Politicians in Kashmir not only enjoy the privilege to frame laws for the masses but impunity to mend them! With negligible conviction rate politicians accused of murder, extortion, embezzlement, frauds and even rape go scot free, and stay in power. Safwat Zargar reports the paradox
On November 8, a Delhi court sentenced Senior PDP leader Mohd Dilawar Mir for three years in a case related to wrongful release of Rs 30 lakh and contract for sale of urea to his firm by public sector National Fertilizers Limited in 1993-1996. Apart from the sentence, Mir was awarded a whopping fine of Rs 3.21 crore by the special CBI court. Even though Mir got the bail and managed to suspend his sentence till January 2015, but the sentence cost him the participation in forthcoming assembly elections.
It was a rare incident in a place where dozens of law makers, ex-lawmakers and politicians are allegedly involved in cases; ranging from scams, molestations and embezzlements, to liaison with army and even murder, with almost zero per cent conviction rate.
The rot is from the top. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is one of the prime accused in the death of Haji Yusuf, a party worker who had allegedly took 1.18 crore rupees from other two party members, promising them nomination to state’s legislative council and subsequent ministerial positions. Yusuf, who was summoned by Omar to his camp office on the evening of September 29, 2011 and later, handed over by him to then IGP Raja Aijaz Ali had died in the police hospital next day. The medical report had shown “cardiac arrest” as the cause of Yusuf’s death.
At present the case is sub-judice before Supreme Court whereby the petitioner Balwant Singh Mankotia on behalf of Yusuf’s son Talib Hussain is seeking CBI inquiry of his father’s death. The family of the deceased had moved to apex court after a magisterial inquiry and Justice Bedi Commission had given clean chit to Omar and his colleagues.
However, Justice Bedi Commission took notice of a Deputy Superintendent rank officer and his constable subordinate responsible for dereliction of duty by not informing the family about the arrest of their member. Also, the commission in its report had observed that Yusuf was arrested on September 29 and a case (FIR 17/2011) was registered at 10 PM on the night of Yusuf’s handing over.
After the matter cooled down, the police officer Raja Aijaz Ali joined Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) immediately after retirement. He will be fighting elections from Uri assembly segment in North Kashmir on PDP ticket.
If Supreme Court orders a CBI inquiry in the matter, ghosts of Yusuf might come to haunt Omar again.
One of the most infamous exam scams took place in the state when the foster son of minister of education was caught copying by officials. On January 5 2014, Jammu and Kashmir police formally registered an FIR against senior Congress leader and former Minister for Education Peerzada Mohammad Syed and his foster son Imam Souban for using fraudulent means to pass his class 10 board exams in 2009. The FIR was also registered against then examination superintendent Tariq Gilani along with examination assistant superintendents Javed Ahmad, Imtiyaz Ahmad Zargar and Mukhtar Ahmad, all of who had allegedly helped the minister’s son in exams.
The matter goes back to 2009 when Peerzada’s son, appearing in 10th standard examination, was caught copying in examinations by an inspection team of J&K Board of School Education. After a formal complaint was lodged against the accused, it took Crime Branch three years to complete the inquiry. In its report, the Crime Branch said it has enough evidence against Imam Souban and a case (FIR No 1/2014) under sections 419, 420, 467, 468 and 120B of RPC has been registered against him. However, no arrest was made.
Instead, Syed had said that his foster son Imam had publicly disowned him as father.
After the Crime Branch report, Omar Abdullah had sought resignation from Peerzada. Though the findings of report had prompted Peerzada to tender a resignation to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the party leadership refused it. A day later, Omar also toed the line and said “he [Peerzada] will continue in council of ministers.”
On January 06, 2014, High court granted an interim bail to Peerzada’s son. At present, the minister’s son is reportedly pursuing studies in law!
Peerzada, who is presently the minister of Haj and Auqaf, was not new to controversies and resignations.
