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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Civilian killed in shootout at Srinagar bypass hotel

LET calls it fidayeen attack on Army convoy; claims to have video footage

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

Srinagar, Oct 19: One civilian died and two others sustained injuries when a group of four heavily armed militants carried out a fidayeen-type strike on a three-star hotel on the National Highway Bypass in outskirts of this capital city today. Contrary to the Police claim that there was no military or paramilitary movement around the timing of the shootout, militant outfit Lashkar-e-Tayyiba claimed that four of its cadres conducted a suicidal attack on an Army convoy and returned to their hideout safely.

Hotel Silver Star, that belongs to a prominent businessman and the former Treasurer of J&K Cricket Association (JKCA), Gazanfar Ali Mir, and is situated on the highway bypass between Lasjan and Nowgam, became the scene of intensive AK-47 firing at 4.30 p.m. today. Police sources said that a group of three to four militants, carrying AK-47 rifles, trooped into the lounge of the 5-storeyed hotel building. Claiming to quote the hotel staff, these official sources said that the gunmen commandeered some workers and employees to first and second floor of the building.

When the hotel workers, according to Police sources, attempted to run away, the gunmen fired upon one of them and left him wounded. He died within minutes. Police sources identified him as Farooq Ahmad Bhat S/o Ghulam Nabi Bhat R/o Luryar, Tral. According to these sources, another hotel employee, namely Bilal Ahmad Lone S/o Abdur Rasheed Lone R/o Pukhripora Beerwah, Budgam, was fired upon after he was ordered to recite Kalima. With a gunshot wound in his hand, he is now under treatment at Bone & Joint Hospital Barzulla, in Srinagar.

These sources said that the third hotel employee was also targeted when he made an unsuccessful attempt to escape. He was critically hit in his abdomen and his intestines were visible from outside when he was evacuated and admitted to SKIMS Soura. He was identified as Anees Ahmad Wani S/o Habibullah Wani R/o Divar Anderbug, Lolab, Kupwara. Doctors at SKIMS maintained that he underwent a surgery and was responding to treatment. However, he was not declared out of danger till late tonight.

Inspector General of Police, Kashmir Zone, S.M. Sahai, told mediapersons on the spot this evening that it was not clear whether the attack was aimed at the hotel or a party of security forces on the nearby highway. “They must have been 3 to 4 militants and we have launched an operation to nab them”, the IGP said. According to him, the motive of the attack was not immediately clear. He said that Police reached the spot quickly and carried out an extensive search of all rooms and halls of the hotel. However, neither any militant nor any weapons or other belongings of the attackers were recovered.

A senior Police official revealed to this newspaper on the condition of anonymity that ‘Sajjad Group’ of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba had carried out the attack. Quoting ‘credible inputs’, he said that three to four militants carrying AK-47 rifles reached the hotel gate in a vehicle. As their vehicle sped away, they walked into the hotel and began issuing different directions to the staff. Minor resistance from some among the staff led to opening of firing by the militants.

Sajjad is a resident of Zewan village, not far away from Hotel Silver Star, and believed to be operating in Zewan, Khrew, Pampore, Kakkapora, Pulwama, Parigam, Newa and Nowgam villages.

JKCA too under scanner
The official said that Police were looking into different theories even as it, by no indications, appeared to be a fidayeen attack intended on Army or paramilitary forces. According to him, there was no military or paramilitary movement after 4.00 p.m. on the highway. It was also confirmed by Commanding Officer of a battalion of Rashtriya Rifles that had its ROP on the highway earlier today to ensure safe passage of the convoys.

According to the Police official, plans of the militants’ suicidal attack on a convoy were being examined though there was nothing substantive to indicate that the militants planned to carry out a fidayeen strike. He said that all other possibilities were being scanned. Significantly, owner of the hotel, Gazanfar Ali Mir, remained in news last year and earlier this year when he claimed on camera to NDTV that a prominent politician and top functionary of JKCA had barged into his hotel with his security guards and forced him to sign blank cheques of the association.

