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Friday, June 15, 2012

Khanday’s entry in J&K Bank’s BOD becomes albatross in Govt’s neck

Dispute thickens over Finance Secretary’s Due Diligence form

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jun 14: Absence of the state government’s Finance Secretary, Iqbal Khanday, in Board of Directors (BOD) of Jammu & Kashmir Bank Ltd (JKB), running through sixth month after his appointment, is fast turning into an embarrassment for the bureaucracy. It is now becoming clear that Chief Secretary, Madhav Lal, and then Commissioner-Secretary General Administration Department (GAD), Mohammad Sayeed Khan, had not properly advised Omar Abdullah’s cabinet on sensitive service matters before the senior IAS officer’s appointment as Principal Secretary Finance in December, 2011.

The Cabinet shifted Khanday from Department of Agriculture Production and appointed him administrative Secretary in Department of Finance in place of Mr Sudhanshu Pandey on December 16th last year.

By virtue of his appointment, Finance Secretary automatically becomes the state Government’s official representative and Director in JKB’s BOD. However, website of the bank that has 53.17% equity from Government of Jammu & Kashmir, has been continuously mentioning Pandey as a Director on Board, though he too has not been invited for any meeting. Since December last, Pandey has been functioning as administrative Secretary of Power Development Department.

Well-placed sources in the state bureaucracy revealed to Early Times that neither Chief Minister Omar Abdullah nor any other member of his Cabinet had been informed about certain technical aspects of Mr Khnaday’s new posting before the administrative reshuffle in December last.

“Finance Secretary does not automatically become a Director on Board. Under RBI guidelines, he is supposed to fill up Due Diligence form on his appointment as well as on or before March 31st every year following which the bank formally inducts him into BOD”, said a bureaucratic source. He revealed that Mr Khanday was not in a position to fill up and furnish such a document of declaration due to the ongoing proceedings against him in a criminal matter in a Chandigarh court. This, he said, was very much in the Government’s knowledge in December last.

At least one official in GAD insisted that Mr Khanday’s continued absence in JKB’s BOD was the result of “machinations” by certain elements in the bank as well as in the government. On condition of anonymity, he asserted that the formality of the Due Diligence form could be dispensed with and Mr Khanday could have been inducted into the BOD. According to him, Finance Secretary of the state government would automatically become “ex-officio Director” in the bank’s BOD and he was not bound by rules to furnish any declaration of integrity and being free of all legal encumbrances.

“That’s absolutely wrong” retorted a senior executive in JKB. “Filing of Due Diligence form and some other documents is part of RBI’s directives and the Ganguly Committee recommendations. Each and every nominee Director, including the Chairman and the RBI’s representative in BOD, is supposed to file the form at the time of induction as well as around March 31st every year. They are bound to declare that no criminal matter is pending against them in any court or Police Station”, he added. According to him, it was only RBI’s prerogative to dispense with this formality and claimed that neither the state government nor JKB had authority by rule to make any relaxation. He further claimed that all the Government’s nominee Directors and Finance Secretaries including Jaleel Ahmad Khan, Mohammad Shafi Pandit and Sudhanshu Pandey, had filed the Due Diligence form without default in the past.

Other sources in the bank said that the formality of filing the Due Diligence form was necessary as the RBI teams did every year scrutinize the antecedents of the Directors on Board of the bank before certifying ‘Fit and Proper Criteria’.

Chairman of the bank, Mushtaq Ahmad, was not available for comment as he was said to be attending an investors’ convention in United States of America. Secretary of Board, Abdul Majid Bhat, picked up the phone but dropped it repeatedly after learning that his comment was being sought with regard to Mr Khanday’s continued absence in the BOD meetings.

President incharge Board matters, Human Resource Development and Corporate Communications, Abdul Rauf Bhat, pleaded that he was not authorized to speak on the subject. “This is a sensitive and far higher matte, definitely beyond my competence and jurisdiction”, he said on phone. He, however, confirmed that certain documents were “still awaited from Finance Department, though the bank has long back sent its welcome letter to the new Finance Secretary and desired fulfillment of certain formalities”.

Sources insisted that the bank would proceed with its agenda of holding Annual General Meeting (AGM) of all the shareholders, tentatively on July 14th next, at SKICC with or without Mr Khanday’s induction into BOD. Two of the seniormost Directors, namely Mohammad Ibrahim Shahdad and Vikrant Kuthiala, are being eliminated under rules to pave way for appointment of the new incumbents. Government is competent to nominate two fresh non-official individuals for BOD and can also re-nominate one or both the outgoing Directors.