A winner from Kokernag assembly segment of Anantnag, in 2008, Peerzada had to resign from the position of Education Minister and Presidentship of Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) after then MLA Sangrama, Shoaib Lone, on the floor of House, alleged that Peerzada took Rs 40,000 as bribe from him to clear his sister’s file.
Back in 2005, Peerzada, Ex-Minister Rural Development, was named in one of the complaints before J&K Accountability Commission for alleged misappropriation of government funds for electrification of Panchayat Ghars.
Convictions and imprisonment of lawmakers and ex-lawmakers have been rare in India including Jammu and Kashmir. However, the trend of sending ministers and MLAs to jail has of late started to pick up in other states, experts say. From Lalu Prasad Yadav to Jayalalithaa, all of the convicted have been put behind the bars. At present, J&K seems to be much behind in that line.
Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, who teaches Law at Central University of Kashmir, says “the trend will pick up here as well, but, slowly. It all depends upon the conviction. Courts can’t send people to jail on mere accuses.”
According to Dr. Sheikh, the result and strength of the case depends upon the way prosecution frames a case. “Judiciary is independent. It will decide on the basis of which sections of law have been framed against the accused. In case of a politician accused of an offence, if prosecution is able to frame a strong case, it will surely lead to the conviction of the accused,” he says.
Dr. Sheikh has another observation on this: “the mainstream political class here is basically a collaborator class. In order to let this structure of hegemony remain intact, many things are overlooked by New Delhi.”
Perhaps, he is right. In 2012, a multi-crore scam surfaced in Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association, with the allegations of Union Minister and NC patron Dr Farooq Abdullah, also the head of JKCA, involved in siphoning off money meant for development of cricket in the state.
The 1.90 crore scam became public when Muhammad Aslam Goni, a member of JKCA, accused JKCA general secretary Saleem Khan and Treasurer Ahsan Mirza of siphoning off the money coming from BCCI by transferring into an account not related to the association. On investigating the issue, police verified the letters exchanged by the members and bank account details at J&K Bank’s Khanyar branch of the association and concluded that account was operational with the consent of senior board members.
The twist was that the J&K Bank, during investigations, clarified to the police that “the amount from the account was released only after the authority letter of JKCA president Dr Farooq Abdullah. It was duly signed by Abdullah on June 27, 2008.”
Even more than a year after the completion of investigations, police hasn’t produced the challan in the case. Legal experts say somebody has to approach court to seek status of case from police.
On July 10, 2013, Supreme Court of India scrapped the law which allowed charge-sheeted Members of Parliament and MLAs, on conviction for offences, to be given three months’ time for appeal. According to the new law, those Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) against whom chargesheet has been filed on conviction for offences will be immediately disqualified from holding the membership of the House, without any time for appeal.
Minister for Tourism and Congress MLA from Dooru Ghulam Ahmad Mir and former minister of Industries and Commerce Raman Mattoo were the prime accused in infamous 2005 sex scandal. The alleged kingpin Sabeena had named the two MLAs along with few other high-level officials to whom she allegedly supplied girls.
Both MLAs were booked under Section 5 of the Prevention of Immoral Traffic Act (PITA) and arrested by CBI in 2006. After the scandal, Kashmir was on boil. With lawyers in the state resolving not to appear for the defence of the accused, Supreme Court shifted the case to Chandigarh in 2006.
Six years later, on September 29 2012, the CBI Special Court acquitted Mir and Mattoo along with alleged kingpin of the sex scam Sabeena and her husband Abdul Hamid. The ruling came after the victims, who at first in their statements before the magistrate had alleged that they were exploited by the accused and had even showed the investigating agency the house and the room where they were exploited, turned hostile. Later, on the provision of benefit of doubt, court acquitted all the accused.
“Usually, overall conviction rate in India is low and seeking justice is a lengthy and tiring process,” says Habeel Iqbal, a young lawyer from South Kashmir. According to Habeel, the quality of investigation agencies plays a major role in proving the crime. “If an investigation agency works professionally and with fool-proof mechanism, there are chances of conviction rates elevating,” he says. “But that rarely happens; most of the times, the cases stretch to so many years that it ultimately results in favour of the accused.”