Sources said Police had information that Gazanfar owed an amount of Rs 1.50 Crore to another suspended functionary of JKCA, known as Mirza. He also owned an amount of Rs 2.75 Crore to one Ghulam Raza of Kargil. “However, it is difficult at this stage to suggest that the attack was essentially sequel to JKCA bickering or the hotel owner’s refusal to return money to his lenders”, said a Police official. He said that the picture would become clear within a week or so.

Neither Mr Gazanfar nor his son, Imran, who was reportedly present at the hotel at the time of the shootout this evening, could be reached for comment as their phones were continuously switched off.

Fidayeen on Army’
Contrary to the Police claims, chief spokesman of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Dr Abdullah Gazali, told Early Times through a VOIP-operated phone call this evening that four ‘fidayeen’ of his organisation had carried out the attack successfully. He claimed that all the four militants returned to their hideout safely after accomplishing their task.

Gaznavi claimed that the LeT militants attacked two fully occupied vehicles of a military convoy outside Hotel Silver Star. He said that a number of soldiers were believed to have died and several others injured in the attack. When it was pointed out to him that a civilian had died and two more sustained injuries inside the hotel, Gaznavi claimed that troops must have stormed the hotel after the militants escaped from the spot and the civilians must have died or got injured in that military action. He claimed that LeT had filmed the strike and it could release its video footage “very soon”.

However, Police and Army officials contradicted LeT claim strongly and claimed that there was no question of any casualty among the soldiers as they were not in movement or present in that area around the timing of the shootout.

Though routine militant firing has taken place several times in Srinagar since November last year and around half-a-dozen civilians and serving and retired Policemen have died in these hide-and-seek guerrilla attacks, last fidayeen attack in this capital city happened in January 6th, 2010. Two militants, a Police driver and a civilian died and the building of Punjab Hotel perished in the 24-hour-long gunbattle at the top business nerve centre of Lalchowk. Even particular suicide strike had also come after a long pause of three years in such kind of “made-for-TV” attacks.


Friday, October 19, 2012

CBI raids DDK, Shami’s room opened, tapes seized

Senior Mandi House officials involved in exploitation of female anchors, artists

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

Srinagar, Oct 18: Returning to Srinagar after a gap of several days, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) team today conducted a raid on Doordarshan Kendra (DDK) Srinagar and seized a quantity of tapes and documents from the sealed room of former Head of Programmes (HOP) and incharge Director of the station, Shami Shair.

Informed sources said that a six-member team from ACB Jammu walked into Srinagar station of DD in the forenoon and had a detailed interaction with senior officials including the incumbent Director, Qayoom Wadera. The CBI team had previously conducted its first raid on DDK Srinagar on September 21st. It had seized records pertaining to the Rs 64 Crore “approval scam” but failed to collect tapes and documents of a large number of serials and musical series claimed to have been produced by Mrs Shair.

In the second week of September, Mrs Shair had been removed from DDK Srinagar and attached to DD headquarters in New Delhi. She was replaced by incharge Director of DDK Leh, Qayoom Wadera.

DDP Qayoom Wadera was found to have occupied the main room that remained in possession of Mrs Shair as incharge Director DDK Srinagar from June 2011 to September 13th, 2012. No documents, tapes or other records were found or seized in that room. One particular room, occupied by Mrs Shair as Deputy Director Programme (DDP) and Producer of Programmes was found locked from outside on September 21st.

CBI reportedly came to know that Mrs Shair had given that particular room’s keys in unauthorized custody of a retired DDK official, Ghulam Nabi Dar, and a casually engaged woman, namely Shubeena. However, both reportedly denied any information about the keys. On that occasion, CBI had failed to trace Mrs Shair. Consequently, that particular room was additionally locked and sealed from outside.

Sources said that the CBI team today opened Mrs Shair’s room and seized a quantity of tapes. Reports awaiting confirmation said that a consignment of records was also seized by CBI today.

