A New Investigator

With the formation of the State Investigating Agency (SIA) on NIA-pattern, Masood Hussain reports about the continuity of change in Jammu and Kashmir’s security grid 

Union Home Minister Amit Shah with CRPF men at Lethpora Pulwama on October 25, 2021.

A group of women from the armed forces manning a road junction at the highway connecting Kashmir with Ladakh dominating the visual stories from Kashmir for a week, late summer. Photographs showcasing female CRPF personnel in full battle gear in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk, searching the belongings of the ordinary women and frisking them were an instant social media in wake of a series of civilian killings in Kashmir, last month. An additional five thousand paramilitary men joining more than 70 thousand of their colleagues for improving law and order in Kashmir was just a piece of news last week. Now certain localities are seeking restoration of the spacious marriage halls, which the reinforcements have occupied on the directions of the civil administration.

A New Agency

Then came the breaking news about the setting up of the State Investigating Agency (SIA) on the pattern of the federal investigator, the National Investigating Agency (NIA), an event that triggered an adverse commentary on the formal and social media. The new agency to be led by Jammu and Kashmir’s intelligence chief as an ex-officio Director is mandated to be the nodal agency for NIA and other central security agencies in Jammu and Kashmir, now a federally managed union territory.

A Home Department order suggested the specialised agency shall take measures “as may be necessary for speedy and effective investigation and prosecution of terrorism-related cases”. Now all the agencies especially the Jammu and Kashmir Police at the station level will have to necessarily inform the SIA about all cases or arrests made in connection with militancy. The two police stations at Srinagar and Jammu manned by the CID/CIK since May 1977 will have the authority to register and investigate cases.

“Wherever, upon intimation, the National Investigation Act, 2008, the investigation is not taken up by the NIA, the DGP, J&K shall, having regard to the gravity of the offence, progress of investigation and other relevant factors, determine in consultation with the SIA whether the case is fit to be investigated by SIA & transfer the investigation of the such case at any point of time during its investigation; however, if there is a difference of opinion, the DGP shall take a decision, while recording the reasons in writing,” the order reads. In cases not transferred to SIA, it adds, SIA will be informed about the progress.

Home Minister Amit Shah presiding over a security review meeting, during his 3-day Jammu and Kashmir visit, in Srinagar on October 23, 2021.

The order has specified as many as 16 areas in which the SIA will work. These include the Explosive Substances Act, the Atomic Energy Act, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the Anti-Hijacking Act, the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Civil Aviation Act, the SAARC Convention Suppression of Terrorism Act, the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act and the Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act.

Besides, the SIA will also handle cases having terrorism linkage; all terrorist acts including Terrorist Financing and circulation of high quality fake Indian currency notes cases, terrorism related larger conspiracy cases, terrorism financing and terrorism linked NDPS cases besides terror-linked kidnapping and murder cases, thefts/extortions, ATM/bank robbery cases; weapon snatching and terror-linked propaganda.

“Cases relating to terrorism linked propaganda, false narrative, large scale incitement, spreading of disaffection and enmity against the Indian Union” also falls under SIA mandate, according to the annexure attached to the order. In all these cases, SIA will suo moto register a case and start investigations. The SIA staff will get a special incentive at the rate of 25 percent of the basic pay.

Reaction

The setting up of the agency triggered an adverse commentary. The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), now reduced to NC, PDP, CPIM and ANC, termed it as an attempt to strengthen the “repressive apparatus”. The SIA formation with “unbridled powers” was seen by PAGD spokesman, comrade M Yousuf Tarigami as “ne more assault” on democratic rights and civil liberties.

“In the name of fighting terrorism, these agencies and laws are being weaponised against citizens who hold a different viewpoint from the government,” his statement said. “What was the need to add one more such agency, when already NIA and UAPA have created havoc among the people by gross misuse of these draconian measures?”

PAGD leaders addressing a press conference in Srinagar on Tuesday August 24, 2021. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

“The only progress GOI made post 5th August has been creating more tools of state suppression to intimidate people into submission & silence, Mehbooba Mufti, the PDP president wrote on her Twitter. “As if ED, CBI, NIA & anti-terror laws weren’t enough, we now have SIA with sweeping powers & impunity to repress people further in J&K.” NC’s youthful spokesman Imran Nabi Dar said adding to the “institutions to intimidate the people of Kashmir” after Home Minister’s visit indicates government unsure of the situation on the ground.

