Engulfed by a series of controversies including the PHE department’s recruitment and procurement scam, senior Congress leader Taj Mohi-ud Din tells Saima Bhat that there were no scams in the first place and his contributions to the power sector should not be undermined.
KL: You once said that you were defamed “deliberately” to scuttle your chances of becoming chief of the state Congress; that you are becoming victim of party factionalism. Can you please elaborate who was doing it and what is going on in the party?
TM: It is true but I don’t want to comment on it as I don
’t want to blow up the matter now. I would like narrate an Urdu couplet, “Ab hawaye he kareingi roshni ka faisla, jis diye mei jaan hogi who diya rahega.” This speaks volumes.
I am told by Madam Sonia Gandhi to leave the matter to her. So I am not going to comment on it.
KL: In the state assembly, the government admitted that 7390 backdoor engagements of casual laborers and daily wagers were made in PHE department in the past 12 years. What is your take on it as your party colleague and senior NC leader has demanded a fair probe?
TM: What take? Nobody saw the enclosure I submitted in state assembly that these appointments had been done prior to from 1994 to 2005. I have already clarified it with documentary evidence that these people whom I regularized as casual laborers were working from 1994 to 2005 because nobody owned them. They were in service for more than 20 years but they figured nowhere. Not a single new person was engaged by me. I am the one who is against the spoiling of lives of people, young boys, by engaging them as casual laborers. They have no chances of becoming regular. If I appoint one casual laborer, that means I am spoiling his life.
If the nomenclature would have been daily wager, I would have appointed them because they get permanent after seven years of service. But a casual laborer will remain casual for his life. There was a provision that casual laborers should get regularized as it becomes obligatory for government after a regular service but that provision was removed long back.
KL: If we see the engagement lists, the laborers were appointed disproportionately; 1971 in Kashmir and 2917 in Jammu. Why was it so?
TM: Not at all. It was done at the both places. I have never gone into it if it was done disproportionately.
KL: The PHE department has been accused of purchasing substandard pipes above the market price and issuing contracts without proper tendering process resulting in losses to exchequer to the tune of crores of rupees under your tenure. How far is it true?
TM: Not at all. It has also been clarified in the assembly. The purchase is done through centre purchase committee. The standard of pipes is always checked by the third party inspection that writes for CIE which is nominated by the Government of India. When they are satisfied, only then is the purchase made. So there is no question of any low quality pipes.
Now the particular case which was hyped in the media has changed the course. It was through the decision of Supreme Court that it was proved that the tender were filed in proper way and everything was done normally. And the total purchase that has been done without tenders was Rs 33 lakhs only. This came out when chief engineer gave his statement and that was published in local newspapers.
KL: If present PHE minister is to be believed, 70 percent of the payments were done before the consignment was received?
TM: I don’t want to comment on it. It is too premature; a mature person can’t say these things. I don’t know why he is playing to the media galleries. I have been a minister for 30 years now and I know government is in continuity. We don’t go for such things. I don’t want to comment on his behavior.
KL: You were vocal for the return of power projects from NHPC. You brought in the much touted water tax bill. You even compared NHPC with notorious East India Company that enslaved India. However, there has been no success so far. In fact, you even could not refute the claim of NHPC‘s chief executive officer in its second quarterly report of waving off of water taxes. Confusion is still there. Why?
TM: No confusion is there. We have received the amount and up to now, we received Rs 1450 crores which are with state. We have been allowed by High Court to use this amount, so I don’t give a penny to the claim of the NHPC chief executive or whosoever he is. These are our projects and I have proved by documentary evidence that Salal belongs to us. It is written, I mean, we have first right to purchase the projects back whenever we have the money.
They have charged us Rs 2350 crores which means we made excess payment for Salal through purchase of power. All this is in the cabinet sub-committee report which has been approved by the cabinet. For the return of Salal project, we had to pay Rs 460 crores only if we had to take it back. They owe us Rs 2350 crores and just for Rs 150 crores, we could have got the projects back.
