Omar Abdullah government has decided against obliging governor N N Vohra who had sought change in a “blatantly discriminating” clause of the Public Safety Act. Law Ministry is sending the same draft back to cabinet without altering even an iota, sources in the government said.

As draft of an ordinance revising the law land in Raj Bhawan for the mandatory consent, the officials traced a discrimination against non-state subjects. Under the new law, the law enforcement agencies are barred from detaining state subjects, and not non-state subjects, who are below the age of 18 years. Governor ordered return of the file immediately with a direction to change the cause that is violating the constitution of the country. “Before the law, all the citizens are equal,” an official in Raj Bhawan was quoted saying.

After a series of meeting within the law ministry, officials decided against inserting any change. “The law provides reasonable classification and even PSA has many such clauses,” a senior law ministry official said. “Under section10 of the PSA we can arrest and jail state subjects within the state but in case of non state subjects we are permitted to send them in outside jails.”

The constitution, the officer said, has many such instances. In adultery, Indian Penal Code sees woman just an abettor but takes man as an offender with five years punishment. Though this section of the IPC was challenged in the apex court, nothing changed. “The governor has involved Article 14 of the constitution that deals with the discrimination on basis of caste, creed faith but we do not see it applies on this clause of PSA,” the officer said. “In a way, state constitution has already discriminated against non state subjects on the issue of domicile, employment and land ownership and that discrimination is protected by Article 370.”

Vohra’s office is facing criticism for ignoring the “draconian” clauses of the law that the state cabinet left unchanged in the ordinance. Section 10(a) of the PSA provides that the order of detention under this law cannot be deemed to be invalid even if “the grounds of such detention are vague, nonexistent, not relevant and not connected with the person to be detained.” If A being caught in place of B, says lawyer Mohammad Shafi, is not a discrimination then Vohra’s order to the state government does not merit a consideration at all.

Law department is sending the file back to the cabinet without any change. “If the file goes back to Raj Bhawan unchanged, governor will have no option but to stamp the draft,” an officer said. “That is the practice and the procedure.”

Effecting changes in PSA became inevitable as international condemnation of the law by the human rights watchdogs peaked in last two years. Amnesty International (AI) released a major report ‘Lawless Law’ in Srinagar that detailed the genesis, nature and the implementation of the law. While the law minister had told in the state assembly that PSA was required for governance, a senior official told AI that it was aimed at preventing some people from circulation.

While the law ministry is angry over Raj Bhawan finding holes in their project, they are silent over the violations that the state government has resorted to. PSA has a review board that has the potential of quashing any detention. The three member board is to be appointed by the government in consultation with the chief justice of J&K high court. Under the new ordinance, the board members term would be two years that can be extended by one year. But this was violated by the government without even publicly announcing it.

Retired justice M L Koul was reappointed last week. Koul retired from active services in 1997 from Punjab and Haryana High Court. His first appointment in PSA Board came in November 2000 for a period of five years. Well before his term would complete in 2005, another order gave him an extension till further orders. In July 2008, the order was explained that he will continue till 2011.

Last month, he finally retired at 78 years of age and was at home for 22 days when the state government showered him with another extension! Sources in the civil secretariat said his only qualification is that he is used to squandering his mandate under the law but never objecting to any detention order under PSA. Koul was re-appointed at 78 when there are 28 retired high court judges much younger to him available.

A Corpus And A CAREER
Bureaucracy did not satiate his hunger for power. He is now ambitious of joining politics. Mehboob Iqbal is likely to join congress. This revelation came from the minister Taj Mohuiddin who is thought to be his mentor in politics and in whose department Irrigation and Flood Control; he was a Commissioner at the time of retirement. An Azad buddy, Iqbal’s entry into Congress will strengthen his camp better.

But Iqbal’s has not gone empty-handed to his people, who received him in a 500-car procession last month. Latest revelations suggest that he has diverted Rs 18 crore of centrally sponsored drinking water scheme to his home district of Doda. In violation of the guidelines of National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP), the funds are precisely going to be spent for Bhaderwah. Allocation and diversion of the centrally sponsored scheme’s funds could not ordinarily happen without the concerned Minister’s approval. Reports suggest diversion of funds took place days before Iqbal’s retirement from service on November 30, 2001.Taj Mohiuddin had returned from Hajj and was very much present in the state at that time.

