Corrupted yet commendable: The curious case of Kashmir’s black sheep babus

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When proclaimed offenders continue to rise in ranks in officialdom—where the ‘fight against corruption’ remains the stated biblical belief—then even the touted accountability in place becomes a mere mockery.

Some sixteen months before the controversial Amarnath land deal could stir agitation in Kashmir, the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly on Feb 10, 2007 passed the ‘historic’ legislation — equated with the legendary Land to Tiller Act enacted by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah regime way back in 1950s.

The Roshini Act was aimed at giving ownership rights to 16.60 lakh kanals of State land to occupant farmers at a nominal fee of Rs 100 per kanal. But the rot shortly surfaced in the “farmer-friendly” bill—when thousands of acres were transferred to illegal occupants, including top ministers, politicians, police officers and bureaucrats.

One of those tainted officials was Mohammad Afzal Bhat. The State vigilance Commission (SVC) found him guilty and put his name under the list of accused people and investigation was ordered. With investigation still underway, the government appointed Bhat to a more powerful position, Secretary to Forest Department.

Besides making mockery of SVC’s authority, the appointment went on to prove how these declared fraudsters are getting official patronage.

Beyond Roshni, however, the rot is equally rampant.

A serving enforcement officer in Lakes and Water Development Authority (LAWDA) stands accused in eight cases. Shah Sikander Khan, who was posted as DySP after the scam in JKAP at Humhama, was accused of misusing the government funds for personal benefits and giving illegal building permissions under FIR no. 54/2015-VOK, 53/2015-VOK and 52/2015-VOK some time back. Despite the offense, Khan continues to enjoy his new posting.
Interestingly, both Afzal and Sikander figure in the untouched list of 151 accused officials in State. In almost 44 cases, SVC could not go ahead with the proceedings it had initiated against accused officials because court has ordered stay on it till further notice.

The general and the most obvious reason for the deferment of decisions are the prolonged investigation and delay in filing of charge-sheets for instigation of appropriate proceedings. Action remains elusive even in those cases where SVC arrested people red-handed. Much of the blame for this is being put on the official snub to the SVC.

Established in 2013 with the motive of “cleaning the corrupt state machinery”, SVC has named people in big fraud and embezzlement cases. But the way system is using judiciary in stonewalling the SVC’s efforts in prosecuting the tainted officials further makes the penal action against officials a far-fetched idea.

The delay and reluctance to accept the SVC’s advice against the accused officials make this commission just an investigative body. For this, the government’s ‘selective approach’—seen at the heart of corruption in official rank and file—is majorly being blamed.

Infact, the successive governments have failed to act against tainted ministers and their corrupted cabal.

In a high profile case of the illegal forest land transfer in Shopian and misuse of official position in favour of senior Congress leader Taj Mohiuddin, the names of Mohammad Ramzan Thakur, the ex-DC Shopian, Mohammad Yousuf Zargar, Addl. DC Shopian, Hafizullah Shah, AC(R) Shopian, Gh. Hassan Rather, then Tehsildar Shopian and Atiqullah Shah Kulgam and other officers/officials of Revenue Department came up.

Despite the FIR no. 18/2016-VOK and 6/2016-VOK into the cases, no action is being followed.

Infact, many other officials accused for irregularities in transfer of state land in district Srinagar under Roshni scheme remain scot-free. It was because of those officials that the scheme could only generate only Rs 78.47 crore instead of pegged Rs 25,000 crore, thus incurring huge losses to the State.

Among those tainted officials were the former divisional commissioners of Kashmir, Mehboob Iqbal and Basharat Ahmad, besides ex-DC Srinagar Ajaz Iqbal, ADC Srinagar Mohd Afzal Bhat.

Absence of action not only helped such accused officials to rise in ranks, but also encouraged the ‘larger frauds’ right under the nose of the successive governments.

The whole list of the registered cases from 2013-2017 can be viewed here.

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