With existence of Chairman and seven Directors, including the RBI representative, in the BOD, four slots of Directors are currently vacant in the bank’s highest decision making body. The vacancies include that of the state government’s Finance Secretary. It was not clear until today whether the bank, in coordination with the government, was going to fill up all the four vacancies or was simply restricting the agenda to filling up the vacancies caused by Shahdad’s and Kuthiala’s elimination.

Previously, two Executive Directors, namely A K Mehta and Abdul Majid Mir, were also part of the bank’s BOD. While as Mehta retired on May 31, 2011, Mir reached superannuation on June 30, 2011.  However, their replacement too has not come in the last over one year.

In the topmost executive level, bank has currently three Executive Presidents, namely Tafazal Hussain (36 years of service), Sahibzada Ghulam Mohiuddin (37 years of service) and Parvez Ahmad Nengroo (14 years of service). None of them has been elevated to the rank of Executive Director.

Out of 16 Presidents, three (Madan Lal Gupta, Abdul Rashid and Mohammad Afzal Khan) have retired recently and these slots are also lying vacant.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Prof Gani retracts his remarks on UN resolutions

‘I never said resolutions are obsolete, irrelevant. I have the tape’

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jun 13: Having fallen in the eye of a storm in the Valley’s separatist camp over his controversial remarks regarding the Kashmir problem’s solution, senior Hurriyat leader Prof Abdul Gani Bhat has finally claimed that he had never dismissed the UN resolutions on Jammu & Kashmir as obsolete or irrelevant.

Even as the former Chairman of Hurriyat Conference did not release his personal clarification to the Press---either from his home or from his headquarters of Muslim Conference---a spokesman of the separatist amalgam claimed in a statement today that Prof Bhat had submitted his clarification. The Hurriyat spokesman said that, in his written as well as verbal clarification, Prof Bhat had denied having made a negative remark on the UN resolutions of 1948 and 1949.

According to the spokesman, Prof Bhat had made it clear in his explanation that he had neither dismissed the UN resolutions as obsolete nor irrelevant or impracticable. Bhat, he said, had only said at the public meeting in Sopore that the UN resolutions were the “legal basis of the Kashmir dispute” which, sadly, had not been implemented in the last over six decades. Prof Bhat, according to the spokesman, felt pained that the phrases like ‘impracticable, irrelevant, obsolete and not viable’ had been attributed to him unfairly by media. He regretted that these had hurt his colleagues and followers in the separatist camp.

Prof Bhat, according to the Hurriyat spokesman, was speaking at the Executive Committee meeting of the Hurriyat at the amalgam’s headquarters at Rajbagh today.

According to reports carried invariably by Srinagar-based newspapers, Prof Bhat had addressed a public meeting at his hometown, Botengo, on Sopore-Bandipore Road on May 6th and dismissed the UN resolutions on Kashmir as obsolete, impracticable, irrelevant and not viable. He, according to reports, had asserted that the UN resolutions had never been implemented in the last 60 years nor would these be ever implemented in future in the process of finding a solution to the Kashmir dispute.

Prof Bhat’s purported clarification today came in the wake of deepening fissures in Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s faction of the Hurriyat. Immediately after Prof Bhat’s speech of May 6th appeared in local newspapers, a number of hardliners in the so-called moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference took umbrage over the “controversial remarks”. In their statements, separatist leaders like Shabir Shah, Nayeem Khan and Zaffar Akbar Bhat asserted that Prof Gani’s remarks were in “brazen violation” of the Hurriyat constitution. They demanded an inquiry and action, including expulsion from Hurriyat, against Prof Bhat. On two occasions, followers of different Hurriyat leaders came to blows at the amalgam headquarters as they shouted slogans and counter-slogans against each other.

Hurriyat Chairman, Mirwaiz Umar later instituted an inquiry. With today’s “clarification”, speculations of another split in the conglomerate have been set at rest, though a formal reaction from the rebellious group is still awaited.

In fact, making controversial statements and subsequently retracting them has been characteristic of a number of prominent separatist leaders in Kashmir. Significantly, Prof Bhat’s “clarification” has come after five weeks of his sustained silence vis-à-vis the no-holds-barred that remained underway over the purported statement made on May 6th. On no point of time did Prof Gani clarify, in the last over five weeks, that he had not “uttered a single word” against the UN resolutions.

Previously, Mirwaiz himself had withdrawn his remarks against the Jihadi militants days after these were published by Time magazine, nearly a decade ago. One of America’s most credible newspaper journalists and currently Africa Bureau Chief of the New York-based magazine, Alex Perry had taken and published the interview with Mirwaiz. It was at his weekly Friday sermon at Jamia Masjid in Srinagar that Mirwaiz denied having made any critical reference to the Jihadi militants. He claimed that he had actually held the counter-insurgent Ikhwanis responsible for swindling the Kashmir freedom funds---an explanation not swallowed by many in Srinagar.