It is not my job. I have already done my job. It is now the job of power department and Chief Minister. I met them both and convinced him. I met Shinde who directed me to write to the PM’s office and they agreed that this is ours. Now if state government doesn’t do anything about it, I am not responsible for that. My job was to locate the papers, approve it from the Cabinet sub-committee where I was the member. My job was to make the report, make the representation to the government, to convince the cabinet to get it approved. After that it is the job of Law department, Advocate General and the Power Department.
My suggestion is if they don’t agree, the government of India doesn’t agree to it, then go to the Supreme Court and you will get it.
KL: Can we say these three departments haven’t taken it seriously?
TM: I will say it. If they had, we would have got our projects back. The Water Resources Act gives the power to close down the projects but it needs the strength. It is there, it is our property. They are our power projects and we should get them back and it can be done by paying the amount.
If we combine the income generation, it means about 1200 MWs of power which means Rs 3600 crores per year. Even if they don’t agree to our claim that we have done excess payment of Rs 2350 crores, which has been computed by the power development department, and I pointed out that we were entitled for 47 percent of power but they have given us only 35 percent of power, the rest of the pending 12 percent was sold to us on market value. So the difference between that is Rs 2350 crore.
But I repeat, till now, we should have collected around Rs 1400 crores from NHPC and PDC and then used it for making the new power projects.
TM: Punjab project was almost complete. The cabinet ultimately wanted that they want to have the opinion of the former Chief Justice of India but he gave the opinion in our favour. The former Solicitor General of India was also in our favour. Abdul Rahim Rather wanted to know the opinion of Attorney General of India. He thought he will never give the opinion but Attorney General of India not only endorsed my plan but he said that we can sue the Punjab for the damages. He also said that the state should start the work as money was available. I don’t know why they are not starting it.
If started, 1,33000 kanal land will be irrigated that means 1 lakh acres of land. 1,33000 families, which means 7 lakh people, will get water from the largest canal in Jammu region, which is 82 km long. The food production will increase to 2,66000 tons which will add to the overall development of the state.
In Kashmir, the Wular Barrage which is still under construction and the Tulmul Barrage, Pakistan had objected to their construction but I found a provision in Indus Water Treaty which says we can do the construction. I started that but the work is very slow. I don’t think it is going to be completed. All these projects even the Tawi Lake, the Punjab, Wular barrage were the projects of national value.
If Wular barrage starts, the lake will increase in area from 18 sq km to 100 sq km which means it will come to its original position of 1940. In winters, the generation by our power projects – two NHPC and one owned by state government, is 8 to 10 percent but if Wular barrage is started, it will give us 70 to 75 percent power. Not only that, the state will earn revenue of Rs 70 crores when the cost is only Rs 50 crores.
I don’t know what they are doing with all these projects and still I have been brought up to this level of controversy. They are doing it to defame me, just to lower my image. Madam Sonia Gandhi is supporting me, so I don’t want to say anything about them.
KL: When the NHPC scam was exposed, it was revealed that they had no formal agreement with the state. Can you elaborate more on that scam?
TM: They don’t have it and it was because of the indifferent attitude of both. It was as if they were selling mangoes. They were not serious at all. It was the non-seriousness of state government. I accuse everybody related to it.
My biggest contribution to the state was Water Resources Act which I did and not the law department. We don’t have any such laws. So I have to conceive the idea by reading the laws of two countries. I even drafted it myself. Each and every line has been written by me and it took me one year to do it.
KL: And under the MoU, J&K government is entitled to buy back these projects at the depreciated cost. Then why is the state government not doing anything to get the projects back?
TM: I have done my bit and now it is power development department. You can ask CM why he is not doing it.
KL: You are considered very close to some quarters in National Conference, particularly Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. You were first among the Congressmen to make it clear that Omar Abdullah will get full term as a chief minister in the coalition government. Why do the lawmakers in NC speak out against you?