Mr Qayoom Wadera, confirmed to Early Times that the CBI team spent several hours of the day in collecting certain records and tapes from the station. He said that the team unsealed and unlocked Mrs Shair’s room and took a quantity of tapes into its custody. He further said that the officials made a detailed inventory of the seizures and a copy thereof was handed over to him.

Another official source said that the team would spend next three days with the investigation in Srinagar. He said that residences of some serving and retired officials of DDK Srinagar were likely to be searched, though many of them are said to have already removed evidences of their involvement.

CBI, according to sources, had reports that some of the accused, including some DDK Srinagar officials, female anchors and casual artists---particularly the payees of Mrs Shair’s programmes---had removed cash as well as gold in sizable quantities and given the same in custody of their friends, relatives and acquaintances. Raids on these premises are not ruled out this time around.

However, several of the DDK officials as well as private producers and artists associated with the station for long dismissed the CBI investigation as an “eyewash”. They said that Mrs Shair and her contacts had been given enough time to remove tapes and records on September 21 and none of the people openly handling her programmes was questioned. “What are these CBI guys going to seize after a gap of one month?” asked a private producer. He asserted that CBI and DD’s own Vigilance wing had already hushed up several scandals and given clean chit to the officials who had pocketed bribe money worth Crores of Rupees in the last four years.

Even the CBI officials, including a retired SP, are facing serious allegations of having traded complaints and inquiries for privileges, including money and programmes, with DDK Srinagar officials.

Claiming to be helping CBI in the investigation but wishing anonymity, a group of private producers claimed to possess evidence of senior Mani House officials’ involvement in multi-crore scandals.

“Everybody associated with DDK Srinagar and DD Kashir knows it well that some DDK Srinagar officials used to supply many things, including money and handicrafts, to some senior officials in Mandi House. They in turn provided them huge funds and kept them intact on their postings for years while ignoring all serious complaints and reports in media”, said a private producer. He claimed that a number of female anchors and casual artists and employees were exploited by the DDK Srinagar officers---from Srinagar to Delhi---only to safeguard their own posting in Srinagar and loot of the public exchequer with impunity.

Another Srinagar-based private producer pointed out that neither DD nor union Ministry of Home Affairs had initiated any action against a number of fake producers and government officials who had impersonated as genuine producers and grabbed high budget serials from the Government of India’s counter-propaganda package on 2010. A Delhi-based retired woman DDG, who has played key role in this fraud, has been surprisingly engaged as a ‘Consultant’ by MHA. The group of private producers asked as to why CBI had not seized any of these fake producers’ bank accounts, even after everybody from J&K to New Delhi was aware of the MHA-DD scandal.


Geelani to Govt: Stop work on Amarnath road or face stir after Eid

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

Srinagar, Oct 18: Calling it ‘fresh plan of laying Amarnath Nagar’, radical Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has asked Omar Abdullah-led coalition government to immediately stop work on the proposed road link to Amarnath shrine. He has threatened to launch a mass agitation after Eid-ul-Azha (Oct 26th) in case the establishment did not abandon construction of the road to the cave shrine 

While addressing a press conference at his Hyderpora residence, the 83 year old separatist leader warned the state government of serious consequences and threatened to launch a massive public campaign after the forthcoming Eid, if the construction was not abandoned in the ecologically fragile area.

"They are working on a very serious and dangerous plan to raise a state within a state, but they wont be allowed to do so," alleged Geelani, adding that the construction material had been brought in from Rajasthan in trucks which have been issued special permits and passes by Shrine Board and have been exempted from security checks at various entry points.

Geelani accused the state government of trying to remain in power by avoiding confrontation with the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), which manages the cave shrine and the annual Hindu pilgrimage in the state as also obeying the orders whatsoever from New Delhi.

“They don’t bother for the local interests and instead have surrendered before the will of New Delhi only to enjoy power," alleged Geelani.

