KL NEWS NETWORK
With J&K top IAS officer Iqbal Khanday deciding against staying as state’s Chief Secretary from Tuesday (September 1), the controversy running since March has come to a close. Indications suggest that B R Sharma, the second top officer, will soon be asked to takeover. He has already attended a cabinet meeting, as in-charge cabinet secretary, the issue that led to Khanday’s decision to retire voluntarily.
Khanday had decided to move out of the secretariat quite recently. Had he planned it earlier, he might not have applied for his pension from November 2015, when he was supposed to superannuate. These documents are now being re-submitted to advance the date, sources said.
Though part of the cabinet and Khanday as Chief Secretary were having a bitter relationship since the first cabinet meeting took place in March in Jammu, his decision to retire was dictated by the last cabinet meeting that Khanday ducked.
Sources close to Khanday said he had a death in the family and was into mourning and had suggested the state government to delay the meeting by a few days more. If there was no urgency for calling the cabinet in nearly four months, it could wait a few days more, he had reportedly argued.
But the government refused to defer the meeting and instead called B R Sharma to attend the meeting. This is being considered unprecedented in recent days and Khanday has taken offence for “undermining his position”. He had actually called some officers the same night indicating he will move out now. But he sent his request for voluntary retirement on Monday at 11 am.
However, a senior cabinet minister told Kashmir Life that the cabinet meeting started with Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed condoling the death in Khanday’s family. “He even said it that had he not been committed to certain meeting the day after, he would have deferred the meeting,” the minister, speaking anonymously said. “It should have satisfied his ego”.
But officials, apparently not supportive of either of the two sides, suggest that this was the natural outcome of the bitter relationship that they two sides exhibited from day one. The bad blood surged from the day, Khanday told a cabinet minister that this government needs a steno, not a Chief Secretary. Though various efforts were made to help the two sides come closer, these failed.
Khanday had served as principal secretary to Mufti in 2002 briefly. In 2008 Khanday’s daughter, Sehr, contested on PDP mandate unsuccessfully from Kokernag. Once Khanday was absolved of the charges in the 2006 case by a Chandigarh court, Omar Abdullah picked him as his Chief Secretary in February 2013.
The 1978 batch IAS officer, Khanday is 1955 born Scorpio who has held various positions in the state government before taking the top position. He has been a Deputy Commissioner, a director and then headed planning – for a long time, tourism, health, home, finance, R&B, besides heading the IMPA. He was principle secretary to the chief minister Mufti Sayeed during his first term as JK’s CM.
Khanday was the third officer from Kashmir to become the top bureaucrat. But he was the first direct IAS recruit from Kashmir who could make it to top position. His senior M Shafi Pandit could not make it and retired just a step earlier.
But reaching this position had not been so easy for Khanday. His first major issue was his health. A chain smoker – he has given it up – Khanday contracted cancer and had to pass though critical surgery in advanced stage-III of lung cancer and a recurrence involving other organs more than twice at Tata Memorial Hospital Mumbai and Sloan Kettering Cancer Center New York in 1995-97. Extensive recurrence of the malignant disease in April 1997 had involved his chest wall, ribs and pleura.
Khanday’s worst tragedy of his life, however, was the death of his son Sajid Iqbal (born June 19, 1984), the 28 year-old budding lawyer, who was killed in a road accident near Awantipora in the dead of one summer night in May 2011. Burn Hall alumni, Sajid graduated in law from School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He was occasionally writing for local newspapers.
“His crucial intervention as chief secretary as I know was in October 2014,” a senior officer said. “While the general impression in Srinagar was that elections must get deferred to speed up rehabilitation and restoration, he told visiting election commission that assembly elections could be held on time. Had he not supported the in-time elections, the process might have been deferred to March 2016.”
But once the elections sent a new government to the secretariat, it was not in unison with Khanday, the leader of its bureaucracy.
“I am a happy man now,” Khanday told Kashmir Life. He refused offering any comment other than insisting that he would not be seen in the secretariat from Tuesday.