Even by people knowing Kashmir but not the domiciles of the place like Ajai Sahni, who heads the Institute of Conflict Management, saw it as “an oblique admission” to failure of the federal government. “How will the new agency work differently?” Sahni was quoted asking by The Wire. “They operate in same old frameworks and under same political bosses, so what is going to be different this time?”

There are a lot of interpretations for the surprising development. One explanation said it was aimed at giving “more teeth” to Jammu and Kashmir intelligence. Another believed the idea was to decrease the load on the executive police that, by all means, is one of the most multi-tasking police forces in India.

Sources told Kashmir Life the idea was discussed in the meeting that Home Minister, Amit Shah presided over in Srinagar, a meeting in which a lot of uncomfortable questions were asked to the security grid. The SIA, the sources said, is the outcome of “points of difference” between the Jammu and Kashmir Police and some federal agencies in operations within the union territory while working for the same goal.  The Indian Express reported that SIA will handle cases “not referred to the NIA”.

Making of ACB

The establishment of the SIA is just a new development in Jammu and Kashmir’s security grid. There have been a series of interventions after the fall of the BJPDP government in Srinagar followed by a reading down of the so-called special status and the subsequent extension of federal laws to Jammu and Kashmir. Some of these decisions were outcomes of the reorganisation process as well and a few were in pipeline for one or the other reason.

Jammu and Kashmir has the notoriety of being corrupt and it is evolved into such a benign subject that everybody is at ease on this.  Off late, however, the counter-corruption narrative has reached newer levels to the extent that Satya Pal Malik, the man who replaced veteran N N Vohra even accuses the erstwhile Chief Executives of corruption.

It was, interestingly, in Malik’s era that the Jammu and Kashmir Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) was approved by the erstwhile State Administrative Council (SAC) on October 24, 2018. Though not a newer organisation, it was a renaming of the Jammu and Kashmir State Vigilance Commission that witnessed certain changes in Jammu and Kashmir laws – Prevention of Corruption Act and State Vigilance Commission Act, and also in their operation mechanism.

Chief Secretary inaugurated e-Office for J&K Anti Corruption Bureau on Friday August 13, 2021

Under the ACB, a chain of new police stations (from two to six) were established to fight the menace of corruption.

Jammu and Kashmir’s battle against corruption is an old story. Till 1949, offences of bribery were investigated by the executive police under relevant provisions of RPC. Then, an Anti Corruption Wing came into being within the State Crime Branch. In 1962, a full-fledged Anti-Corruption Organization came into being. In 1983, Jammu and Kashmir State Vigilance Organsation (SVO) was formed after tweaking the existing laws that brought even lawmakers into the purview of the counter-graft body and two police stations were set up. Finally, in 2018, the SVO became the Directorate of Anti-Corruption Bureau Jammu and Kashmir.

A Special Security Force

The second decision on the security grid was the creation of the Special Security Force (SSF) in December 2018. Mandated to protect the governor, later Lt Governor, the SSF is supposed to be led by a DIG rank officer with a total strength of 269 personnel on its staff (SRO 244 of July 31, 2020).  Most of the staff is supposed to be well-trained to face a situation in a turmoil hit the place and has its centres in Jammu, Srinagar and Delhi.

LG Manoj Sinha inaugurates wild life week at SKICC on the banks of Dal Lake in Srinagar on Saturday October 2, 2021. The SSF is surrounding him. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

The Governor and the executive heads of the erstwhile state were being protected by a security group called, the Special Security Group (SSG). When the group was set up in the post-1990 Kashmir in Dr Farooq Abdullah led government in 1996, it was supposed to take care of the Governor and Chief Minister’s security. After Mufti Sayeed succeeded Farooq, the relevant SSG law was amended and all the former Chief Minister’s were included in the SSG-protection list.

Interestingly, as the SSF has now been set up to manage the security of the incumbent at the Raj Bhawan, SSG continues to manage the former Chief Ministers’ security – Dr Farooq Abdullah, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah. Interestingly, Azad and Dr Farooq, have an additional NSG security cover as well. Against a sanctioned strength of 473 personnel, the IGP led SSG operates from Srinagar, Jammu and Delhi. Interestingly the rules and the systems of operation of both the security groups are same.

