Last week, on an unusually hot afternoon, I walked into the grounds from where the State Accountability Commission (SAC) conducts its drive to put an end to corrupt practices in high places. I was there to meet justice B. A. Khan, the head of the SAC. It wasn’t easy to reach him. The jumpy security guards at the gates rummaged through my backpack, seized my crash helmet, and then, satisfied, I was allowed to walk on.
From here, one could barely hear the hum of the heavy traffic outside. A cool breeze came from the nearby Jhelum River; a dozen or more security guards lay on the grassy grounds under the shade of Chinar trees, either too bored or simply tired from too much work. The air was more suited to a secluded retreat than to a government body empowered to crack down on the high and mighty of the state.
A long driveway took you to an old stately building in which Khan, a retired judge, works to tackle the corruption of politicians, or so he was supposed to turn his gaze on when he was brought in last year as the head of the SAC. Then, it had been without a leader for a year. Not that it has done any work in the last eight months since Khan assumed the charge. It has hardly received any complaint and one feels, with no work to do, that its staff, including the chairman, couldn’t have dreamt of a more better sinecure. The law (the State Accountability Act 2002), after multiple amendments, stands, or more appropriately bows, as a set of toothless words couched in a language very few understand.
Khan sat behind a large desk; books on law were piled up against the wall. It was quiet here as though the rampant misery of Kashmir could never scale the high walls of this part of what is called the Old Secretariat complex. Khan had done well for himself. He became a permanent judge of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in 1990, and then he was made a judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court in 1997 before he moved to Delhi High court in 2000. He was appointed as the Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in 2005.
He almost feels helpless. Here was a man at whose command a man in the dock could end up in prison or walk free. Today, all he could do was just sit in his grand office, listen to the chirrup of the birds, or gaze out of the window of his office at the mountains in the distance or simply sulk.
According to Khan the Act was a mere “decoration piece” that offered no checks and balances. A law that couldn’t ask questions let alone demanding explanations.
“Mufti sahib had a vision that I must bring in a watchdog on my administration. It was such an awesome law, it covered everything except that the SAC’s action was not made binding which should have been there. You see unless the action proposed by SAC is made binding, it will not give you any results,” said Khan.
“Those amendments which have been made in the Jammu and Kashmir Accountability Commission Act, 2002, were brought keeping in view with some kind of a self-interest or vested interest which was projected on a misleading argument,” he added.
“If public administration feels that it has to be accountable to somebody, some institution, some accountability commission, it will definitely see to it that no such body remains there and they are all left scot-free. So that is why I call it a vested interest, otherwise if there is genuine public administration, it should have no problem to offer itself to the scrutiny,” he said.
Nine years after it was first drafted in 2002, the Act was amended in 2011. The definition of word ‘public functionary’ was amended thus keeping out most of the institutions, bureaucracy and pubic administration out of its jurisdiction on the special plea that now public administration was covered by the Vigilance Commission.
“There was nobody to ask them that look vigilance commission has a separate jurisdiction. It is to take cognizance of an allegation which amounts to an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act whereas Accountability commission has all vast pervasive jurisdictions; to go into an omission, to go into maladministration, to go into nepotism, favouritism, so on and so forth,” said Khan.
According to Khan, an amendment has to have a purpose or objective. That purpose has to be made clear with debates and discussions. “I have been going public on this issue that our legislators do not devote themselves to any process of law making. And you will find in legislatures or parliament, most of the laws or amendments are passed without any debate,” he said.
Even when the Act was hardly amended, there were only few cases that the SAC dealt with. Just 28 cases in over 13 years of its existence in a state which witnessed massive corruption.
“Expediency! The answer is expediency!” “We are facing this problem. We have been in position from first of October 2015, and we have received in a single case. I do not know what the reasons are though I can think of some: First, the political class is new and our jurisdiction is only those people. They have not attracted any allegations so far. Second, people think this SAC has not given any result right since 2002. So why go waste your time there? We will only face retaliation by a mighty political person. Even if it is a genuine complaint, the person is scared to report it.”