Claiming that the SASB had become “a state within the state”, Geelani demanded immediate abolition of the shrine board. He said that the management of the annual Hindu pilgrimage should be handed over to the local Pandits, without any interference from any individual from outside the state. He also demanded that the pilgrimage should be limited to a fortnight instead of the present duration of two months.

Lashing out at the ruling National Conference, Geelani said that NC had always played with the sentiments of the people and had preferred power to the interests of the state and the people of Jammu and Kashmir. "It seems that State Government has surrendered before the Governor. Omar Abdullah himself had said that Governor is overstepping his jurisdiction, but on the next day after being called to Raj Bhawan, he laid his arms and bowed at Governors knees." alleged Geelani.

He said New Delhi was seeking Supreme Court’s help and the state government had not even bothered to engage a lawyer to defend the peoples’ case in the apex court after it had taken a suo motto cognizance of the death of 93 pilgrims a few months before during the annual pilgrimage.

Reiterating that during the September 2 press conference, he had warned government not to go ahead with the construction plan in the area, and the next day, various ministers of the state government publicly announced that there was no such direction from the Supreme court.

However Geelani alleged that the government was trying to keep the people in dark, therefore Hurriyat (G) had decided to conduct a secret survey in the area which revealed that the government had actually begun the construction work.

While showing the photographs of the construction site, Geelani warned that the government would have to face severe resistance if it did not stop the construction immediately. “We will launch an intensive public awareness campaign after Eid. Iff necessary, we will ask people to protest against the construction", cautioned the Hurriyat leader.

Pertinently the state witnessed massive protests in 2008, when Cabinet passed an order transferring forest land in compartment No: 63 Sindh Division to SASB. That agitation eventually led to fall of the Congress-PDP coalition government of Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. The order was later revoked with a settlement with the people of Jammu who continued a counter-agitation in support of the allotment.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

JKLF calls Geelani’s autobiography ‘distortion of facts’

‘Four MLAs’ entry into Assembly in 1987 was Geelani’s not MUF’s decision. Their resignation in 1989 was under pressure from militants and people, not the call from conscience’

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

Srinagar, Oct 16: Separatist hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s lately released autobiography ‘Wullar Kinaray” may trigger a fresh confrontation between Kashmir’s pro-Azadi and pro-Pakistan secessionists. Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), militia-turned-political organisation of the pioneer of 23-year-long guerrilla movement, Mohammad Yasin Malik, has immediately dismissed the book as “gross distortion of facts” and decided to confront the author with a ‘factual treatise’ to put the history in the ‘right perspective’.

With the 48-year-old Mr Malik recuperating from a surgery in New Delhi, JKLF today went public with its bitter reaction to the pro-Pakistan Hurriyat chief’s autobiography. In a statement, it claimed that the octogenarian politician-author had “distorted a many facts to malign his rivals and former colleagues even as some of them were not alive and thus in no position to defend themselves. According to JKLF, Geelani had done so to pursue “petty benefits”. 

JKLF said that the author had written “many fabricated things” about JKLF and Muslim United Front (MUF) as also against the icons of the “freedom struggle” like Sofi Mohammad Akbar, Abdul Gani Lone. It alleged that Geelani had not spared even the “peoples’ revolution” which, it claimed, had been initiated by JKLF in 1989.

“This fabrication and distortion of history needs immediate rectification so that the historical facts are safeguarded and put in its right perspective before the nation. This is a firm belief of JKLF that everyone has a right to write, propagate and perform his or her own ideology”, said the statement. “But, at the same time, if history is put to question, everyone has a right to defence”, it added.

“To rectify the distorted facts in the said book JKLF will soon come up with a booklet in this regard. The booklet will try to clear the doubts created by Wullar Kay Kinaray and put history as it is before the nation”, JKLF asserted.

Malik’s outfit has taken exception to Geelani’s decree that JKLF was a “secular, non-religious organisation”.

“JKLF is a caravan of firm believers in Allah and true lovers of Prophet Mohammad. So many people at times have tried to malign JKLF and its leaders by false propaganda and bundles of lies. JKLF and its members love and respect every deed of our beloved prophet but we don’t believe in claiming ourselves as the only righteous and devout Muslims and dismissing all others as bad ones. Almighty Allah alone could decree on it”, said the JKLF statement with a dig on Geelani and his fold.