Yet another separatist leader, who is now in mainstream electoral politics, had withdrawn his remarks against ISI months after he had held the Pakistani intelligence agency responsible for his father’s assassination. He later clarified that his outburst before television cameras was “impulsive, not real”.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Geelani’s reminder of 2010 turmoil evokes mixed response

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jun 11: Radical separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s call for shutdown on occasion of the second death anniversary of a teenager, allegedly killed in Police firing, evoked mixed response in Kashmir today. Commercial traffic remained partially off the road and shops remained shut in several areas of this capital city as the Hurriyat (G) chief sought to remind the Kashmiris beginning of a three-month-long summer agitation that consumer over a hundred civilian lives in 2010.

Even as none of the government offices or banks was seen shuttered, attendance was moderate and most of the business establishments remained closed in the Civil Lines. Downtown interior too wore a deserted look. Reports of a partial bandh also poured in from other district headquarters and a couple of major towns in the Valley.

Nevertheless, minibuses, busy in transportation of commuters, were in operation not only in the capital city but also in several rural townships and district headquarters. Some of the towns like Sopore remained shut over Geelani’s call but others, like Handwara, had no significant impact of the shutdown. Reports said that shops and business establishments functioned as usual in parts of Srinagar besides most of the rural Kashmir townships. Banks, government and private offices as well as public and private educational institutions operated without paying heed to the call for shutdown.

Geelani had called upon the Kashmiris to observe “total shutdown” in remembrance of teenager Tufail Matoo of Sayeedakadal locality who was the first to fall to Police teargas shelling in 2010. In the following three months, over a hundred civilian demonstrators and stone pelters had died in the middle of 2010 in violent clashes with Police and paramilitary forces. Deaths on the streets finally came to end when as many as eighteen demonstrators died in Police and CRPF firing at several places, and a constable was lynched, during massive protest demonstrations against an incident of sacrilege of holy Quran by a pastor in America on September 13th.

In sharp contrast to the street turmoil in 2008, 2009 and 2010, the Valley of Kashmir is currently witnessing the best of the peace and an overflowing tourist season---first time after the halcyon days of 1988. According to officials as well as the thousands of people associated with the business of tourism and hospitality, all the hotels, guesthouses and houseboats are currently packed to capacity in Srinagar as well as other tourist resorts like Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonamarg.

In addition to hundreds of luxury coaches and taxis, minimum of 20 flights from New Delhi and other cities carry passengers, mostly tourists, every day. Consequently, the air travel in Delhi-Srinagar sector has become as expensive as that of Delhi-Dubai and Delhi-Singapore because all the airlines have hiked their rates substantially. First time in history, one way tickets in Delhi-Srinagar sector have sold in the incredible range of Rs 15,000- Rs 22,000.

Year 2011 too ended up with a record of tourists and pilgrims. Authorities, however, insist that the current year would comfortably break all previous records of the tourist influx in Kashmir.

On the other hand, Valley’s separatist leadership, that dominated the political space fully for three previous years but has been rendered irrelevant since October 2010, has been trying all of its methods to create an atmosphere of the year 2008 and 2010. Today’s call for shutdown was obviously an attempt to remind the Kashmiris scores of deaths on the streets.

Reports said that neighbours and relatives of the Matoo family participated in the remembrance ceremony with recitation of verses from holy Quran. However, none of the key separatist leaders was in attendance. Separatist circles maintained that most of the Hurriyat bigwigs were not permitted to move out of their residence by Police.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Information Department in FF mode after Reenzu’s exit

District Judge described as ‘Justice’, CM’s praise on Khoda released over one hour before his dinner speech at Taj

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jun 10: Those in Omar Abdullah’s government, who had grown skeptical with regard to running of the all-important Department of Information on Farooq Reenzu’s attachment and subsequent adjustment in Srinagar Development Authority (SDA) last month, have been proved wrong. Although, the department under the stewardship of the new Director Zaffar Ahmad Bhat has been circulating certain ‘PR’ items in ‘Dak Edition’ ---days after a particular event---most of the public relations and image-building news items of the Government are actually provided to media in advance of an event. In Reenzu’s era, Department would erroneously describe a District & Sessions Judge as Sub Judge. In Zaffar’s era, District Judges are affectionately described as High Court Judges.