Accused of molesting a lady doctor at his office, former Minister of State for Health and senior Congress leader Shabir Khan was booked under a molestation case by Jammu and Kashmir police. While the minister resigned a day after being booked, he still didn’t go to jail. Instead, once the FIR was filed, the minster went into hiding till he was able to arrange an interim bail for himself from J&K High Court.
After the Chief Judicial Magistrate issued a warrant against Khan in a molestation case, police claimed to have raided a number of places in Rajouri and Jammu but wasn’t able to arrest him. It also claimed to have removed his security cover. Many questioned police’s claims to have no trace of the accused for a week. It was strange in a place like Kashmir where a vast network of intelligence and security agencies are active 24×7.
Khan surfaced seven days later after the high court directed him to report to the police, and at the same time directed the police, in case of his appearance, they should release him on a surety bond of Rs 25,000.
His entry was in macho style. Stepping on the tarmac at the Srinagar international airport, Khan, under full security cover, drove to the Circuit house where he reportedly remained for more than four hours. Officials’ privy to development said that Khan informed police to inform investigation officer of the case to drop-in at the Circuit House to take the bail bond from him.
When the investigation officer didn’t turn up, Khan, fearing end of deadline, drove to the police station minutes before sunset, along with a troupe of his lawyers and associates. After completing the formalities at the police station, Khan was back in circuit house. Presently, the case is sub-judice.
Perhaps for the first revelation of its kind, a newspaper report in Indian Express named Ghulam Hassan Mir, Member of Legislative Assembly from Gulmarg, one of the recipients of 1.19 crore rupees from a secret fund raised by former Army chief V K Singh in order to bring down the state government.
According to media reports, Army chief, Gen. VK Singh, had set up a Technical Services Division (TSD) in military intelligence that paid crores of rupees out of secret funds to a cabinet minister of the state and an NGO to bring down the Omar Abdullah government. The fund was also being pumped in to block the chain of succession in Indian Army.
Omar Abdullah had demanded a CBI probe into the functioning of a top army intelligence unit that allegedly used security funds to topple Omar Abdullah-led coalition government in the state.
Omar’s close aide and MLA Amira Kadal Nasir Aslam Wani at that time said “in hindsight it appears the entire summer unrest of 2010 in which 110 people were killed in violent clashes between protesters and security forces appears to have been orchestrated by forces inimical to peace in Kashmir who wanted to bring down the democratically elected government in the state.”
Despite repeated demands and pleas to initiate a judicial probe by Supreme Court. Nothing happened!
By the end of January 2014, the Jammu and Kashmir Accountability commission had eight regular inquiry cases pending disposal against MLAs, Ex-MLAs and former ministers for corruption charges with different anti-corruption bodies.
According to the official documents, the list includes three sitting Cabinet Ministers and six former Ministers including two incumbent MLAs. The list has some big names: Taj Mohi-Ud-Din, Choudhary Mohammad Ramzan and Abdul Majeed Wani, Mangat Ram Sharma Gulchain Singh Charak, Ghulam Mohi-u-Din Sofi and Hakim Mohammad Yaseen.
Sending a signal to state government to hurry up in cases against lawmakers and politicians, Central government on September 1 said that it will “soon write to state governments to speed up cases against MPs and MLAs facing charges which attract disqualification.” The development came in the backdrop of Supreme Court of India’s directive on March 10, to set a deadline for lower courts to complete trial in cases involving lawmakers within a year of framing of charges. According to the apex court’s ruling, any sentence which attracts punishment of two years and above can lead to disqualification from Parliament or state legislature.
In case of the trial courts failing to complete the trial within a year, the apex court said, it [trial court] will have to give explanation to the chief justice of the respective high court.