“JKLF considers the issue of Jammu Kashmir as a political issue and our struggle is for every citizen of Jammu and Kashmir as we do not believe in discriminating people on the basis of their caste, religion, creed or color. JKLF has in the past remained silent in the larger interests of the Ummah and our nation but when our ‘well-wishers’ start to put these controversies in books, we have every right to defend ourselves and put the historical facts in right perspective”. It cautioned the writers and columnists publishing subjective reviews on Geelani’s book against rewriting the history for vested interests or ideology.

JKLF asserted that many of the serving and retired government employees had begun to write and publish reviews and commentaries only to extol the authors of their liking often without reading a book. Without mentioning a name, it wished the review writers to reach their conclusions only after reading the parallel facts and arguments and assessing the issues, events and personalities in totality.

Much significantly, JKLF indicated that Geelani and his bunch of relatives had influenced and imposed MUF’s policies and decisions in 1986-87. It announced that JKLF would soon come up with a publication that would make it clear whether the decision of the entry of MUF’s four MLAs in Assembly, in 1987, was contrary to the MUF’s decision. It suggested that Geelani had imposed his own writ plus that of his son-in-law Altaf Fantoosh and another relative, advocate Hissam-ud-din. It asserted that the rejoinder would also unravel other significant facts and make it clear whether the four MUF MLAs, including Geelani, had resigned in 1989 on the call of their conscience or under the pressure of militants and the people of Kashmir.

Within his trademark attacks on the Indian security forces, Police and the local counterinsurgents, Geelani has lashed out in the book on a particular breed of militants. Without directly holding JKLF responsible for accommodating such cadres in its ranks, Geelani has written that a number of people, including criminal elements and cinema ticket sellers, had picked up the gun only to pursue their menial goals and vested interests. According to him, such illiterate and uneducated people had no knowledge of Kashmir’s history and no concept of either the religion or the Azadi.

Geelani’s comments about the slain separatist leader and founder of Peoples Conference, Abdul Gani Lone, have also generated bitter reaction among the latter’s followers and successors, though none of them has still come out with a rejoinder in media.


House Committee to probe charge of land grabbing against Taj

Chairman Malhotra notices glaring contradictions in Revenue, Forest records

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

Srinagar, Oct 16: Taking serious cognizance of the National Panthers Party (NPP) member Rafeeq Shah’s accusation, Chairman of Legislative Council (LC) Amrit Malhotra has constituted a House Committee to investigate whether or not Minister of Irrigation and PHE, Taj Mohiuddin, had grabbed 14 Kanals of forest land in Sedhav area of Shopian in southern Kashmir.

Vide his Order No: PO/HCM/166/LC-2012 Dated: 16-10-2012, Chairman of LC today constituted a five-member House Committee (HC), asking it to complete the investigation and submit findings before commencement of the state Legislature’s Budgest session in February 2013.

While as PDP’s MLC, Murtaza Ahmad Khan, has been appointed as Chairman, National Conference’s Dr Bashir Ahmad Veeri and Khalid Najeeb Suharwardy and Congress party’s Bashir Ahmad Magray have been nominated as the HC’s members. NPP’s Syed Mohammad Rafiq Shah, who had leveled the allegation through a question, followed by a verbal statement on the floor of the House on October 11th, has also been associated with the HC as a member.

“Whether it is a fact that one sitting minister is in illegal possession of Forest land at village Sadvow in District Shopian; If yes, what steps the Government has taken to dispossess the sitting Minister from illegal possession?”, Shah had asked. Minister of Forest, Mian Altaf Ahmad, had said in reply: “As per the Revenue Authorities, no illegal possession of forest land by any sitting Hon’ble Minister has been established so far in the Sadev Forests. However, Forest Department has been directed to re-verify”.

