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Friday, February 5, 2016

How much politics behind appointment of Governor’s advisors?

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Feb 4: People greeting Parvez Dewan and Khursheed Ahmad Ganai on their appointment as Advisors to Governor invariably got a caveat: ‘This is for just 10 or 15 days’. Does that mean that the formation of the new PDP-BJP coalition under Mehbooba Mufti was around the corner?

Not necessarily, perhaps.

First, neither of the two brilliant, retired IAS officers---not even their Governor boss---does have an inkling of what exactly is cooking up in the two parties’ kitchen. Second, Mr Narendra Nath Vohra, himself a retired bureaucrat, has remained completely neutral and apolitical, unlike some of his predecessors, ever since the Vajpayee government appointed him as an interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir followed by his appointment by the Manmohan Singh government as the Governor of the country’s most sensitive State in 2008.

Even if he has a wisdom of the political matters, Mr Vohra is not expected to share it with the closest of his friends and family members, let alone the two retired bureaucrats junior to him by a generation.

Clearly, Dewan’s and Ganai’s humility and civility could not be misconstrued as an apocalyptic prediction of the representative government’s formation in the middle of this month. The vacuum and resultant uncertainty may last for just one day, one month or one year. With the ball being in BJP’s and New Delhi’s court, daughter of the shrewd politician Mehbooba Mufti has not shut her doors. Notwithstanding her commitment to carry forward her father’s “vision” and “yearning for peace, development and integration”, she is standing her ground where she can do a U-turn and sever her father’s relationship with Prime Minister Modi and BJP.

Mehbooba has remarkably relented and downgraded her demand of “assurances” to “some confidence building measures” but not before stirring the prestige of her father’s coalition partner. In Jammu, as well as across the rest of the country, BJP has been at a receiving end for being soft to Pakistan and terrorism. Its partnership of power with a party known for its pseudo-separatist profile has not enamoured the right wing electorate, particularly in the Hindi-mainland. So the party needs “10 days” to decide whether it should sacrifice its electoral prospects in some larger States for its unpredictable Kashmir ally or it should continue the coalition “in the national interest”.

Indifference to the PDP President’s assertions, as of now, serves as an unmistakeable indication of the BJP’s larger concerns. Some political analysts are attributing the appointment of the Governor’s Advisors, constitution of the State Advisory Council (equivalent of the popular government’s Cabinet) and delegation of the Ministerial powers to the administrative secretaries to the “direct intervention” of the Centre through the union Ministry of Home Affairs. Most of the political parties too took it as the harbinger of the dissolution of Assembly and fresh elections.

“We don’t read too much in it but we can’t rule out that it is a tactics to bludgeon us to submission. They feel we have lost our ground completely and we may be scared of the fresh elections”, said a senior PDP leader and former Minister. He revealed that Ms Mufti may toughen her stand and posturing in the next couple of days and call upon the party workers to be ready for the snap polls.

Everybody though could be wrong again. Last year these days, when the prospects of a PDP-BJP alliance looked bleak but the ‘Agenda of Alliance’ had been almost worked out, Governor Vohra ordered a massive reshuffle in bureaucracy, administration and Police on January 27. Almost a month later, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took over as Chief Minister of the coalition government and subsequently changed most of the incumbents appointed by Mr Vohra.

“This Governor has his own style of working. J&K witnessed it in 2008 as well as in 2014, though last year he did not go for appointment of the Advisors”, said a senior bureaucrat. He disclosed that in the first very week, after taking over on January 8, Mr Vohra had called for a list of all the lately retired officers of the rank of Secretary to Government of India (J&K cadre), Chief Secretaries and Financial Commissioners. “When everybody believed that Ms Mufti would take oath in one or two weeks of the mourning at her home, Governor zeroed in on Parvez and Khursheed for appointment as his Advisors”, the senior IAS officer added.

[Published in today's STATE TIMES]

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Top trade union leader in Civil Secretariat repatriated, posted in Tangmarg

Government cancels attachment of all teachers; 87 posted in Valley schools

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Feb 3: In a significant development in the Governor’s administration, Government has cancelled attachment of all teachers, masters and lecturers in the School Education Department. Those removed unceremoniously from their choicest postings in the Centre-sponsored schemes, repatriated to School Education Department and posted in different schools across Kashmir valley include the prominent trade union leader Abdul Qayoom Wani who on January 30 had threatened to take his “war” with Director School Education Kashmir (DSEK) and the year 2010 IAS topper Dr Shah Faesal to the streets.

