After spending 35 years as teacher, former college principal Prof S K Bhalla has started his crusade against corruption in the system. Apart from petitioning various anti-graft watchdogs, he has been availing the option of PIL. In last couple of years his activism has led to some sort of action. In his interview with Syed Junaid Hashmi, he regrets that Omar Abdullah’s office was more responsive than his successor
Kashmir Life (KL): So you started your crusade from JAKFED?
S K Bhalla (SKB): I have never tolerated anything wrong. It was during my tenure as Principal of the Government Degree College (GDC) Thanamandi when I filed the first case with State Accountability Commission (SAC). I got a copy of the Pillai Commission report on JAKFED. JAKFED employees take crores of rupees in advance without giving any account for years. It is surprising how JAKFED gives so much in advance without bothering to seek an account of the same. How do they then adjust this huge amount? How is the billing done? Where is this huge amount spent and why the department sits silently despite having advanced huge sums to its employees without taking any collateral guarantee?
The commission, then headed by Justice R P Sethi took cognizance of it and an inquiry started. Some strong orders were also passed. To the best of my knowledge, that matter is still alive especially the impress component.
KL: But did not you see corruption in education department that you were serving?
SKB: I have highlighted a number of issues in higher education department. Anti-terminate scam involving eight principals of various colleges is under probe in State Vigilance Organization (SVO) Jammu. Based on my complaint, SVO has initiated preliminary verification in this case. A similar scam involving two other college principals is also going on.
KL: But how did you start this anti-corruption crusade?
SKB: I am a teacher and my primary responsibility is to serve the society. I do not believe teachers become redundant after retirement. After I retired, I thought if I have ability and potential, I should do something for the society. If that has been beneficial or not is not my concern but I have a satisfaction that whatsoever little I could do for the system, I did. And I don’t want to take any credit for that.
KL: Your inspiration?
SKB: My father has remained an educationist and thus, my upbringing was all about being honest, truthful and sincere. My father would often advice me about living a clean life. And so, when I retired, I decided to do something. Thus, the journey began. My fight started with the JAKFED case. I firmly believe that if my character is doubtful, I have no right to raise a finger of suspicion at someone else. This is my belief. I tried to lead a very clean life and that was my strength which helped me to take cudgels with higher-ups.
KL: Which are the main cases, you initiated?
SKB: The Rs 25000 crore Roshni scam is going on. A number of big fishes are in SVO net. Another one is Sunjawan-Chatta land scam. A recruitment scam involving ex-speakers of J&K assembly is already in public domain. I have initiated 3-4 cases at the individual level. I have written about some teachers who do not have a good track record to the Secretary Higher Education, hoping he will do something. We had also taken up case of Kewal Krishan Sharma, ex-additional PRO of ex-Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand. He was arrested by SVO recently. His track record is also not good.
I met certain teachers and told them that we are responsible for Kewal’s rise. We went to him for transfers and postings, which resulted in his rise and he became a don over a period of time. Kewal is not much at fault as are we people, who went to him for petty transfers. We are diseased which is why Kewal’s are roaming in almost all the government departments.
KL: Did you face any pulls and pressures?
SKB: No one tried to bribe me since people know me well. But people tried to exert influence. When someone calls you, you have to pick up (the phone) and listen. They wanted me to go slow. Some would ask me why I was interested in land grabbing and other similar issues when I was a man from the higher education department. Some even advised me to quit. I have a complaint with the investigating agencies that they are not working at the pace at which they should have been working.
KL: How you see the working of anti-graft institutions in the tate?
SKB: I met ex-Director Vigilance Alok Puri several times in the Roshni scam case. I have a bad habit of writing letters to the heads of various anti-graft bodies about scams and scandals appearing in various newspapers or becoming known to me through any agency or person. I register my complaint as a vigilant citizen with the anti-graft bodies but I am pained that not much is happening in these institutions.
The spirit with which State Vigilance Commission (SVC) was constituted has got defeated. It is basically a government body and works on government directions as it lacks autonomy. State Accountability Commission (SAC) gets active for some time and then goes dead again. These days the commission is active and has been doing some good work. But how long they will remain active is a million dollar question.
About the Crime Branch of JKP, the less I speak, the better it is. They are bent upon shielding their own people. There are so many complaints but there is no visible impact. All those heading the branch are planted by the state government. What I have seen is that mostly, people who are convenient for them (government) are posted there.
KL: Did you ever felt you are getting demoralized?
SKB: I am 63-year-old and there is no question of getting demoralized. I have full faith in the power of almighty Allah. I don’t know whether you will approve my crusade or not but Allah is on my side. And when Allah is on my side, Crime Branch or any other institution will not matter. I will keep knocking at their doors and won’t stop. Our Judicial process is slow. There is no fast track system. Wheels of justice are slow. But that does not mean we should stop knocking at the doors. It is a continuous process. We should not get disheartened. It is a big fight and it will go on for years to come because we are dependent on investigating agencies.
KL: But there is low rate of conviction?
SKB: I agree the rate of conviction is low. But that doesn’t mean we should put a full-stop on this. We are fighting against the menace of corruption. We may not succeed but someone somewhere might get inspired and take this fight to its logical conclusion. So, we have to keep fighting.
KL: Your activism started when Omar Abdullah was heading the state and now it is Ms Mehbooba Mufti. Do you find any change?
SKB: I have a bad habit of writing letters. I have been writing letters frequently to the heads of the government in J&K since last seven years. I wrote letters to ex-Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. This is a hard fact. And I have a file with me, where available records bear testimony to the fact that he forwarded all my letters to the concerned agencies for investigation. Whether something happened or not is debatable. But I am happy that an educated and wise Chief Minister (Omar) forwarded my complaints and concerns expressed in letters appended with required evidence to the concerned agencies. This was a big thing for me.
I have not met Omar at all. Neither I have tried to meet him nor I ever desired to meet him. But whatever I wrote to him, he would, within 10-15 days, send the same to the concerned agencies. This would boast my morale. I got some encouragement from the Governor’s office but not the kind of boost that Omar Abdullah gave to my crusade.
I continued sending letter to Chief Minister after the change of guard but she has maintained a beautiful silence (Lekin Badi Khoobsurat see Khamoshi hai). Madam had come and I expected a lot from her. I wrote to her even about some women issues but that beautiful silence is yet to be broken. But even this has not discouraged me. I am doing my duty vigilantly.
KL: Is State Information Commission (SIC) useful?
SKB: It is a useful institution. I have got best response for all my RTI applications. In one or two cases, I had to approach first and second appellate authority. But in most of the cases, I got required information. My issue is not with RTI but with SVC, Crime Branch and SVO. We send them fool proof cases strengthened with information received under RTI. But the kind of action that should have been taken is missing most of the time. People sleep over the files.
KL: How do anti-graft institutions react?
SKB: Their reply is usually a one liner: “We are looking into the complaint.” It is the High Court which forced SVO, Crime Branch and SVC to initiate action on our complaints. Sometimes, I feel irritated about this. Why should we go to the High complaint all the time?
I am not interested in knocking at the High Court. We are compelled to go because of delay in taking action over the complaints filed by us.