While doing all this congress party’s MLA from Bhaderwah, where the funds are intended to be utilized, Mohammad Sharief Niaz has been completely kept in the dark. He is ignorant about this particular diversion of funds. Mehboob is intending to replace Niaz as nominee of Congress. He is said to be claiming “direct support” from his Minister-relative as well as union Minister of Health Ghulam Nabi Azad. He seems to be hand in glove with Taj and reportedly tour of latter in the Chenab valley recently was organised by Mehboob.

Many in political circles describe his possible foray into active politics as Congress party’s answer to PDP’s induction of Asgar Ali, retired director of rural development Kashmir and now PDP’s MLC.  He hails from erstwhile Kishtwar and much like Iqbal landed into a corruption-related episode months before his retirement.

Mehboob is gaining weight. Sources in bureaucracy insist that under tremendous pressure from certain political quarters, Law Secretary did not process sanction to Mehboob Iqbal’s prosecution until he reached superannuation on November 30th and got his pension case settled without any hitch. Before actually joining politics, Mehboob has started to show his power of influence in state politics. Will he be able to continue?

Yash Pal Khajuria

Former minister and Congress leader, Yash Pal Khajuria, MLC, died of a massive heart attack at Command Hospital, Udhampur. A vice president of the party, Khajuria belonged to Dandaal village (Chenani). A businessman, he joined politics and won his first assembly election from Chenani in 1987 after losing the same seat to Prof Bhim Singh in 1983. He served as Minister for Rural Development in Farooq Abdullah headed NC-Congress coalition Government from 1987 to 1990. This year in April, after 21 years of struggle in the party, he was elected as MLC.

Khajuria had recently been appointed as Congress observer for Udham Singh Nagar and Almora in Uttaranchal for the upcoming assembly elections. He was also a member of the AICC (I). In 1999, 1996 and 1999 Khajuria was election Observer in Manipur, Punjab and Rajasthan.

Being in Congress had helped Khajuria to be active at various fronts. He was member of the Youth Congress Delegation to Moscow Olympics in 1980; Youth Congress Delegate for Youth Festival to Moscow in 1984-85; Member Organizing Committee for Foreign Delegates in the Special AICC session at Bombay at Congress Centenary Celebrations in 1985, and he was also Chairman of Organizing and Reception Committee for international Youth Conference on Apartheid in South Africa in 1984 at New Delhi.

He contested unsuccessfully the assembly elections in 1983 and 2002. Khajuria is survived by his wife Meenakshi (a Grade-I MES officer) and two sons, Gourav and Sourabh, both engineers.

Do They KNOW?
For many it was an interesting read, last week. State assembly’s Committee on Public Undertakings (PUC) under the chairmanship of lawmaker Abdul Haq summoned top J&K bank executives.

“The Committee members discussed audit para of non-recovery of debt shown by CAG Audit Report 2006-07 pertaining to Finance Department (J&K Bank Ltd) besides reviewed working of the bank,” an official statement said. The Committee also discussed audit paras of Himachal Pardesh Infrastructure Development Board and M/S Divya Foods Private Limited, Bombay during the meeting. Apart from seeking personal appearance of the chairman, the committee sought detailed report of non-performing assets (NPA) outside J&K.

The bank is 53% owned by the J&K government and the lawmakers have every authority to see how it functions. But the lawmakers need to know that listed companies are not treated like this because they already are audited by top notch auditors of the RBI as the SEBI is taking care of its trading. Involving CAG, State Vigilance Organization, Crime Branch and other watchdogs would complicate the functioning of the bank, the only listed company of the state. That does not mean that the lawmakers have no mandate.

They have mandate and they should exercise it but those exercises should not be aimed at getting to the newspaper front pages. There have been a number of instances in the past during the leadership of Mohamad Yousuf Khan and Dr Haseeb Drabu when the issues were taken up, off the cameras and publicity. Issues were identified and solutions found. Lawmakers have lot of powers but let them be aware of the responsibilities as well.

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