Informed sources revealed to STATE TIMES that the Governor’s administration, at different levels of bureaucracy, took an extremely serious notice of the publicly held out threats of the Jammu and Kashmir Teachers Forum (JKTF) leaders and decided to affect an overhaul of the system. The axe fell on Wani who had not only used unparliamentary language and levelled unsubstantiated charges of corruption against Dr Faesal but also said that the DSEK had “put his hand into the lion’s mouth” by ordering the transfer of the three JKTF office-bearers.

Wani and his JKTF colleagues had intensified their tirade against the IAS officer with a gherao around his office in Srinagar on January 30 and warned that the Director would expose himself to serious consequences if he failed to roll back his orders. They alleged that DSEK had demonised their association and the teaching community by calling the teachers “mafia” and “nuisance”.

Initiating any action against Wani was thought to be impossible as he enjoyed tremendous influence over the five lakh government employees in his capacity as the head of the Employees Joint Action Committee (EJAC). Former Minister of School Education Tara Chand had ordered Wani’s attachment to the Centre-sponsored Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and posted him conveniently in Civil Secretariat.

After elaborate consultations between Commissioner-Secretary School Education Shaleen Kabra, Chief Secretary B.R. Sharma and Raj Bhawan, Government on Tuesday evening decided to cancel all the attachment of teachers ordered in the last few years, particularly in the six-year coalition regime headed by Omar Abdullah.

Commissioner-Secretary School Education Shaleen Kabra, after seeking Governor’s approval, issued Government Order No: 26-Edu of 2016 Dated 02-02-2016 whereby all the attachments of teachers, masters and lecturers, including the seven in SSA, were cancelled with immediate effect. All the officials enjoying attachments in the two directorates, Civil Secretariat, SSA and RMSA Project Directorates were relieved and repatriated to the field. DSEs of Kashmir and Jammu were directed to issue their posting orders within three days.

Consequent upon the Government Order, DSEK on Wednesday issued Order No: 123 DSEK Dated 03-02-2016 and ordered transfer and posting of 87 teachers, masters and head masters. Mr Wani was posted in High School Ogmula in Tangmarg area of Baramulla district. He is reportedly a resident of Tangmarg.

DSEK as well as the senior bureaucrats in Civil Secretariat refused to admit that Wani’s repatriation was in any manner linked to his trade union activity or his conflict with the Head of Department. They insisted that the reshuffle was “purely in the interest of the administration”.

According to KNS, Wani welcomed the order of his transfer and asserted to carry on his “fight for welfare of the employees”. He, however, alleged that the former Education Minister Naeem Akhtar was “still calling the shots”.

 “I am happily going to follow the administrative orders. I hope that the administration is not playing any game or politics with the employees by cancelling the attachments and transferring employees,” he is reported to have said.

“We (teachers) will jointly spoil the anti-employee intentions of administration who are putting their efforts to suppress the voices of employees working in the department. Despite the government formation is still on cards, the department is still running on the directions of former Education Minister, Naeem Akhtar. It is he who calls the shots,” Wani reportedly alleged.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Mehbooba’s first hint of forming government with BJP

With no response from Delhi, PDP stops talking tough on ‘trust deficit’

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU: For the first time after her father’s death on January 7, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti on Tuesday dropped a clear hint of her intention to continue the coalition in Jammu and Kashmir with the BJP. She indeed insisted on initiation of some “confidence building measures (CBMs)” by New Delhi “for the people of all the three regions of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh” but her tone and tenor was unmistakeably, and significantly, different from what she asserted in a series of the meetings with her party workers in Srinagar in the last couple of weeks.

Designated chief spokesperson Dr Mehboob Beg was not only snubbed but also virtually replaced by the Mufti family confidante Naeem Akhtar after some news agencies reported last month that the former had confirmed Mehbooba’s intent of forging a fresh alliance with the BJP. Akhtar, who was basically the spokesman of Mufti Sayeed’s erstwhile Cabinet, asserted in the following media briefing that there was “trust deficit” between the coalition partners on account of implementation of the commitments enshrined in the ‘Agenda of Alliance’. He called it a “sacred document for PDP” and communicated to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and the party that the promises held out to his regional party had not been fulfilled in the 10 months of the government headed by Mufti.

Akhtar specifically referred to the bullet points and complained that the Centre had reneged on its commitment of granting Smart Cities to J&K and handing over NHPC’s power projects to the State. And ‘development’ was not his only concern. He also invoked politics. Buildings and orchards occupied by the security forces, he said, had not been vacated. His reference to the “unfulfilled promise” of “addressing the internal and external dimensions of the Kashmir problem”---euphemism for initiating a dialogue process with the Kashmiri separatist and militant leadership and the Government of Pakistan---obviously ruffled some feathers from Jammu to New Delhi.