He felt maybe the thought of achieving nothing at the end of a long process was keeping people from coming to the SAC. He said that because the current Act does not make the Commission’s action or recommendation binding on the authority in question, it has lost its relevance entirely. On top of it, whatever small number of cases the SAC had attracted since 2002 were either under the High court stay or were lying in some office.
“When I took over in 2015, we had to start from the scratch. We had to fight a legal battle where I engaged a counsel from New Delhi to argue that the powers of SAC had been taken away, like our suo moto power,” he said. Khan claimed that most of the cases were disposed off and the suo moto powers were eventually restored. Suo moto is a legal term that literally means “on its own motion.” The power gives any government agency to act on its own, to identify the issues on its own.
The SAC chairman was doubtful that the recommendations he has made to the current government on the Act will be considered. He feels the government has other issues to look at than to worry about empowering the SAC. “I was expecting that those recommendations will be carried through the legislature. But my feeling is that the current government’s hands are full with other priorities. And maybe they don’t regard accountability commission as a priority. So I am not expecting that whatever we have recommended will see the light of day immediately,” Khan said.
He didn’t share the nature of the recommendations but said that in totality all he was asking was to restore the Act to its original position.
“I cannot share the recommendations since they have to be put through legislation first, but I can tell you is that we want the Act to be restored to its original glory which was more effective than the present Lokpal, which came into being after a struggle of 2-3 years and in our case this Act was conceived by the Late CM Mufti Sayeed Sahib,” said Khan.
Khan was blunt enough to say that there was no one in the PDP who has the same understanding of matters or vision like its founder had.
“Even if the party is the same, you cannot attribute Mufti Sahab’s vision to theirs,” he said. “See one thing is the political dimension of it, the other thing is the understanding of the concept. See if he had a concept of building an institution, there has to be someone who can work on that but at present there seems to be no one. I do not know about his daughter’s vision, her concept, but I personally believe that no one can reach Mufti sahab’s understanding.”
He came across as a man who was fighting a lost cause and I told him his words sounded grim and didn’t hold any level of optimism. “Look I am sitting idle and I am not used to it. I am conscious of the government’s attitude, I am conscious of their difficulties as well but at the same time unless the government has a sense of purpose in a particular institution, one is bound to face either resistance or indifference or treating issues as a lost priority or coming with excuses.”
I tried to be a little more specific in asking him if he had any hopes for the SAC. “Oh yes! I am an optimistic man. This place had nothing. I am building it up and twenty-five percent of it I have succeeded in by pursuing matters with the government and it did respond, that was Mufti sahab’s government by the way,” he said.
Khan was fast enough to add a few lines appreciating the governor of the state as well. “Most of the things were done during the governor’s rule because there were no political channels and likes and dislikes which otherwise come in the way,” he said.
When I persisted with the question that after all the efforts, the bottom-line remained that the Act was powerless and the Commission could not take a complaint and expect to fairly deal with it, Khan said: “Who am I? I am a politics chowkidar, a watchdog of the government which proclaims believing in good governance. This chowkidar has been imposed by the government on itself. It depends on the government’s purpose and sincerity to make this institution workable.”
Khan said that it was a misconception that the SAC was a resting place for retired judges. He also denied that the law needs to be repealed even though it has not yet fulfilled its basic aim.
“You cannot shut down an institution for government’s indifference. It is the law that has to be repealed. Tomorrow you will say the government is not working, close the secretariat, is that possible?” Khan opined.
He said that the government was “nice enough” to give the SAC ten member-staff which included head assistants, junior assistants, and stenographers.
“We call it the ministerial staff,” he said.
Before I left his office, I asked him if he were thinking of resigning from the job, he said: “I will only If I fail and feel I am being useless. That my effort is going nowhere.”
