommend division or trifurcation of the state. He said that he and his colleagues were convinced that sovereignty and integrity of the state was a fait accompli and there was no question of breaking it into different administrative units. He, however, suggested that delegation of more powers to the state would satisfy the aspiration of a large number of people.

When it was pointed out to the interlocutors that none of the separatist leaders had interacted with them---excluding a dramatic meeting imposed on Maulvi Abbas Ansari at his home---they asserted that the separatists had “lost a valuable opportunity”. They claimed that they had made best of their efforts to rope in the Hurriyat and other separatist leaders, and also offered them every convenience of meeting, but it was unfortunate that they did not respond positively. Padgoankar suggested that all through the period, Hurriyat and other separatist outfits laboured under “compulsions”. He declined to elaborate.

Padgoankar claimed credit for the change Kashmir witnessed in the last one year. According to him, this total transformation, in sharp contrast to turbulent summer of 2010, was attributable to New Delhi’s decision of sending a team of interlocutors to Jammu and Kashmir. He pointed out that during this period Panchayat elections of the highest ever peoples’ participation had been conducted smoothly in Jammu and Kashmir and all-time high tourist traffic had been recorded in the state. Padgoankar’s statement is expected to evoke a strongly negative reaction from all hues of Kashmiri separatists who have been alleging from day one that it was all “part of an Indian exercise to hoodwink the world over Kashmir problem”.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Social Welfare feeding poison to Anganwari kids

Food samples in all 10 medical blocks found adulterated in Budgam

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Sep 20: Indicating a nexus between the suppliers and officials of Social Welfare Department, samples of the food items provided to thousands of young children at Anganwari Centers have been found adulterated in all 1o medical blocks in Budgam district. Rather than initiating criminal proceedings against the suppliers and assessing culpability of the officials, authorities in Drug and Food Control Organisation are said to be hushing up the matters.

Parents of hundreds of children at 1500 Anganwari Centres in Budgam district had been crying hoarse since beginning of the current year that substandard and adulterated supplies were being received by officials and delivered at AW centres. According to them, nutrients and food components were being circulated to over 30,000 children without any examination or analysis by the experts.

In the face of a public outcry, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Budgam directed all the 10 Block Medical Officers in April to pick up random samples at different AW centres and get them examined by food analysts. Since the overwhelming complaints mentioned three particular items, authorities collected samples of only Priya Gold biscuits, turmeric powder and skimmed milk. Within days, Public Analyst at Public Health Laboratory, Dalgate, alerted the concerned Food Inspectors and BMOs that all the samples analysed had been found adulterated and harmful for human consumption.

BMO Magam wrote to Project Officer ICDS Narbal vide letter No: BMOM/3536-39 Dated 15-07-2011: “The sample was sent to Public Analyst, Public Health Lab Dalgate Srinagar for analysis and the said sample was declared adulterated vide report No: PFAK/Legal/2161 Dated 06/07/2011, copy of which is enclosed herewith”.

He added: “It is therefore requested to your goodself that to communicate complete information within 07 days regarding name and address of the supplier/distributor/manufacturer alongwith bill/invoice who has supplied the adulterated spray dried milk Madhusagar brand to ICDS-CDPO Narbal. The matter may be taken as most urgent so that the sanction of prosecution is obtained under section-20 of PFA Act-1954”.

Public Analyst Hamidullah Dar observed different impurities and adulterations in others samples including biscuits (Priya Gold) and turmeric powder. Vide a number of reports, all in possession of Early Times, he alerted all BMOs in Budgam district that the food items being consumed by young children at AW centres had been found adulterated and were dangerous for human consumption.

Even as the Public Analyst, CMO Budgam and different BMOs asked Project Officers of all 8 ICDS blocks to immediately stop the supplies and remove all those already delivered at AW centres, officials of Social Welfare Department did not act until sizable quantities were fed to the children in the months of April, May, June and July. Later, the left-over supplies were removed in the months of July and August. Even the analysis procedure at the Public Laboratory took three to four weeks in absence of persuasion from Social Welfare Department.

One of such communications from Legal Health Authority Nagam, Chadoura, vide No: BMO/N 1065-67 Dated 25-07-2011, made it clear to CDPO Nagam/Chadoura that the supplies were harmful: “The Analyst reports of the food samples found adulterated by Public Analyst Kashmir Province. In this connection, you are as such directed to instruct your Anganwari Workers to stop consumption of adulterated food stuff which are not fit for human consumption and prevent any untoward incident in the area”.

BMO Chattergam wrote a similar letter, No; LHA/BCH/24-27 Dated 09-08-2011, to Project Officer ICDS BK Pora, Chattergam.

Officials at Directorate of Health Services Kashmir revealed to this newspaper that a large number of children developed multiple complicacies allegedly due to consumption of adulterated food items at AW centres and most of them were treated either locally at home or at different dispensaries, PHCs and District Hospital of Budgam. However, a separate record of such cases was not maintained.

Sources said that CMO Budgam finally asked Assistant Controller Food of Drug & Food Control Organisation, vide his No: CMOB/2355-56 Dated 19-08-2011, to take legal action against the delinquent suppliers. He, however, did not call for identification of the culpability of the officials of Social Welfare Department whose complicity or careless had led to passage of adulterated supplies to AW stores/ centres and finally consumption by young children.

Director Social Welfare Department, Kashmir, Hilal Ahmad Parray, as well as Programme Officer ICDS Budgam district, Nazir Ahmad Khwaja, maintained that “some items at some centres” had been found adulterated which, according to them, were “removed and replaced immediately”. Officials of Health and Social Welfare departments held each other responsible for verification of the standards of the nutrition items before their passage to AW centres. DC Budgam happens to be the Chairman of District Level Purchase Committee (DLPC) and Programme Officer is the Member/Secretary of the flagship central scheme in social welfare sector.

DC Budgam, Mohammad Rafi, admitted that there was no foolproof system to pre-examine the supplies before their delivery at AW centres. He said that as Chairman of the DLPC his responsibility was limited to procurement of supplies from genuine and reputed suppliers. The job of examining the quality and quantity of the supplies, according to him, was that of the officials of Social Welfare Department.

With everybody passing the buck and the Food & Drug Control Organisation sleeping over the serious matter, Minister incharge Social Welfare, Sakeena Itoo, told Early Times that she would call for a detailed report from Director and District Officer and accordingly initiate necessary legal and departmental action in the serious lapse. “I’m already seized of the matter and I have asked my subordinate officers to send me a detailed report. If anybody is found responsible of lapse or indulgence in corruption, I will take strict action”, she asserted.