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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Baig tipped to be inducted in Modi's Cabinet "within April"

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

Jammu, March 31: Peoples Democratic Party's Lok Sabha member from North Kashmir and former Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig is tipped to be inducted in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Cabinet in the BJP-led NDA government at the  Centre, later this month.

Well placed political sources disclosed to Early Times on Tuesday that Mr Baig would be sworn in as a Cabinet Minister in the Modi government any time before the start of second half of the Budget Session scheduled on April 20. In the second Cabinet reshuffle within his first year in office, Modi would drop some non-performers and pick up some new faces, a few from the NDA allies like Shiv Sena and PDP.

The upcoming session is set to be crucial as the government has to take up the Land Acquisition Bill in the Rajya Sabha that faced stiff opposition in the first half of the Budget Session.

The expansion and reshuffle exercise of the Cabinet will take place after the two day national executive meeting of the BJP, starting on April 3 in Bengaluru. The party's national executive was recently reconstituted and many prominent names, including Union ministers Smriti Irani, Najma Heptulla, actress-turned-politician Hema Malini and others were replaced by new faces.

The BJP has already sealed the deal for power sharing with PDP in Jammu and Kashmir where a coalition of the two parties, headed by Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed, assumed office on March 1st. Sources said that induction of a PDP representative in the Union Cabinet was part of Mufti’s deal with the BJP.

The PDP patron and Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had, according to the sources, initially proposed the name of the party President and the Lok Sabha member from South Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti---also his daughter---but it was withdrawn when some BJP leaders opined that it would not send "right signals" within the coalition which had aggressively targeted Farooq Abdullah's "dynastic set up" in J&K. BJP also made clear to Mufti that any party’s President could not be inducted as a Minister as per NDA’s one-man-one-post rule.

Mufti, according to sources, later reconciled to the change after an influential lobby in the BJP put weight behind Mr Baig. However, two of the senior PDP leaders insisted that Ms Mufti was not a contender for a Ministerial position in the NDA government from the beginning.

Reportedly uncomfortable with his migration to the Centre, Mr Baig had reportedly insisted to Mufti that he should be brought back to the State politics and inducted as a Minister in the Cabinet. He had even put in his papers when he was replaced by a junior PDP leader in the thick of PDP’s talks with BJP for the government formation in the wake of his statement in which he had described the issue of the Western Pakistani refugees, settled in Jammu, as a “humanitarian issue”.

PDP is holding all three of Kashmir valley seats in Lok Sabha in addition to two Rajya Sabha members. Former Minister Tariq Hamid Karra is the Lok Sabha member from Central Kashmir.

Union Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptulla, the senior-most member of Modi's council of ministers, who will turn 75 soon, is likely to be dropped from the Cabinet. It should also be noted that Modi had set up a cut-off age of 75 for ministers in his government. She is likely to be appointed as governor of a state.

MOS Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi is likely to get additional portfolio of Minority Affairs in the impending reshuffle.

Earlier, in his first expansion of the Cabinet in November 2014, Modi had inducted 21 new faces. The Cabinet as of now has 26 Union ministers, 13 ministers of state (MoS) with independent charge and 26 other MoS, apart from the PM.

NDA's Maharashtra ally Shiv Sena, which has been demanding more seats in the Union Cabinet, is likely to get a berth for its nominee Anil Desai, who was left out of the Cabinet in the last reshuffle and expansion. He is likely to be inducted as MOS with independent charge.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015


NC planning to bring judge in the dock in Yatra Bhawan demolition episode

PDP wants Dy CM Nirmal Singh to silence BJP’s Young Turks on ex-Minister’s indictment by Justice Gandhi Commission

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

Jammu, March 30: The ruling coalition partners in Jammu and Kashmir, Bharatiya Janata Party and Peoples Democratic Party, appear to be divided over political exploitation of Justice R.C. Gandhi’s indictment of the National Conference Member of Legislative Council and former Minister of State for Home Sajjad Ahmad Kichloo in the infamous Kishtwar communal riots of 2010.

Sensing the mood of its cadre in Kishtwar district, PDP is understood to have developed cold feet on raking up Kichloo’s indictment in the State Legislature. Some of the grass-root workers are said to have communicated to the PDP high command that many of the Muslim community people, who had been on the forefront to ensure Kichloo’s defeat in the Assembly elections last year, were not in favour of highlighting the communal riots of August 2013.

