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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ranjan tipped to take over as next PCCF

Kundal-backed IFS lobby blocking Tiwari’s pension settlement case

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Dec 28: Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer of 1977 batch, Vinod Ranjan, is likely to succeed R D Tiwari as the next Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) in Jammu and Kashmir. After putting in 34 years of service in J&K cadre, Mr Tiwari is reaching superannuation on December 31st.

Well placed sources in the political establishment insisted that Vinod Ranjan, who has headed several key departments in Forest sector and has been functioning as Director Forest Protection Force (FPF) since 01-05-2010, was “most likely” to take over as PCCF on December 31st evening. He would be tried on experimental basis and confirmed as PCCF by the Cabinet in a few months subject to the satisfaction of Minister incharge Forest Mian Altaf Ahmad.

1975-batch IFS officer Jagdish Kishwan, who functioned as PCCF in J&K prior to his central deputation on 01-10-2010, is currently the seniormost officer of J&K cadre. He has been functioning as Additional Director General Wildlife in union Ministry of Environment and Forest since October 2011. Since he has already served a term as PCCF and is reaching superannuation on 30-09-2012, he is unlikely to be recalled to succeed Tiwari.

Ranjan stands at number three on the top of the seniority list. In addition to Kishwan’s central deputation, he has a couple of other advantages. His immediate junior and 1978-batch IFS officer, Pritam Chand Kapur, who has been serving as Director of J&K State Forestry Research Institute (SFRI) since October 2010, is due to retire in next two months---February 29th, 2012.

Ranjan has not enjoyed enviable reputation throughout his career. However, unlike many in the department, including Kapur and Tiwari, he does not have any departmental inquiries or corruption related matters pending against him in State Vigilance Organisation. He has been calling himself a “victim of whisper campaign”. Ranjan, nevertheless, has a veritable headache. A high level committee, headed by Chief Secretary Madhav Lal, has lately elevated two additional PCCFs, namely A K Srivastava and Lal Chand, to the grade of PCCF (Rs 75,500---Rs 80,000).

In case the state government decided to give more weightage to “suitability” than seniority, both, Srivastava as well as Lal Chand, could emerge as a threat to Ranjan. Chief Minister obviously has the final say and the Cabinet would only perform a formality, but men of consequence in the government insist that Mr Omar Abdullah had ‘no particular likes and dislikes” in Forest sector.

“Chief Minister is normally in favour of maintaining seniority. He favoured Mr Madhav Lal as Chief Secretary last year when several Ministers in the Cabinet and other political leaders had a variety of other choices. This time around, he is most likely to go by the choice of Forest Minister Mian Altaf Sahab”, a highly placed government functionary observed.

1980-batch IFS officer, Srivastava, has been functioning as Inspector General of Wildlife in union Ministry of Environment and Forest since 01-04-2009. In J&K, he last served as Chief Wildlife Warden. Reaching superannuation on 30-11-2014, he is left with three more years of service. Among all competitors, Srivastava alone is a serious threat to Ranjan in case Minister of Forest did not favour Ranjan during his “probation”.

The last in the PCCFs’ list is none other than son of the soil, Lal Chand, who has been serving as Chairman of J&K State Pollution Control Board since 01-05-2010. Retiring on 31-01-2013, he is still left with over a year of service. According to authoritative sources, his candidacy would heavily depend on strenuous lobbying of SC/ST lobby of Jammu that has been simultaneously projecting him for the vacancy of a member in J&K State Public Service Commission.

Minister of Forest, Mian Altaf Ahmad, told Early Times that a decision with regard to the appointment of the new PCCF would be taken only after Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s return from overseas on Wednesday. “I am having an open mind. I’m sure, the picture would become clear after my discussion with Chief Minister tomorrow”, Mian Altaf said. He said that the incumbent would be picked up from among Ranjan, Srivastava and Lal Chand, all holding the grade of PCCF.