“We have already done an abject surrender, given away almost all the key portfolios and 10 out of 15 Cabinet berths to the PDP. The nationalist voter across the country is terribly disappointed over what we have forfeited to this party”, a senior BJP leader in Jammu was heard complaining to his colleagues. “We have been directed to keep our mouths shut”, he said, claiming that the BJP’s electoral prospects had turned worse in Jammu than the PDP’s in the Valley in the last 10 months. “We have failed to keep a single promise. We have no face to show to the (West Pakistan and PoK) refugees and the Kashmiri (Pandit) migrants”, he added. “What more do they want from us?”

Following Akhtar’s sulking assertions, which would have never come without Mehbooba’s approval, PDP’s discomfiture emanated further from the commentaries written by the writers sympathetic to the party. A slew of reports and articles projected PDP as the “victim of BJP’s thuggery” and lamented, invariably, that New Delhi had “choked the funds” and made it harder for Mufti to deliver even on governance and developmental front. It was also invariably pointed out that Narendra Modi and the BJP President Amit Shah, who usually lose no time to tweet birthday wishes to their own party colleagues, had not given a fair deal to the PDP patriarch before or after his death.

New Delhi chose to be reluctant to respond. It, albeit, advised Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptullah to pay a courtesy call to the bereaved family during an official visit to Srinagar. It also sent the Union Finance Secretary to explain how the release of a relief fund worth Rs 1200 crore had got “delayed”. Mehbooba reportedly complained that the money had been “deliberately stopped” and finally released hours after the Chief Minister’s death at AIIMS.

Even the Mufti family’s vacating of Chief Minister’s official residence in the winter capital did not provoke a political reaction from New Delhi. According to some media reports, even in the meeting on Monday, Mehbooba threatened to face the fresh elections if the BJP and the Centre failed to send her the “assurances” she insisted on before formation of the government.

Within hours of the PDP’s deliberations, Governor Vohra---obviously on New Delhi’s advice---dashed off a communication to the State presidents of the PDP and BJP to make their respective positions clear with regard to the government formation by Tuesday evening. The letter broke the ice at Fairview. Within minutes, the PDP chief, who was scheduled only to interact with her party colleagues in Jammu, decided to call on the Governor.

Knowledgeable sources insist that, hours before the BJP leader Normal Singh’s meeting with Mehbooba Mufti, which he underplayed as a courtesy call, Raj Bhawan conveyed to the PDP President, through one of late Mufti’s confidantes, that insisting on the “assurances” would be “missing the bus”. Governor is understood to have communicated to Mehbooba, two hours before the meeting, that continuance of the stalemate would force dissolution of Assembly and announcement for the snap polls in the next two days.

Nobody knows what transpired between the Governor and the PDP President at the Raj Bhawan.

Tell-tale signs of the turning point came out in the diction and tone and tenor of Mehbooba’s first interaction with media after December 22, 2015. She did not at all use the word “assurances” or “reviewing” the Agenda of Alliance and remained content with the vegetarian demand of “some CBMs”, which, according to her, had become necessary “to fill up the vacuum created by Mufti Sahab’s death”. She said without equivocation that Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s “commitment and conviction” were “sacred to me”. “The new government”, she said, “needs a fillip”, demanding that the whole country should back the new Chief Minister.

Instead of the ‘trust deficit’, Mehbooba attributed her vague demand of the “CBMs” to her own deficit of age, experience and self-confidence. She said after Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad only Mufti Mohammad Sayeed enjoyed the “confidence, experience and goodwill” to visit interior of downtown Srinagar. This is radically different and downgraded from what the PDP leadership had persisted with after Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death. Let alone Self Rule, joint currency, release of political detainees, returning of Afzal Guru’s mortal remains, revocation of AFSPA et al which had become the marks of identification for the PDP.

One hopes to see the new PDP-BJP government under Mehbooba Mufti in place in the current month, may be in a week or a fortnight.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

When GAD attempted to engage retired official as ‘parallel Advocate General’

Law Minister Bukhari snubbed GAD: ‘State can run without Tota Kaul’

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Jan 30: Functioning directly under Chief Secretary’s administrative control and regulating various administrative services, General Administration Department (GAD) has an inherent tendency to interfere with the working of any department, including the State government’s corporations, boards and autonomous organisations. However, its efforts to install a retired official as ‘parallel Advocate General’ fell flat when the former Law Minister Basharat Bukhari put his put down and turned down the proposal with contempt.