Exactly the day Mr Justice M M Kumar arrived in Srinagar, alongwith a number of family members and staff, to take oath as the new Chief Justice of Jammu & Kashmir, Directorate of Information circulated Press Note No: No: PR/DI/2012/919/tk/as/ to hundreds of its media customers. It was received by journalists on June 6th at 8:45 p.m. It repeatedly mentioned Principal District & Sessions Judge Srinagar, Kaneez Fatima, as “Justice” (a High Court Judge).

Para No: 1 of the press release reads: “SRINAGAR, JUNE 06: After inaugurating the Free Legal Aid Centre sponsored by District Legal Services Authority Centre in the premises of Central Jail, Srinagar, the Principal District and Session Judge, Srinagar and the Chairperson, District Legal Services Authority Srinagar, Justice Kaneez Fatima highlighted the main objective of establishing the Free Legal Aid Center in the Premises of Central Jail Srinagar”.

Para No: 4 of the same press release reads: “Justice Fatima asked the people to avail the services being provided by Legal Services Authorities with regard to settlement of various disputes, jail related matters, medical facilities and other vital issues. She said that three such free aid legal centres have already been established in Faqir Gujri, Dhara and New Theed and under the National Action Plan, more such centres will be established in the coming future in colleges and universities and villages  so that those people who are living from hand to mouth with the meager amount and are not financially sound would be benefitted by free legal services”.

Para No: 5 of it further reads: “Justice Fatima said that the inmates can utilize the services of the para-legal voluntaries to approach the retain lawyers for redressing their grievances within no time free of cost”.

Sources say that when members of the CJ-designate’s entourage read the news item carried without any correction by the local English dailies on June 7th, they began asking each other who this Justice Fatima was in J&K High Court. It was only the next day, at the swearing-in ceremony at SKICC on June 8th, that members of Bar and judiciary learned that the Department of Information had in fact addressed the lady judge incorrectly as ‘Justice’ in its press release.

On occasion of IGP Kashmir Shiv Murari Sahai’s ceremonial dinner in honour of the outgoing Director General of Police, Kuldeep Khoda, Directorate of Information was not only more loyal than the king but also in the Fast Forward mode in servicing the Chief Minister. As per the programme, the dinner function at Taj By Vivanta started at 8.00 pm. VVIPs, including Chief Minister and the chief guest Khoda, did not arrive in before 9.00 p.m.  Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand and a few others could not attend due to some urgency but were all shown present by Information Department at the high dinner.

Zaffar Ahmad’s more-than-alert Directorate of Information released the following press release No: PR/DI/12/773/ to mediapersons by email at exactly 7:49 p.m---around 100 minutes before the Chief Minister actually honoured Khoda and delivered a brief speech in his praise:-

“SRINAGAR, JUNE 01 – Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah participated in a dinner hosted last night in honour of former Director General of Police, Kuldeep Khoda who retired from service yesterday. Deputy Chief Minister, Tara Chand, Minister of State for Home, Nasir Aslam Wani, Advisors to the Chief Ministers, Devender Singh Rana and Mubarak Gul, Chief Secretary, Madhav Lal, Principle Secretary to Chief Minister, B. B. Vyes, In-charge Director General Police, K. Rajindera were present among others.

Speaking on the occasion the Chief Minister highlighted the outstanding and meritorious service rendered by Mr. Khoda in various capacities and as the head of the Jammu and Kashmir Police Force. He wished bright and prosperous life to Mr. Khoda”.

However, in sharp contrast to the CM’s speech, that was released to media 100 minutes before it was actually delivered, poor Deputy Commissioner of Kupwara, Sheikh Sarmad Hafeez, found his press release being delivered through ‘Dak Edition’ of the Department of Information. DC Kupwara reviewed the arrangements of the annual Urs at Muqaam-e-Shah Wali at Drugmulla on June 3rd and the Urs concluded on June 4th.

However, Directorate of Information released press note No: PR/K/2012/867/Sgr by email to media on June 5th at 6:28 p.m and same was carried by the newspapers on June 6th---two days after the Urs at Drugmulla had concluded. It reads:-

“KUPWARA, JUNE 05: The Deputy Commissioner, Kupwara, Mr. Sarmad Hafeez today visited the Shrine place of Zatishah Wali (RA) at Drugmulla and reviewed the arrangements for devotees who throng at the Shrine from nook and corner of the district in connection with Urs celebration commenced from today. The Deputy Commissioner Kupwara alongwith officers of different departments attended the religious function and interacted with the local Ziyarat Committee and enquired about the facilities are being provided to the devotees during the Urs days.  The devotees are attending the Urs proceedings while religious preachers threw light on the religious contribution of the Zatishah Wali (RA) during his lifetime”.