It was in the wake of Shah’s verbal statement; followed by a 20-minute-long discussion on the subject, followed by Taj Mohiuddin’s suo moto “statement of facts and clarification”, that Chairman Malhotra had reserved his decision. His order on the matter came out today.

“Mr. Rafiq Shah contested the reply and submitted a number of documents in support of his version. He also read extracts from these documents on the floor of the House and levelled serious allegations against a sitting Minister demanding an inquiry into the matter by a House Committee. A vast majority of the members in the House also expressed serious concern and many of the Hon’ble Members unequivocally expressed that it being a serious issue needed my due consideration and an appropriate decision on the issue”, Mr Malhotra recorded in his order.

It added that Taj appeared in the House and strongly contested the allegations against him as baseless. “He also submitted before me a number of documents comprising communication of various Revenue and Forest officers and extracts from the revenue records. Later on, the Minister concerned came to my Chamber and explained his position and the documents he has submitted in the House to me”, Mr Malhotra recorded. He added that during his “careful perusal” of the records and documents submitted by the MLA and the Minister, he noticed several contradictions.

“A letter addressed to the Dy. SP (VOK) by Tehsildar Shopian vide his No. 868/OQ/SPN dated 28-2-2011 states that land falling under Survey No. 4/1 (10 kanals and 16 Marla) and 1162 (3 kanals) has been under illegal and unauthorized occupation of Sh. Taj Mohiuddin, a Minister of the present Government, since ‘prior’ to Kharief 1987. Annexed with this letter of the Tehsildar is a report of the Halqa Patwari and the Naib Tehsildar which is interestingly also dated 28-2-2011. These two documents reflect some patent contradictions and raise some serious questions…”, Mr Malhotra said.

“The report of the Tehsildar reveals that the inquiry conducted on the spot has come to the conclusion that Sh. Taj Mohiuddin has fenced the land in question 27 years ‘before’. The so called inquiry conducted by the Patwari and counter signed by the Naib Tehsildar mentions that it was confined to a so called statement of the Chowkidar whose name has not been recorded. The statements of the Lambardar or any neighbouring land owners have also not been recorded. It also does not reveal the name of the Patwari or how long he was posted in the said village. This so called inquiry appears to be an eyewash. The revenue record annexed with the report of the Tehsildar states that the Khasra Girdawari of the land in question from year 1987 to 2011 is enclosed, however, the enclosed documents reflect the position of the land in question only from 1994 onwards”, Mr Malhotra noticed.

He added: “The annexed record shows that land under Khasra No. 4 is under legal occupation of Sh. Taj Mohiuddin whereas land under Kh. no. 1162 was under his cultivation. There is no mention of his illegal occupation over land under Kh. No. 1162 which contradicts the report of Patwari, Naib Tehsildar and Tehsildar”.

Chairman of LC expressed serious doubts with regard of authenticity of the Revenue records shown to him: “Another document brought to my notice purported to be a notice of  DFO, Shopian raising certain question because both the number and date appear to have been changed. This letter is supposed to have certain other documents enclosed with it as mentioned in it at the left bottom but actually there is none. The aforesaid letter of the DFO shows that he had recieved some communication from the Assistant Commissioner dated 6-8-2007. The letter of DFO asserts that the land in question was forest land. This claim of the DFO appears to have been accepted because there is nothing on the record to show that the Tehsildar had disagreed with the claim and statement of DFO Shopian. Since the claim has not been contested or disproved, it prima facie indicates that the revenue record produced before me is not authentic”.

“There is yet another interesting fact brought before me as reflected from a document which had been purportedly addressed by Tehsildar Shopian to DC Pulwama. This letter which bears no number or date states that the land in question, as per Fard Partaal, has been recorded in the name of Sh. Taj Mohiuddin from the year 1983 (Kharief). It is strange that in one of the documents mentioned herein above the Tehsildar claims that entire revenue record pertaining to land in question prior to 1987 was gutted in the fire, if that is true as claimed, then how is the record pertaining to the said land of the year 1983 Kharief available”, Mr Malhotra has noticed.