Meanwhile, bureaucratic sources revealed that a particular lobby of IFS officers, allegedly enjoying support of former Chief Secretary and today’s MLC of Congress party, B R Kundal, was at work to block settlement of Mr Tiwari’s pension case. According to these sources, efforts were underway to trouble the outgoing PCCF as certain officials were stressing on the fact Vigilance clearance to Mr Tiwari could not be granted until he was cleared in a departmental inquiry. Government had exonerated Mr Tiwari in a matter of alleged misuse of official position, in the matter of promotions in Department of Wildlife Protection over a decade ago but ordered a departmental inquiry. The inquiry did not proceed as Mr Tiwari got it stayed from court with the argument that the nominated inquiry officer was “biased” against him.

Mr Kundal, who headed an inquiry in Ghulam Nabi Azad’s regime, held Mr Tiwari guilty in several matters and recommended detailed investigations by SVO and Crime Branch. However, SVO and CB failed to establish any charges against him during his functioning as head of IWDP and PCB. Interestingly, Mr Tiwari is facing his career’s last official meeting with none other than Kundal at Legislative Council tomorrow. Almost all officers of the rank of PCCF, additional PCCF, CCF and Conservators of Forest (CF) would be present in the House committee meeting.


On retirement, Mehboob diverted Rs 18 Cr NRDWP funds to Doda

Meticulous planning of constituency development before joining Congress

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Dec 26: Obsessed with his ambition of joining Congress party, senior IAS officer and Commissioner-Secretary PHE & Irrigation, Sheikh Mehboob Iqbal, has diverted Rs 18 Cr of centrally sponsored drinking water scheme to his home district of Doda. Diversion of the funds has been ordered in violation of the guidelines of National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP).

Highly placed bureaucratic sources disclosed to Early Times that Mr Mehboob Iqbal created a reserve of funds and diverted it fully to his home district of Doda with such a mechanism that the funds would be almost fully utilized on water supply schemes in Bhaderwah Assembly segment. According to these sources, Joint Director (Planning) in Education Department, Mr Matoo, who has been holding additional charge of PHE & Irrigation, played a key role in the diversion on the Commissioner-Secretary’s insistence.

Minister of PHE & Irrigation, Taj Mohiuddin, happens to be Iqbal’s political mentor and close relative but it was not immediately clear whether the diversion of NRDWP funds had happened with or without his approval. Sources said that allocation and diversion of the centrally sponsored scheme’s funds could not ordinarily happen without the concerned Minister’s approval. According to these sources, diversion of the funds took place days before Mr Iqbal’s retirement from service on November 30th, 2001, when Taj Mohiuddin had returned from Hajj and was very much present in the state.

Almost fully sponsored by Department of Drinking Water Supply of the union Ministry of Rural Development, NRDWP is being implemented in different states, including Jammu & Kashmir, with a central monitoring system. Inter-State allocation of NRDWP funds depends on total rural population according to 2001 census (40% weightage), rural SC and ST population (10% weightage), rural population managing drinking water supply schemes (10% weightage) and States under DDP, DPAP, HADP and special category Hill States in terms of rural areas (40% weightage).

“Ministers and bureaucrats can not allocate, pool or divert funds at their whims and sweet will. Guidelines of this and many other centrally sponsored schemes have been drafted so meticulously that nobody can utilize the funds for personal benefits or development of a particular constituency”, a top ranking official asserted. According to him, funds could be distributed strictly in accordance with the genuine demands put forward by Executive Engineers, Superintending Engineers and Chief Engineers.
Since digging of wells is a major component of the programme, there is remarkable prospect of the distribution to strengthen votebanks. Even as Government of India has been meticulously conducting the monitoring, nobody till date seems to have questioned the state government as to how Ministers and retiring public servants, having political ambitions, could utilize the NRDWP funds for personal promotion or electoral gains of a particular political party.

Interestingly, Congress party’s MLA from Bhaderwah, where the funds are intended to be utilized, Mohammad Sharief Niaz has been completely kept in the dark in this particular diversion of funds. Mr Iqbal, who was conspicuously present in the forefront of Mr Taj Mohiuddin’s recent visit to Doda district, is said to be claiming “direct support” from his Minister-relative as well as union Minister of Health Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Notwithstanding his involvement in Gulmarg Roshni Scandal, in which State Vigilance Organisation has established charges and produced challan in an anti-corruption court, Mehboob Iqbal has attained the image of an extremely competent government official. He is also a man of extraordinary public relations, having his admirers in almost all the political parties.