“They have voted against Kichloo and deposed against him before the Commission of Enquiry but they don’t want to fall on the wrong side of the fence in an issue of communal implication that would benefit none other than NC”, said a source.  

Highly placed political sources revealed to Authint Mail that PDP was trying to rope in senior BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh to ensure that his party’s MLAs do not agitate Kichloo’s indictment in the Assembly.

However, the BJP Young Turks led by Ravinder Raina, are understood to have conveyed to the party leadership that “the Sangh Parivar interests” could not be compromised for political considerations or for PDP’s advantage. “Too much of compromise has already been done”, said an insider. He insisted that BJP would aggressively demand action, including registration of FIR, against the NC leader and all the Police and civil officers censured by Justice Gandhi.

Judge in the dock?

On the other hand, both, NC as well as the censured Police officers, have begun working on a “protective mechanism”. Then IGP of Jammu Rajesh Kumar, then DIG of Doda Ashkoor Wani and then SP of Kishtwar Sunil Kumar, have been reportedly indicted for their role during the riots. The report has been submitted to General Administration Department which, in turn, would present it to the Cabinet for consideration later this week.

According to some reports, a senior IPS officer has told his colleagues that he would question the Commission’s credibility while exposing an incident in which he had been requested to “recover an amount of Rs 15 crore from some people who had grabbed the money from the judge”. “Had I exerted pressure on those people and forced them to return the money, I wouldn’t have been held guilty of anything”, the IPS officer is said to have told his colleagues.

Sources disclosed that NC too has started a tirade to bring into question Justice Gandhi’s integrity inspite of the fact that none other than the party’s acting President and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had selected him for the inquiry. In the last two days, NC leaders have repeatedly pointed out that Justice Gandhi had given clean chit to Kichloo in his interim report during the NC-Congress regime but held him guilty in the final report submitted during the BJP-PDP rule.

According to these sources, a team of NC’s loyalist lawyers, which includes a former Advocate General and a senior Supreme Court of India advocate, has taken out an old case to dispute the retired judge’s credibility. It was over a decade ago that a Division Bench of J&K High Court, headed by then acting Chief Justice V.K. Jhanji, had passed severe strictures against a fellow High Court judge Justice Gandhi---albeit withholding his name---reversed his order given in favour of a hotelier and got the building of Yatra Bhawan hotel at Indira Chowk demolished.

The four-storey hotel complex was razed to rubble after Supreme Court of India upheld the High Court DB judgment. Justice Jhanji had proceeded on anonymous complaints and turned them into a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) when it was brought to his notice that Justice Gandhi had heard a matter between Jammu Municipal Corporation and the hotel owner Munshi Ram Gandhi despite being marginal witness as a lawyer in the same hotel’s sale deed years back.

In the dispute over violation of the building permission between JMC and the hotel owner, Justice Gandhi had dismissed JMC’s objections and permitted Munshi Ram to go ahead with the construction.

Justice Jhanji got the dismissed petition revived and his DB heard the matter afresh before ordering the hotel’s demolition. Being the first of its kind in Jammu, the demolition was telecast live by Star News and other television channels. Thereafter, Justice Gandhi was transferred to Rajasthan High Court.


Opposition embarrasses PDP-BJP government over power projects resolution in J&K Legislature

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz


JAMMU, March 30: In a major embarrassment for the ruling PDP-BJP coalition, the opposition NC-Congress on Monday got a resolution over return of the Central power projects passed in the Upper House of the Legislature in the Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir State.

Interestingly, the principal ruling outfit PDP opposed the resolution but failed to stop it from passage as many of the coalition members were absent at the time of voting---betraying a poor floor management.

Days after the House witnessed uproar over the Centre's refusal to hand over Uri and Dul Hasti power projects to J&K, the NC member Qaiser Jamsheed Lone’s resolution read: “This House resolves that all the power projects be returned by NHPC to state government". Minister for Rural Development, Abdul Haq Khan, who was replying on behalf of Minister for Power, opposed the resolution, saying that government was already seized of the matter.

“There is no need to move a resolution since the state government has already approached the Centre for transfer of power projects,” Mr Khan said. Leader of the House and Education Minister Naeem Akhter advised the opposition not to press for the resolution. He recalled how a resolution on 'Greater Autonomy' passed unanimously by both Houses of the State Legislature during National Conference rule in 2000 had been “thrown into a dustbin” by the NDA Government of Prime Minister Vajpayee.