“The issue in hand has raised a controversy inside and outside the House and there is a strong prima facie case that warrants a thorough and detailed investigation by a Committee of this House. In the contemporary political environment failure to constitute a Committee to investigate the matter and establish the facts will be interpreted as an attempt on my part to cover up and shield those whose probity has been challenged. It is imperative that Caesar’s wife should not (only) be chaste but she should appear to be chaste”, Mr Malhotra has observed, philosophically.

According to him, all concerned, including the MLC, Minister and officers of Revenue and Forest Departments needed to be given an opportunity to prove their versions thorough an impartial investigation. Second time MLA from Uri and a Minister since 2002, Taj Mohiuddin as well as the first time MLC and Chairman of LC, Amrit Malhotra, belong to Congress.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cabinet defers BDC elections as Cong puts its act together

Hyper on 73rd amendment, Omar made to bend before Delhi

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Oct 15: After breaking his egoism over AFSPA exactly these days of October last year, coalition partner, Congress, has finally succeeded in bending Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on inclusion of the provisions of 73rd amendment to the Constitution of India in the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act. After his returning to Srinagar this evening, Cabinet decided to defer entire exercise of elections to the already announced Block Development Councils (BDCs) in Jammu and Kashmir---making it clear that the process would be held only after adoption of the provisions by way of an Ordinance.

Following his series of meetings and interaction with senior Congress leaders, including some union Ministers, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah held an unscheduled meeting with the members of his Cabinet at 1830 hours this evening. Sources said that all but three Ministers---R.S. Chib, Raman Bhalla and Mian Altaf Ahmad---participated in the meeting which was presided over by Chief Minister and had just one agenda of deferment of BDC elections.

Senior Congress leader and Minister for Irrigation, Flood Control and PHE, Taj Mohiuddin, who attended the meeting, confirmed to Early Times that Cabinet had decided to defer the BDC elections indefinitely. While the autumn session of Legislature was underway last fortnight, Government had announced to hold Phase-II of the Panchayati Raj elections for creation of BDCs in all community blocks of the state on November 7th. Subsequently, Chief Electoral Officer had issued a notification and aspiring contestants had begun to collect and file the nomination forms. October 17th had been notified as the last day for filing of nominations.

Elections of Phase-I for electing Panchs and Sarpanchs (nearly 33,000) for all Panchayats in the state had been held in March and April 2011---first time in the last 30 years. These elected members were now supposed to elect members for BDCs. With today’s Cabinet decision, entire process will get stalled and deferred. It is expected to start afresh as BDCs and DDCs are expected to be constituted before commencement of the state Legislature’s Budget session in February 2013.

Mr Taj Mohiuddin said that in accordance to today’s Cabinet decision, Government would issue an Ordinance with regard to deferment of BDC elections through Governor on Tuesday. Chief Electoral Officer, who is by law authority to conduct the elections for Panchayati Raj institutions in J&K, had last week issued notification with regard to schedule of the elections and appointment of Returning Officers and other staff for each constituency.

SC, ST reservation
Mr Taj Mohiuddin said that Cabinet approved the draft of another Ordinance incorporating all the key provisions of the 73rd amendment to Constitution of India in the state’s own J&K Panchayati Raj Act. He made it clear that Government was not going to introduce or effect an amendment to J&K Constitutions but would, instead, incorporate all the significant features of the 73rd amendment in the state’s own law on Panchayati Raj institutions.

Contrary to the NC-headed Government’s plans of nominating men and women of its own choice for certain important positions in BDCs and District Development Councils (DDCs), there would be no nominations now. This, significantly, means termination of different Ministers as heads of the existing District Development Boards. By virtue of the new Ordinance, all members and functionaries of DDCs, including Chairman and Vice Chairman, would be now elected by an electoral college comprising elected representatives from each community block.