TM: (Breaks into laughter) I don’t know. It might be because of jealousy if I enjoy the confidence of CM. In the cabinet, we are with the pleasure of CM. If they say I should not be good to him, I don’t know then how to do it. In that way, I was close to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Ghulam Nabi Azad who in turn used to respect me. And when one says logical things, he is a logical man, he understands. All these projects were possible only when I was in tune with the CM. Otherwise I could not have done so much for the state. I couldn’t have done the work I did for these project.
KL: If you were so close to Omar Abdullah, then didn’t you get back the power projects?
TM: That is his job. My job was to complete the papers. I did that. I was given the power under the act. After this was finished, it was the job of power department.
KL: After the recent cabinet reshuffle, there is a notion that you were stripped of important portfolios. How far it is true?
TM: I don’t know whether it was a conspiracy or to stall these projects. I have brought it to the notice of Congress high command and I am leaving it to them. But if the work is not done, the state will lose crores of rupees.
KL: There are a lot of vacancies in the health sector due to which our healthcare is ailing. What are you going to do? Any new plans for the health sector? What is the ‘evening clinics’ in government hospitals plan?
TM: I am creating the vacancies and the process has already started. But I am worried only for the faculty because faculty is not available. And for that, I am changing the rules so that the intake of medical colleges is increased. From last many years, the intake capacity was 100 in Kashmir and 100 in Jammu but now I am changing it to 300 or 350.
Evening clinics have already started. Presently they are functional at two places; Kashmir nursing home and the maternity hospital in Sanat Nagar. We have infrastructure. I am going to use it. Jammu hospital was in shambles. We renovated it completely. We are going to start the super specialty hospitals soon. Kashmir hospital was again started and we added one more section to it.
Evening clinic is a new concept throughout the country. It is like the doctors will be utilizing the hospital infrastructure during evening hours but the patients will be paying us for that, paying for everything. It will be like a private clinic in government hospitals but during evening hours only. I am doing it as our private hospitals are ill-equipped. Middle class families prefer to go to private clinics or outside the state for better services but I don’t want that to happen. That is why I have started this concept.
KL: What about the spurious drug scam?
TM: It is a big scam, maybe a tip of an iceberg. I have never heard that medicines will be total salt and it was given to the patients in Lal Ded hospital. Amoxylin was given to the people from far flung areas. We don’t know how many of them died. Now we are trying to trace down the ladies who consumed these medicines, as promised by Ghulam Nabi Azad, to see how they are doing and if they are alive. We don’t know if the children at GB Panth died because of these medicines.
KL: You are the only lawmaker from state who has supported AFSPA. Don’t you feel that the law has lost its applicability in the state or are you toeing the line of Delhi?
TM: Yes I said that but if the act is removed, I will be the first person who will be happy. Suppose if we remove it from Srinagar, what is the guarantee that militants will not return. It has taken us 20 years to eradicate militancy, so we should not take any risks. Besides, it is a very technical thing; we should not leave it to the politicians. We have police, intelligence, Army and once all these stakeholders are satisfied about its removal, I will have no objection.
KL: Recently you said we will develop more playgrounds to keep youth away from stone pelting. Did you mean that youth are pelting stones for playgrounds?
TM: Yes that is true because they have nothing else to do. I don’t want my children to become martyrs. I want them to study, play, and become gentlemen. They have nothing to do after schools and if they have playgrounds, which are their basic rights, they will get busy with sports. I want to give them indoor stadiums, playgrounds. Don’t take it other way around. I belong to this place and I know what they want.
Azadi is alright, play also and then ask for Azadi. I would like to say if you want to sacrifice playgrounds for Azadi, don’t do it. I have already got Rs 700 crores for the development of sports.
KL: From a long time, you are being cornered by others, even by your party members. As elections are approaching, what is Congress doing to manage the crisis brewing within the party?
TM: Congress may have hundreds of differences within the party but, as the elections come nearer, we are one man party. It doesn’t matter. At the end, we are all Congressmen. Even if it has been happening, it is for the promotion of the party.