Contending that it had “lowered the prestige of the Assembly”, he said, "Please do not repeat that mistake again by passing a resolution and lowering the prestige of the House."  Amid verbal exchanges and noisy scenes, the resolution was put to vote and passed as opposition members were more in strength and there were just 10 members on the Treasury Benches.

Mr Khan earlier asserted that the Mufti government would actively pursue transfer of the power projects from NHPC. “The budget also provides for funds for meeting the operation and maintenance cost of such power projects to be transferred from NHPC”, Mr Khan said.

“It was NC which sold these power projects without even thinking about the interest of people of J&K. Who was in the government for past so many years in the state? Who gave away these projects to NHPC without even entering into MoU?", Mr Khan asked. “How can you take back projects which you have legally given to the NHPC. We are nevertheless trying to negotiate with them to bring back the power projects that you have ceded to the Centre”.

Taking a dig at the government, Mr Lone said: "On one side, they are claiming that they will bring back the power projects from NHPC to state but on the other hand, the central government has replied to a question of PDP MP Tariq Hamid Qarra (in Parliament) that these cannot be transferred in view of legal and financial problems”.

It is for the first time that the Opposition despite being in minority succeeded to get its resolution passed in the Legislature. Now the State government would have to ask the Centre to return the NHPC power projects to Jammu and Kashmir. Significantly, the BJP is running the government at the Centre as well as in the State.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Panic grips Kashmir as Jhelum flows close to danger mark

Divisional Commissioner describes situation ‘not very alarming’

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
Jammu, March 29: Kashmir Divisional Commissioner Gazanfar Hussain described the situation “not very alarming’ even as incessant rains forced the authorities to put the official machinery on high alert and the river Jhelum was flowing close to the danger mark around midnight on Sunday.

Srinagar Deputy Commissioner Farooq Ahmad Lone told this writer over telephone that the water level was 16.50 ft at 11.00 p.m. He said that flood would be declared if it crossed 18.00 ft while as the danger mark was at 23.00 ft. He said that the water level had been gauged as 19.70 ft as against the flood mark of 21.00 ft at Sangham in Anantnag district at 11.00 p.m.

“We have advised physically weak and infirm people to shift to the safer places as a precautionary measure. We have also equipped all Police Stations with vehicles and rescue and evacuation equipment and entire essential service staff is on round-the-clock duty”, Mr Lone said. He added that two relief camps were being set up at Sir Syed Convention Complex Sanat Nagar and EDI Complex Sempora in the capital city outskirts. “As of now, there are no reports of any breach of embankments. We just sent some Police teams on a thorough inspection of the river banks in Rajbabgh and Jawahar Nagar areas. They reported that the embankments were sound at all the vulnerable spots”, Mr Lone said.

Divisional Commissioner Gazanfar Hussain added:“We have set up special control rooms and all the concerned officials are on duty. We are reviewing the situation on hourly basis. So far the situation is not extremely alarming. In September, Jhelum had flown over 30 ft with 1,20,000 cusecs at Ram Munshi Bagh. We are far below that mark and we need not panic”. He said that the authorities were fully prepared to fight the natural disaster and all necessary arrangements had been put in place.

Reports from South Kashmir said that the situation was grim in several areas of Pulwama and Anantnag district. However, the rainfall turning into snowfall in Kulgam and Anantnag districts late this evening brought a bit of relief even as it could badly affect horticulture and agriculture.


 With the continuous rainfall for 24 hours tonight, water level in Jhelum was inching close to the flood and danger mark at both Sangham as well as Ram Munshi Bagh in Srinagar. At Sangham, the level, which was 10.65 ft at 10.00 a.m. on Sunday rose to 19.70 ft till 11.00 p.m. on Sunday, registering an alarming increase of 9 ft in 13 hours.

Likewise, at Ram Munshi Bagh, the water level rose to 16.50 ft at 11.00 p.m. It was 12.40 ft at 10.00 a.m. The increase of over 4 ft in 13 hours was described by the officials as ‘alarming’, fearing it could cross the danger mark of 23 ft in the next 24 hours at this rate.

Schools have been closed for Monday and Tuesday in the flood-prone areas and some examinations cancelled. Srinagar-Jammu National Highway has been closed for traffic due to landslides at several places though it was supposed to remain open after a day of repairs and lockdown on Sunday.

Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who arrived in Srinagar from New Delhi and took a review of the situation at a high level meeting at Banquet Hall, is camping in the summer capital alongwith five other Ministerial colleagues including the Minister incharge Irrigation and Flood Control Sukhnandan Kumar.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

CAG uncovers MNREGA’s fake bank accounts, SICOP’s land loot, Fire deptt’s embezzlements

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
Jammu, March 28: Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s report on performance of the State government departments and Public Sector Undertakings in Jammu and Kashmir, tabled in Legislature on Friday, has exploded a many myths of cleanliness, transparency and accountability during Omar Abdullah’s government in 2009-2013.

Accountant General Khalid Bin Jamal revealed at a news presence here on Saturday that the CAG report-2014 on the State government departments would be studied by Legislature’s Public Accounts Committee [PAC] and another one on PSUs by the Committee on Public Undertakings [COPU] and these two lawfully competent panels would in turn take up different flagged issues with the government departments and PSUs for necessary action. He clarified it was not directly CAG’s constitutional mandate to press the government for taking criminal cognizance of the fund embezzlements and other scandals investigated by the auditors. Nevertheless, AG’s office would see what role it could play in view of last year’s precedence when former Principal AG for J&K, Dr Subhash Chander Pandey, submitted a report on the infamous Roshni scam to the State’s Chief Vigilance Commissioner Kuldeep Khoda for criminal cognizance of the matters investigated.

CVC in turn referred these matters to Vigilance Commissioner Sheikh Owais Ahmad whose organisation held criminal investigations and filed FIR in at least 6 matters involving top ranking IAS and KAS officers. Contrary to the wide public perception that all the influential IAS and KAS officers, enjoying high level political and bureaucratic clout from Srinagar to New Delhi, had been either spared or taken off the hook under pressure, Vigilance Organisation has maintained in a PIL in J&K High Court that it was discharging its duty without fear or favour.

Mr Jamal revealed that during the process of scrutiny, auditors observed that the officials of the State Rural Development Department had swindled funds of the flagship scheme Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme [MNREGA] in the investigated Sopore and Wagora and blocks. He said that the funds were found syphoned off the public exchequer through “fake bank accounts of the fake and non-existing job card holders”. The accounts were operating fraudulently in the local branches of a Bank without scrutiny under RBI’s ‘Know Your Customer’ guidelines.


In the sample cases taken up by the auditors, as many as 309 bank accounts were found “totally fake” in the name of “fake and non-existent job card holders”. Huge amount of Rs 40.24 lakh was found transferred to these fake accounts by RDD officials and finally withdrawn and swindled. Claims of over 27,000 man-days of work under MNREGA in these particular investigated cases were found “totally fudged”.

 “Instead of crediting wages directly into the bank accounts of the job card holders in BDO Sopore and Wagora in District Baramulla, the funds were released to the Panchayat Halqas through cheques for further disbursement to the workers by deposit in respective bank accounts during the period 2011-14. However, 309 bank accounts to which the Panchayat Secretaries/ Gram Sevaks claimed to have credited wages to the tune of Rs 35.52 lakh for 27,558 mandays of MNREGA works, were found to be non-existing in the Bank records. Also in the case of 55 bank accounts, no entries of credit/debit existed even though the Panchayat Halqa records showed that Rs 4.72 lakh had been credited into these bank accounts as payment of wages for 4,218 mandays”, says a para of the CAG report summary.


Mr Jamal said that a cashier of Fire & Emergency Services Department in Kulgam was found to have swindled an amount of Rs 18.89 lakh from the salaries of the officials. “This amount was fraudulently drawn on the monthly establishment bills during the period from March 2012 to November 2013 by inflating the totals in the bills. The access amount thus drawn was credited to the Bank account of the acting cashier (Rs 9.82 lakh) of the Command and to the Bank accounts of three non-existent / fictitious employees (Rs 7.07 lakh). The fate of balance amount of Rs two lakh could not be traced/ verified”, said the CAG report summary.


The CAG auditors have observed that huge balance of Rs 556.10 crore of Jammu and Kashmir Small Industries Development Corporation Ltd [SICOP] appearing under Inter-unit Adjustment Account remained “unreconciled/un-adjusted ending March 14”.