Reservation of 33% of seats in each Panchayat Halqa for women, besides 10% for Scheduled Tribes (STs) and 8% for Scheduled Castes (SCs), had already been provided at the primary Panchayat level. Wards in each Halqa had been accordingly reserved and large number of women candidates elected. However, reservation for STs and SCs had not been implemented at this level in the elections last year.

Mr Taj Mohiuddin made it clear that by virtue of today’s Cabinet decision, all the three reservations would now be implemented in BDC and DDC elections. While as the Panchayat Halqas for women would be notified after draw of lots, Halqas for STs and SCs would be declared as ‘reserved’ in constituencies having not less than 33% of the population STs/ SCs. Minister said that it was a major demand of Congress and some other parties.

Constituting an Election Commission, specifically for the purpose of conducting elections for Panchayati Raj institutions, would be another key feature of the new Ordinance. In the Phase-I elections last year, Government had temporarily given these powers to the state’s existing Chief Electoral Officer, who is primarily responsible for conducting elections for Legislative Assembly, Legislative Council, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.

Mr Taj Mohiuddin said that constituting a full-fledged State Finance Commission, with appointments of its head, members and other staff, would be yet another key feature of the new Ordinance. He said that the funds reserved for Panchayati Raj institutions would now formally and regularly flow through this agency that would function independent of all lateral controls of the Government functionaries.

Late tonight Government issued a press release to confirm that the BDC elections were being cancelled. It claimed that the new development was sequel to recommendations of a ‘Core Group’ of Ministers.

“Taking cognizance of divergent views on the issue, Chief Minister constituted a core group of the alliance partners (National Conference– Congress) comprising of Minister for Finance Abdul Rahim Rather, Minister for Rural Development Ali Mohammad Sagar, Minister for Forests Mian Altaf Ahmad, Minister for Industries Surjeet Singh Slathia and Political Advisor to the Chief Minister Devender Singh Rana from National Conference and Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand, Minister for Health Sham Lal Sharma, MLA G.A. Mir, MLC Ravinder Sharma, MLC Bashir Ahmad Magrey from Congress to study and evaluate these views and suggest a pragmatic and workable roadmap”, said the press release.

It added: “The core group held series of meetings and consultations in the last one week to consider the various opinions that have emanated in the past couple of months. The core group made certain recommendations which were considered in a High level meeting chaired by the Chief Minister on Sunday, the 14th October and attended by President J&K Pradesh Congress Committee Prof. Saif-ud-Din Soz alongwith other members from National Conference and Congress wherein a decision was taken that the state cabinet should be apprised of the recommendations made by this core group for a suitable decision in the matter”.

“The state cabinet which met here today after due diligence and thoroughly studying the recommendations of the core group and after considering the opinion of different people, decided that to strengthen the resolve of the government for a robust Panchayati Raj system, certain changes have to be incorporated in the J&K Panchayati Raj Act, thereby creating a steel-frame of democracy at the grass root level. In order to bring these changes in a transparent manner after due diligence and deliberations with all the stake holders, the cabinet here today decided to bring an ordinance for cancellation of General Elections of Chairman of Block Development Councils”, it added further.

Turning Point
Well-placed political sources insisted that the decision of cancellation of elections for BDCs and holding the same only after incorporation of the 73rd amendment provisions was the result of sustained political pressure from New Delhi on the Chief Minister and National Conference. Chief Minister had repeatedly pooh-poohed the demand from Congress---as also from BJP and National Panthers Party---and silenced the Opposition on the floor of the Assembly last week. In Assembly, and previously in conversations with media, Mr Omar Abdullah had taken a tough stand on the issue and asserted publicly that the 73rd amendment would in no circumstances be implemented in J&K, which had its own Constitution.

However, the turning point came on the day of AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi’s visit to the state on October 4th and 5th. Rahul is believed to have made it clear on Chief Minister that the provisions would have to be adopted before proceeding with BDC and DDC elections. Later, union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde too is believed to have made it clear on Mr Omar Abdullah. It was because of this development that union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad looked too confidant in his assertion on the subject in Jammu yesterday.