Feroz Ahmad Sheikh, who retired in 2013 as Additional Secretary (Law) after serving GAD for a long period, had been re-engaged as ‘Standing Counsel’ by Omar Abdullah’s government for two years. Even after the change of regime, followed by appointment of the new Advocate General (AG) and a team of the government advocates, GAD in December 2015 moved a proposal of granting yet another extension of two years to Mr Sheikh.

Terms and conditions of his engagement with the nomenclature of ‘Standing Counsel’ were drafted in a way that Mr Sheikh would function like an AG for the GAD independent of the Law Department. This notwithstanding the fact that the Law Department had placed two of its young Law Officers, Assistant Legal Remembrancer Sajad-un-Nabi and Suhail Muzaffar, exclusively at GAD’s disposal. On the AG’s panel, Deputy AG Ehtisham Hussain Bhat also looked after the GAD matters. Monthly salary of around Rs 1.50 lakh was also fixed for Mr Sheikh.

Days before Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed fell ill in Srinagar and subsequently died at a hospital in New Delhi on January 7th, GAD submitted the proposal of Mr Sheikh’s second engagement to Law Department. Even as some GAD officials played up in the corridors of power that Law Minister Bukhari and the AG, Jehangir Iqbal Ganai, had appointed a number of their friends and relatives as Government Advocates and Standing Counsels, Mr Bukhari turned down the proposal with a warning that GAD should no more overstep Law Department’s jurisdiction, particularly so in the extension and re-engagement of the retiring or retired officials.

“It is said that, in the Maharaja’s rule, a file recommending extension in the services of a retiring officer of Finance department, namely (Mr) Tota Kaul, was submitted to (late) Maharaja Hari Singh. The Maharaja returned the file with the following observation: ‘State can run without Tota Kaul”, Bukhari recorded on the file accessed by STATE TIMES. He added in his hand-written note: “…we must allow young officers to grow and prove themselves by taking the mantle of running the affairs of administration”.

Shooting down the GAD proposal, Bukhari added: “And also this proposal from GAD to engage Mr Feroz negates and disapproves the immense talent, acumen and ability of the serving officers / officials and hence creates doubts about their competence. Moreover the terms of engagement (vis-à-vis Mr Feroz) mentioned in note para 257 of this file suggest/ indicate as if we have to engage another Advocate General. While as GAD’s interests taken care of/ looked after by learned Advocate General, besides two young law officers stand already posted with GAD. So need not to engage Mr Feroz as standing counsel after his retirement as the said officer (retiree) was already engaged for two years after his superannuation”.

Scolding Mr Sheikh’s promoters further, Bukhari wrote: “So let GAD move ahead without retired officers/ officials as someday everyone is to retire. Moreover GAD must restrain from overstepping Law department’s jurisdiction and even bypassing it in future”.

3 LeT militants killed in Kupwara encounter

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
JAMMU, Jan 30: Three militants of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, believed to be Pakistani nationals, got killed in an encounter with security forces in Lolab valley of Kupwara district in northern Kashmir on Saturday.

Deputy Inspector General of Police, North Kashmir, Gareeb Dass told STATE TIMES that Army and Kupwara District Police launched a cordon-and-search operation after receiving specific information about the movement of a group of foreign militants at Lohar Mohalla of Dardpora, Kupwara, late on Friday evening. He said that one of the holed up militants was killed in the encounter but two of his associates escaped towards a height.

In the afternoon on Saturday, troops and Police established contract with the two hiding militants. Both of them were killed in the three-hour-long gunbattle. DIG identified one of the three militants as Usama alias Zarar Bhai and said that he was a commander of LeT. He said that three bodies, alongwith equal number of AK rifles, and a huge quantity of other arms and ammunition was serized from the two sites of the encounter. No civilian or security forces or Police personnel was killed or injured during the operation.

DIG said that the three militants were part of a group of seven Pakistani cadres of LeT who had infiltrated into the Valley in July 2015. The group had been in movement in Kandi belt of Kupwara. “Search is underway for remaining four militants of this group. We are confidant to wipe out this whole group very soon”, DIG said. He said that some residents gathered in the village in the forenoon and they caused a law and order problem with a possible aim of disrupting the operation. However, the demonstrators were dispersed with baton charge and the operation continued.

Reports from Kupwara said that a gathering of the residents clashed with Police and security forces while pelting stones and shouting pro-Azadi slogans. After the operation concluded, the bodies were handed over to the local Wakaf committee which organised the funeral rites in the evening. Shops and vehicular traffic remained shut down in Dardpora and some other parts of Lolab for the whole day.