It has been observed that land had been allotted to the entrepreneurs on the basis of favouritism and in gross violation of project restrictions under which only 2 to 4 kanals could be allotted to an individual unit.

According to the CAG report, SICOP’s executive committee has allotted “without discussion” 80 Kanals of land under Integrated Infrastructure Development [IDD] Scheme at Industrial Estate Govindsar, in Kathua district, to a single entrepreneur, M/S Jackson Ltd, while as 20 Kanals each have been allotted to M/S Vinay Corporation Ltd and M/S Fena Detergent Private Ltd besides more than 4-Kanal plots to 8 other entrepreneurs.

“It was seen in audit that contrary to DPR, one plot comprising 100 Kanals was allotted to a single entrepreneur, M/S Nicer Paper Mills, thereby defeating the very objective of the Scheme to promote MSME units”, says a paragraph in the CAG report. It has also documented how works worth crores of Rupees have been allotted to favoured individuals and firms in total violation of the procedure and Financial codes on pick-and-choose basis.


When senior IAS officer dumped Minister’s note, asked JAKEDA to proceed with dubious procurement

·        CAG report exposes how officers failed Centre-sponsored solar power scheme in J&K

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
Jammu, March 27: The Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s report for the year 2014, on the functioning of the State government departments, which was tabled in both Houses of the State Legislature on Friday, has revealed how senior IAS officers treated Ministers of Omar Abdullah’s government with contempt and rendered the Centrally-sponsored solar power schemes defunct in Jammu and Kashmir.

The report has elaborated on how the supply orders worth crores of Rupees were split and allotted to handpicked firms in violation of codal procedures and Central Vigilance Commission [CVC] guidelines.

As per the JAKEDA rules, cheques to the order of Rs 10,000 to Rs one crore are jointly signed by Accounts Officer and Chief Executive Officer and those to the tune of over Rs one crore jointly by CEO and Commissioner/Secretary Science and Technology. Besides, different Financial Codes make it incumbent upon the government department to pre-disclose the distribution of the items to be procured in a similar quotation for different locations.

“It was, however, seen that the supply orders worth Rs 11.24 crore were split into 14 supply orders below Rs one crore each and placed (October 2009) to avoid signature of the competent authority. The Commissioner/Secretary stated (July 2014) that the programme was to be implemented in various districts of the State consisting of different blocks and as such, the supply order was split block-wise and cheques were prepared as per indent placed on DGS&D and the location wise distribution should have formed part of instructions appended with the supply order”, says a paragraph on the solar power scandal.

“The matter had come to the knowledge of the then Hon’ble Minister Science and Information Technology Department [Aga Syed Ruhullah] who while taking serious note of the matter  had ordered (November 2009) cancellation of the supply orders. However, no action was taken and the Agency [JAKEDA] went ahead with the procurement. The Commissioner/Secretary stated (July 2014) that the then Hon’ble Minister had not communicated any letter on the matter. The reply was not based on facts as the note dated 9th November 2009 on the matter was marked to the then Principal Secretary of the Department”, adds the CAG report.

It has given details how thousands of Solar Home Lighting Systems [SHLS] were procured just 7 days before expiry of the rate contract at Rs 12,978 each even as the rates came down to Rs 12,500 just next week in October 2009. It has also detailed how supply orders were given to particular firms without ascertaining their turnover which should have been a minimum of Rs 50 crore.

While only Rs 750 was to be recovered from the beneficiaries for each SHLS and Rs 500 for a solar lantern, the CAG report has established that in many areas Rs 1,600 to Rs 3,000 was charged from each beneficiary. It has discovered how solar power units installed at different institutions, including hospitals, failed completely as the supplies were made in violation of the prescribed standards and the suppliers were not made to enforce different clauses of the Annual Maintenance Contract [AMC] drawn for 5 years.

“Various lacunae in the procurement process led to financial loss of Rs 117.81 lakh to the public exchequer, undue benefit to the suppliers and allotment of projects to ineligible contractors”, said the report.

The CAG report says that JAKEDA officials parked funds in deposit accounts in violation of the Financial code, resulting in loss of central assistance worth Rs 26.75 crore. As many as 14,692 approved SHLS units were not distributed among the beneficiaries. Simultaneously, 12,366 SHLS units, valued at Rs 14.45 crore, were distributed among unauthorised beneficiaries in unapproved or electrified villages.