The Terror Monitoring Group

Months ahead of reading down of Article 370, the Ministry of Home Affairs on March 30, 2019, ordered the constitution of a multi-agency Terror Monitoring Group (TMG) to check the illegal flow of funds for militancy. This was perhaps the first major intervention in the security setup.

Aimed at taking “coordinated action against terror funding” and “taking action against hardcore sympathisers among government employees including teachers etc providing overt or covert support to such activities”, the 7-member group is headed by Jammu and Kashmir’s intelligence chief. Its members include representatives from the Intelligence Bureau (IB), CBI, NIA, Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), and Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC), besides, inspector-general of police (OGP), Kashmir.

The MHA order mandated the group to “identify all key persons including leaders of the organisations who are involved in supporting terrorism in any form and take concerted action against them. Investigate the networks of various channels being used to fund terror and terror-related activities and take action to stop the flow of such funds”.

“TMG has been constituted to ensure synergized and concerted action against terror financing and other terror related activities in the State of Jammu and Kashmir,” Minister of State for Home Affairs, G Kishan Reddy told the Lok Sabha on July 9, 2019. “The Government has adopted a policy of zero tolerance towards terrorism.  An effective response is given by the security forces to counter terrorist activities in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.”

Directorate of Prosecution

For a very long time, authorities in Jammu and Kashmir were toying with the idea of separating the prosecution wing from the Jammu and Kashmir Police and giving it an identity and autonomy in prosecution. Finally, the State Administrative Council (SAC) accorded approval to the proposal on October 22, 2019. The order, issued a week later, justified the intervention by saying that with the enforcement of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) has come into force thus requiring bringing the legal framework in sync with the national norm for ‘prosecutorial independence’

Kashmir prosecutors in a group photograph on the occasion of the retirement of Joint Director Ichpal Singh on October 30, 2021

So a Directorate of Prosecution a Director General (Prosecution), started by creating the Jammu and Kashmir Prosecution Service. For a start, the authorities deemed it fit to hire senior prosecutors post-retirement, if and when required. For around two years now, the Directorate is operating successfully.

Crime Branch Reorganisation

The Crime Branch of the Jammu and Kashmir Police is now a specialised agency. As per the June 23, 2020 order, the Crime Branch has now four wings to take care of special activities – the economic offences wing, the special crime wing, cyber crime investigation centre for excellence. Under the new setup, this agency will take care of a variety of cases that fall under these categories.

The crime branch was part of the CID organisation of the Jammu and Kashmir Police and was given functional autonomy in 1978. In 1991, it was given a police station each at Srinagar and Jammu. In 1996, the Crime Branch got mandate to investigate and prosecute 23 notified offences. With the arrival of the internet, cyber crimes emerged, the mandate of investigations of which was given to the Crime Branch in 2009.

A year after the reorganisation in 2020, the ANTF Jammu and ANTF Kashmir were declared as Police stations for NDPS Acts.

Special Task Force

Forget the counter-militancy, the Special Operations Group (SOG), Lt Governor Manoj Sinha administration constituted a Special Task Force to investigate government employees allegedly involved in ‘anti-national’ activities in April 2021.

For identification of these employees, the STF while engaging with Terror Monitoring Group (TMG) and other agencies and departments will scrutinize cases in a time-bound manner. Eventually, Article 311(2)(c) of the Constitution will invoke for the dismissals. Article 311 gives the government and authority for dismissal, removal or reduction in rank of persons employed in civil capacities under the Union or a State or Union Territory. Its Section 2(C) rules out the requirement of a pre-dismissal inquiry “in the interest of the security of the State”.

The STF is headed by the Jammu and Kashmir’s Intelligence Chief, RR Swain, with representatives of the Home and Law department.

On May 1, 2021, a school teacher, Idrees Jan, from Kupwara became the first employee of the Jammu and Kashmir, who was dismissed by a committee led by the Chief Secretary that the government constituted on July 30, 2020 for invoking the stringent special provision of the constitution for dismissal of public servants. The committee decides on the STF recommendation on basis of relevant records including collateral evidence. Since Jan’s dismissal, around 29 employees stand dismissed for their alleged militant links.

A Continuous Process

Sources suggest that the process of interventions is a dynamic process as the situation continues to evolve. Information technology, they pointed out is coming up with surprising issues on an almost daily basis. They point out the reported suspension (in October) of a separatist blog that operated since 2018 and threatened individuals in Kashmir as a result of which three persons lost their lives.

So the long arm of the law is growing more teeth.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here