The Last Speech

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After a hectic 3-day event of travel bloggers and journalists, when a senior officer delivered his “last speech”, it undid the costly effort in promoting the destination. An embarrassed government removed the officer, reports Saima Bhat

“I am a sensitive person and I don’t care…” this sentence will be remembered by many people who were present in the tourism department’s Kashmir Familiarisation Festival (FAM tour) held for three days at Pahalgam, Srinagar and Gulmarg. The video clip of around 14.56 minutes was viral on social networking sites after which the state government has announced an inquiry against Director Tourism, Tassaduq Jeelani, who loves to be called as TJ.

Much before this video became viral, a formal complaint was sent by the Indian embassy in Moscow to the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary for his ‘inappropriate behaviour’ in Moscow last month, which an all India delegation had visited. The delegation included two Kashmiri officials as well. “It included the name of tourism secretary but TJ changed it and wrote his own name instead,” said an official close to the development.

Son of a former Deputy Commissioner, Jeelani, a resident of Banihal, was an employee with Rural Development where, as the agriculture extension officer he raised to seniority list and was sent as a block development officer (BDO). He started his new postings as BDO Udhampur and then served as director in the information department, estates department and the District Commissioner Anantnag as well.

At FAM tour events, from October 25 to October 27, Jeelani delivered speeches in a “highly objectionable manner”. When his subordinates tried to stop him, he refused to oblige them, insisting he was speaking his ‘heart out’. The videos of his speeches embarrassed the government.

In Gulmarg speech, he repeatedly said he is ‘not afraid’ and ‘this may be his last day as the director tourism’.

Jeelani was also praising a lady artist by her name and expressed his anguish over the absence of association leaders, who according to him were “sleeping on their beds.” He then proudly claimed that he was not a “Kashmiri”. In the same event, he had asked his guests to ‘dance’ as well.

Similarly at Pahalgam event, one of the bloggers, Yogesh Sarkar, whom the tourism department had invited to be the part of the event, has mentioned how they were ‘escorted’ during their travel, which could have proved deadly despite the fact Kashmir is safer for tourists. In his blog, he also mentions the director ‘daring anyone to shoot him’. Meanwhile, one more guest in the event informed Kashmir Life that he had even recalled his childhood days in Pahalgam and mentioned the name of Hasan Pacha and said, ‘those days we used to come here with Churi, chaaku.’

For this event, the Tourism department had invited around 80 delegates. But none of those guests had to stay in the huts and hotels of the J&K Tourism Development Corporation (JKTDC), all the private hotels were booked for them. It is believed that this event was planned at an estimated cost of Rs 2 crore from the publicity budget. According to officials, an expenditure of over Rs 30 lakh is being claimed on account of lodging of the guests in Srinagar, Pahalgam and Gulmarg even as the JKTDC has scores of huts and hotels, including the Rs 33-crore modern club, vacant.

Reportedly the budget of Rs 2 crore was diverted from a film project which was scuttled in the wake of a controversy over the films made and sponsored during the time of Tassaduq Mufti as Minister of Tourism.

“In 2016, then MD JKTDC had requisitioned an amount of Rs 1 crore from Secretary Tourism for the promotion of the corporation’s assets and properties,” informed sources said. “When, earlier this year, incumbent MD JKTDC Asif Khan repeated the same requisition, Secretary Tourism Rigzin Samphel asked him to submit a one-page proposal so that Directorate of Tourism Kashmir would execute the same. Within days, an amount of Rs 2 crore, originally earmarked for a film commissioned to Discovery Channel, was diverted to Directorate of Tourism for holding an off-season autumn festival in Kashmir.”

Other than Jeelani’s speeches another issued was reported that no uniform was provided to the medium and lower rung staff who were supposed to receive and escort the guests at Srinagar, Pahalgam and Gulmarg. It had been decided to arrange for special uniforms for that staff.

Instead, reportedly expensive suits, at the rate of Rs 30,000 each, were tailored for senior officers, including the Director, four Deputy Directors, two lady Assistant Directors, selected CEOs of Development Authorities and the SP tourism, Amarjeet Singh. These 12 suits had come up at an amount of Rs 4 to 5 lakh.

Earlier in Visakhapatnam, Jeelani had a slot of five minutes to talk for the promotion of Kashmir but he spoke for 20 minutes even if the lady anchor had tried to stop him. “Madam I have come from 4000 kms distance I have to talk.”

One of the videos about the event shows Jeelani repeating the name of the places in the tourism promotional video that was shot by a drone camera over the Jhelum. Allegedly, he has “inappropriately behaved there as well.”

Post Script

Kashmir Life got the following response to the report on November 15, 2018 evening:
“Kindly refer your news article published under the title “The last speech” in your web version dated November 7, 2018. It has been reported that in the recent FAM tour organised by the Tourism department, expensive suits at the rate of Rs 30k each were tailored for Senior officers apparently referring that money was spend from the State exchequer.
Since it involves our personal integrity, it is imperative to clarify that as team we were supposed to don a uniform dress code during the event. In view of the occasion, it was completely a collective and personal decision of the us to wear a suit of the same colour and absolutely no money was drawn from the state exchequer for the same. It has nothing to do with the state funds spend on the event.
This is to request you to kindly issue a clarification to the news report published.
Regards
Masarat Hashim
Reyaz Ahamd Shah
Sarfaraz Mohammad
DD Tourism”

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