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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Peerzada resigns as Education Minister

Sheikh Bashir being removed as Chairman BOSE; Naseem or Tanvir may get charge on Monday

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Feb 11: Becoming second successive casualty for Congress in Omar Abdullah’s Cabinet after Ghulam Mohammad Saroori in 2010, high profile mainstream politician and Minister of Education, Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed, has finally moved out of the Council of Ministers in Jammu and Kashmir, unceremoniously. Responding to directions from AICC, communicated to him through General Secretary incharge J&K Mohan Praskash, Peerzada today submitted his letter of resignation by fax to the Congress and UPA supremo Sonia Gandhi.

In days of submission of its report to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, beleaguered Peerzada today faxed a letter to Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Highly placed political sources disclosed to Early Times that within hours of Chief Minister’s discussion with the AICC leadership in New Delhi, party’s General Secretary incharge Jammu and Kashmir asked Peerzada to “immediately” send his resignation to Mrs Gandhi. Facing flak from a number of Opposition parties, including BJP, over “protecting corrupt and tainted Ministers”, AICC leadership agreed with Omar that retaining Peerzada in the Government would prove politically disastrous for the coalition.

According to these sources, there was complete unanimity between NC and Congress leadership that retaining Peerzada and sacking Saroori in identical matters could not be justified. Even after Peerzada had been isolated by both factions of the Congress, promoted by J&KPCC President Saifuddin Soz and union Minister of Health Ghulam Nabi Azad, some of the leaders in the coalition were in favour of “restraint”. They were calling for registration of FIR and a formal investigation by Crime Branch. According to them, Peerzada should have been asked to quit only after his person was found involved in the J&K BOSE Examgate. Interestingly, NC as well as the opposition PDP, did not seem to be enthusiastic over Peerzada’s resignation, for varied reasons.

With a large number of political and non-political organisations, NGOs and several organs of civil society joining hands to pull down the Minister, NC-Congress coalition decided to remove Peerzada from the Council of Ministers. As already reported in the last several days, Peerzada had fallen in the eye of a storm on account of his foster son Imam Souban’s use of unfair means in Class 10th examination in the year 2009. On January 30th, Srinagar-based daily ‘Greater Kashmir’ had published material evidence of the unfair means made available to the candidate besides details how BOSE authorities and men in Civil Secretariat had covered up the scandal despite desire of action from Raj Bhawan and Chief Minister’s Secretariat.

Following publication of media reports and varied demands of action and investigation from different quarters, Chief Minister had ordered Crime Branch to conduct a preliminary inquiry and check veracity of the reports against Peerzada and his son. Crime Branch found half-a-dozen officials as well as Minister of Education involved in the Examgate. Seeking resignation from the Minister was sequel to Chief Minister’s overnight discussion on the subject with AICC leadership in the union capital.

Sources revealed that the state government had also decided to go for a “complete reshuffle” in BOSE within next two days. According to these sources, all the officials indicted in the Crime Branch inquiry would be removed and attached to the office of Commissioner-Secretary of School Education. Those being removed include Chairman, Dr Bashir Ahmad Sheikh, one joint secretary, one lady academic officer, besides two teachers of School Education department, namely Tariq Gilani and Imtiyaz Ahmad, who had worked as Superintendent and Dy Superintendent and either provided unfair facilitation or remained mute spectators to Imam Souban’s way of taking the examination.

Crime Branch was being directed to file a formal FIR and conduct a formal investigation to determine criminal and non-criminal culpability of the accused officials and the Minister incharge. Sources said that the Minister’s second wife and Souban’s mother, Dr Tabbasum, who was working in state Health Department, would also be questioned.

Sources revealed that one among Commissioner-Secretary of School Education, Naseem Lanker, and Commissioner-Secretary Higher Education, Tanvir Jehan, would be appointed to also officiate as Chairman of BOSE till appointment of a full-time incumbent. Mrs Lanker, who had headed the search committee that recommended Dr Sheikh Bashir (then Secretary BOSE) for the top position of Chairman last year, is reaching superannuation on February 29th.

Some men of consequence in bureaucracy were in favour of handing over Chairman’s charge to Commissioner-Secretary Health and Medical Education, Ghulam Ahmad Pir, who is also retiring from service on March 31st. Registrar of Cooperatives, Dr Syed Mohammad Fazalullah, who has a doctorate and an academic and literary profile, was also said to be a choice. He is due to reach superannuation on October 31st this year.

According to reports from New Delhi, Peerzada has taken umbrage on Chief Minister’s overnight statement to media in which Mr Abdullah was quoted to have said that Peerzada’s fate would be determined in “next 24 to 36 hours”. In his conversation with a news agency, Peerzada has questioned Chief Minister’s prerogative and asserted that he was nobody to determine his fate as Minister. He is quoted to have observed that Mrs Sonia Gandhi was his “boss” and he was AICC’s nominee in Mr Abdullah’s Cabinet. According to him, they alone in New Delhi could ask him to continue or retain his berth. Asked what made him resign, Peerzada, according to agency, said that he had submitted his resignation to the Congress President over Chief Minister’s remarks and she would take her decision.

Peerzada has a track record of ignominy. Inspite of having functioned as J&K President of Youth Congress and Minister of State for Education in 1987-1990, later as J&K Pradesh Congress Committee chief and Minister of Rural Development Department, he was dogged by controversies one after another. His tenure as Minister RDD in Mufti Sayeed-led PDP-Congress coalition in 2002-2005, Peerzada faced serious charges of corruption in Panchayat Electrification Scam. In Ghulam Nabi Azad-led government later, he faced charges of accepting bribe from independent MLA Shoib Lone’s sister for recognition of her ETT school in Baramulla. He was indicted by State Accountability Commission but got the action stayed from High Court.

Azad forced Peerzada to resign both as JKPCC President and Minister of Education following pandemonium on the MLA’s charges against him and his wife. Later, he was yet again inducted as Minister of Education when Omar Abdullah formed NC-Congress government on January 5th, 2009.


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