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Sunday, November 22, 2015

From Legislature to High Court, officials dole out lies on Dal conservation

Not a penny released to LAWDA till Nov 18 when Rs 15 cr was authorised under pressure of High Court

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz & Samaan Lateef
SRINAGAR, Nov 21: Contrary to the claims made by bureaucrats and officers of the State Finance Department (FD) and Housing & Urban Development Department (HUDD) before Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Council (LC) and Jammu and Kashmir High Court (HC), Government has not released even a penny either for conservation of the world-famous Dal Lake or for operation and maintenance of the Sewage Treatment Plants in the current financial year till November 18 when authorisation of a Rs 15 crore central fund was issued under pressure of the High Court.

Pulling up the officials on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, a Division Bench of HC, comprising Mr Justice Hasnain Massodi and Mr Justice Ali Mohammad Mir, has directed Commissioner-Secretary HUDD Bipul Pathak and Commissioner-Secretary FD Naveen Choudhary to cause their personal appearance on next Thursday and explain why the Government had failed to provide necessary funds to LAWDA for the lake’s conservation and maintenance and operation of STPs.

The DB’s order came in the wake of the conflicting claims of different Government functionaries---some claiming that the money had been provided on time as usual and others insisting that nothing had reached the LAWDA.

In a significant development, STATE TIMES learned from well-placed sources that even on October 21, 2015, Secretary HUDD Bipul Pathak claimed in a meeting of the LC’s Public Assurances Committee, headed by Chairperson Dr Shehnaz Ganai, that he had released an amount of Rs 16 crore to LAWDA “only yesterday”. All the senior officials and bureaucrats of HUD attended the meeting in which Vice Chairman LAWDA Sarmad Hafeez, then on election duty in Bihar, was represented by incharge VC and Commissioner of Srinagar Municipal Corporation Showkat Ahmad Zargar.

The Committee was deliberating on Deputy Chief Minister and Minister of HUDD Dr Nirmal Singh’s assurance regarding Dal conservation to the Congress MLC Ghulam Nabi Monga.

“Fact of the matter is that the senior officials are doling out lies. We have not received even a penny till November 18 when Joint Director (Resources) in FD issued sanction to advance drawal of Rs 15 crore that had been released by Ministry of Environment and Forest of Government of India in July”, an official source revealed. On November 18th, Mr Pathak has forwarded the communication under No: FD/Res/CSS/NLCP/33/2015-16/513 to Director General Accounts & treasuries.

However, sources made it clear, this particular amount could in no way be utilised for maintenance and operation of STPs which have been shut down as LAWDA has failed to clear liabilities on account of fuel since April this year. “After a great difficulty, some LAWDA officials have motivated a petrol pump owner to continue fuel supplies for some days”.

VC LAWDA Sarmad Hafeez refused to comment or share any information. However, sources in HUDD said that all the Government departments had been authorised to spend 75% of the last financial year’s plan outlay in absence of the release of plan funds. “We fail to understand why HUDD has not received such authorisation and why no funds have been spent out of the annual State Plan in the last 8 months of the current financial year”, said an officer.

Now that High Court has pulled up the officials, it has become clear that the State Plan authorisation has been pending wither with Secretaries or Ministers of Finance or HUDD. It has also become clear that even the National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP) kitty of Rs 15 crore has remained wrapped either in FD or in HUDD since July this year”, another well-placed officer said.

Union Ministry of Environment had not released any funds out of NLCP in the last two years. An amount of Rs 298.75 crore had been sanctioned for conservation of Dal Lake in 2005. Earlier this year, LAWDA officials pointed out that an amount of Rs 40 crore had been withheld by the Centre though all utilisation certificates had been furnished. They pleaded that the Dal Lake conservation should not be held hostage to non-availability of the UCs of ERA or other wings of HUDD. Thereafter, Union Ministry of Environment released Rs 15 crore and assured that the final instalment of Rs 40 crore would land upon receiving UC of the Rs 15 crore. However, nothing of it reached LAWDA.

Pathak and Choudhary besides Director Planning S.S. Jamwal will explain their respective positives before DB on Thursday. On last Thursday and today, DB did not entertain Additional Advocate General’s claim that funds had been provided to LAWDA. The LAWDA officials contested AAG’s claim, claiming that the funds he was referring to had been released on March 31, 2015, to meet the liabilities of the last financial year.

“It is necessary to direct presence of Commissioner Secretaries of Finance Department and HUDD, as information regarding sanction or flow of funds to LAWDA and inputs on other aspects of the matter are necessary for passing appropriate directions in the matter. We direct their personal appearance on November 26, at 2:00 pm,” court said.

The centre government through its Assistant Solicitor General Showkat Ahmad Makroo said Rs 15 crore out of Rs 40 crore were provided to State government in July 2015 as part of Rs 298.75 NLCP for conservation of the Dal Lake.

Court also directed the State government officials to explain the reasons for delay in release of Rs 15 crore. Besides, they have been asked to explain ways and means to accelerate flow of funds to complete projects likes Rakh-e-Arth housing colony for Dal dwellers, within reasonable time as suspension of the rehabilitation with no plausible reason had severely affected the conservation plan of Dal Lake.

Court also desired Director General of Police take a decision before Nov 26 on installation of CCTVs to monitor the construction works and transportation of building material within and around Dal Lake. It also directed the Inspector General of Police Kashmir to make nakas functional to monitor the transportation of building material for Dal Lake.

On attachment of six lower rung officials for allowing the illegal constructions within prohibited area of Dal Lake earlier this week, the Court rapped the Vigilance Organization Kashmir for “mixing up” the allegations on officers facilitating illegal construction with allegations of accumulation of disproportionate assets by officers. High Court directed the VOK to constitute a separate team of officers to look into the allegations of disproportionate assets and file the compliance report.


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