Many in political circles describe his possible foray into active politics as Congress party’s answer to PDP’s induction of Asgar Ali. Also hailing from erstwhile Doda district, Asgar Ali retired as Director of Rural Development Kashmir and much like Iqbal landed into a corruption-related episode months before his retirement. He is now PDP’s MLC.

Sources in bureaucracy insist that under tremendous pressure from certain political quarters, Law Secretary did not process sanction to Mr Mehboob Iqbal’s prosecution until he reached superannuation on November 30th and got his pension case settled without any hitch.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Pir inquiring why SKIMS became a hell for “CM’s man”

Proposal to dismiss surgical oncologist Altaf Gauhar turned down

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Dec 25: Commissioner-Secretary for Health and Medical Education, Ghulam Ahmad Pir, on Saturday started an inquiry to find why authorities at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) allegedly compelled Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s favourite and eminent surgical oncologist, Dr Altaf Gauhar Haji, to quit “in protest”. Chief Minister, in his capacity as Chairman of the highest decision making Governing Body of the tertiary care hospital, has not only turned down the proposal of terminating Dr Altaf’s service and his replacement by General Surgeon Dr Nisar Chaudhary but has also asked the senior bureaucrat to investigate why that particular file had moved from SKIMS to Chief Secretary to Chief Minister with lightning speed.

According to informed sources, Mr G A Pir drove all the way to Soura and remained closeted with Director SKIMS, Dr Shaukat Ali Zargar, for over an hour. Sources called it a ‘closed door meeting”. It was not immediately clear as to what transpired between the two in today’s one-on-one. It was, nonetheless, widely believed by well placed sources that Pir actually started the inquiry he has been asked to complete within two weeks. Earlier this month, Chief Minister had assigned the investigation to Pir after he turned down Director SKIMS Dr Zargar’s proposal to terminate the service of eminent surgical oncologist, Dr Altaf Gauhar.

Direcor SKIMS, according to bureaucratic sources, had initiated extreme action against Dr Altaf and also appointed General Surgeon Dr Nisar Chaudhary as head of the lately created Department of Surgical Oncology. Dr Zargar had demonstrated keenness in Dr Altaf’s dismissal and Dr Nisar’s appointment with the argument that only a Professor was “qualified” to head the department. After his super-specialty in surgical oncology in England and having working with hospitals of reputation overseas, Dr Altaf had returned to his home state of J&K earlier this year and joined as Assistant Professor at SKIMS.

Sources insist that Dr Altaf returned and joined SKIMS on Chief Minister’s persuasion. Being the only faculty in his discipline, he was appointed as Head of the Department of Surgical Oncology. However, within weeks, Dr Altaf began complaining that a “mafia of General surgeons and private practitioners”, allegedly enjoying Director’s patronage, had created for him “extreme hostile conditions”. In one of his strongly worded representations, he complained to Chief Minister that he was being “demoralized and marginalized” as his job profile was being encroached upon. According to the complaint, he had been given neither a ward nor a patient.

With the skirmishes between Dr Zargar and Dr Altaf snowballing into a crisis at SKIMS, the former asserted in meetings and communications that anybody not holding the rank of Professor was ineligible to head a department. Director reportedly overruled several members of the Governing Body, including Director of AIIMS Dr Deka, who maintained that Dr Altaf could well head the department which had currently no Post Graduation programme. They insisted that only departments with PG programmes were supposed to be headed by a Professor. Eventually, Dr Zargar appointed Dr Nisar as head of Surgical Oncology department.

When things came to a head, Dr Altaf in protest proceeded on leave. Since his leave had not been sanctioned, SKIMS authorities described his “protest leave” as “unauthorized absence”. Unlike in hundreds of identical cases, SKIMS dashed off explanations and got a series of notifications published in newspapers, asking Dr Altaf either to report for duty or face dismissal of service. Finally, Director SKIMS proposed termination of his services under Civil Service Rules and Regulation in vogue and submitted the file to the competent authority (CM and Chairman of Governing Body of SKIMS) through the office of Chief Secretary.

Chief Minister, according to sources, wondered how an eminent cancer surgeon, who had a high profile job at a British hospital and was being wooed by several corporate Hospitals all over India, had been pushed to the wall at SKIMS. It was all the more surprising that Dr Altaf had returned to Srinagar on none other than Chief Minister’s persuasion. According to sources, Chief Minister even pulled up Chief Secretary Madhav Lal and asked him how that particular file had traveled to him from SKIMS with lightning speed even as scores of top priority files and communications had gathered dust in red-tapism.

Sources said that Chief Minister turned down Director SKIMS’ proposal of terminating Dr Altaf’s service and his replacement by Gen Surgeon Dr Nisar Chaudhary. He also ordered an inquiry by Commissioner-Secretary Health and Medical Education who was asked to investigate as to why Dr Altaf had proceeded on “protest leave” and why Director SKIMS had shown “extraordinary interest” in getting him dismissed and replaced by a General Surgeon. Thereafter, Dr Altaf’s joining report was entertained and he was allowed to resume duty as Head of Department.

While Director SKIMS was not reachable for comment and Medical Superintendent Dr Syed Mohammad Tabish did not respond to repeated phone calls, Mr G A Pir declined to share any details. He confirmed to Early Times that he had been asked to hold an inquiry regarding complaints of two doctors of SKIMS and SMHS Hospital, both named Dr Altaf. In his overnight conversation, Mr Pir said that he had not yet started the inquiry into the SKIMS episode. “As of now, we have just informal, prejudiced versions of both the parties. I have not yet recorded any statements or examined any witnesses or evidences”, Mr Pir asserted.

Mr Pir further said that the process of inquiry would take “some days”. He said that he would submit his findings to Chief Minister as and when completed. When it was pointed out to Mr Pir why similar action (termination of services) had not been taken against doctors like Dr Manzoor Thokar, Additional Professor Microbiology, who was working at Bin Gazi University in Libya for the last over three years, he said that Dr Thokar had got the process stayed from a court of law. “We have taken action against a number of doctors who are absconding in violation of Civil Service Rules and Regulations and working in foreign countries”, Mr Pir added.


3 drivers killed in paramilitary fratricide; killer identified

Early Times Report

SRINAGAR, Dec 25: In a routine incident of paramilitary fratricide in Kashmir valley, three Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel got killed last night and yet another is battling for life at a hospital. The shooter has been identified after sustained questioning of six CRPF men of the camp late tonight.

SP Kulgam, Maqsood-uz-Zaman, told Early Times that at 2220 hours last night, residents at district headquarters of Kulgam, in south Kashmir, heard over a dozen gunshots. SP himself heard the volley of gunfire and Police rushed quickly towards a camp of CRPF 18 Bn. The Police party found two persons dead and two more lying in a pool of blood with critical injuries. The dead bodies were taken into custody and the injured personnel rushed to hospital. One of them succumbed to injuries when he was on way to hospital.

SP Kulgam said that the injured CRPF man was referred to SKIMS by doctors at District Hospital of Kulgam. He was operated upon in a five-hour-long surgical procedure. Doctors said that he was battling for life but claimed that he was out of danger. Death of the three CRPF personnel caused panic in Kulgam area. SP Kulgam said that the militant strike was quickly ruled out as the shootout had occurred deep inside the barrack of a camp.

Those killed in the shootout were identified as P Sibbu, Suman Pillai and Javed Hussain. Sources said that they were drivers, painters and fitters etc. Police learned from its sources that the altercation between two groups of the camp led to opening of fire by a aspirant `

SP Kulgam Maqsood-uz-Zaman said that Police registered a criminal case and took into custody remaining six personnel of the barrack for sustained questioning. He revealed that after questioning the detainees for over 12 hours, Police succeeded in getting the real shooter identified as Head Constable Fitter S K Rai. He said that the delinquent CRPF official was being arrested for legal proceedings. SP said that one among the men on duty at the camp claimed to be the eyewitness.