The Cuckoo’s nest
SRINAGAR: We all must have seen the Bollywood flick ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’. For those who haven’t, the story is about a small Pakistan girl who suffers from speech impediment. To find a miraculous cure, her mother takes her to a Dargah in India. Unfortunately, the girl is left behind on her way back to Pakistan. Enter our hero who makes a point to reunite her with the family and travels across boundaries in his bid, fighting soldiers and doing comedy… All in all, the movie seems too good to happen in real world.
But while you are pondering on it, here in Kashmir something similar has been happening from many years now with hardly any talk about it.
At Srinagar’s Psychiatric Hospital, a few local and non-local patients who are long cured have been waiting for years now to reunite with their families, whose whereabouts are unknown. Nobody at the hospital knows their real names or the exact place they belong to. As such, the hospital authorities have given the patients new names to identify them and keep their records.
One among them has been mentioned as Jozy in the hospital records and appears like the natives of West Bengal. She would be around 18 years. She according to hospital staff was brought there in January, 2014 by the police. “Police had found her somewhere on the street. After noticing her unusual behavior, she was brought to the hospital. She has shown a huge improvement over the years. We don’t know her real name but everyone calls her Jozy and she too understands that,” a hospital staff member while looking after her in ward No 5 of the hospital said. “She gave some clues about her native village but we are yet to trace her family. We hope one day she will be reunited with her family.”
Similarly, another one has been named Fareeda and is almost the age of Jozy. She too was brought to the hospital by the police in 2013. She speaks a mixed Kashmiri and Pahari dialect. “In her broken words, she is telling something like Drugmul. We guessed that it could be Drugmul Kupwara and contacted some people there but have not been successful in tracing her family so far,” the official said. As per him, both were brought to the hospital in a bad condition. “There has been a huge improvement in their health over the years.”
They may be communicating through words or facial expression, eat on their own and play to each other and assist the other patients but prefer to remain silent to strangers. “For outsiders it may sometimes become difficult to understand them but those who treat, nurse them, understand what they want to say,” the official said.
Dr Arshid Hussain, a psychiaritist, who treats these patients, said these girls are fit to live with the family and can live a normal life. “They responded to the medication very fast but still they need love and affection of their families. We are making all efforts to reunite them with their families,” he said.
In the same ward is a Kashmiri Pandit woman. In her early 40, she hardly speaks to anyone. She was brought to the hospital by Kashmiri Muslims in 1990 after Pandits left the Valley. She too has no connection with her family although they know their daughter is being nursed at the hospital. “Family members occasionally call us to enquire about her but had never come to see her in these 25-years. Her parents told us on the phone that they have full faith on Kashmiris that they will be looking very well after their daughter,” Dr Arshid said.
There is also one male patient whose family is also yet to be traced. He has been named as Rahim Bakerwal, who was brought five years ago to the hospital. He was arrested from Humhama after forces noticed some suspicion about him. After found him mentally ill, he was brought to the hospital. The hospital officials believe that he may be from Rajouri or Poonch area.
The hospital administration has a full faith that they will be able to trace their families one day. Infact, the doctors see it a mission to find their families. Their hopes lie on the fact that earlier too in a similar bid, they have successfully traced out the families of three other patients since 2013, who too had lost connection with their families. “We are making continuous efforts to trace their families so that they get reunited like hospital administration did in the past,” Dr Arshid said.
It was in 2013 when Krader Tripathi, 55, regained his memory and told the name of his native village.
The miracle of reuniting him with his family after 23-years happened following the doctors surfed his village on Google Earth. They finally got in contact with the police station, who then checked the police records and finally conveyed his family. Then Tripathi’s brother and nephew came to Srinagar and took him along to their home. His brother told the hospital staff that the family had thought that Tripathi was dead. “After found him alive, he is second face of Baghwan for us,” he told the doctors. “Had Tripathi been in other state, we would not have traced him. You people have really set up an example that religions have no bonds,” he told a group of hospital staff who had gathered to bid adieu to him.
Even there has been some incidents when some patients by the families after regaining their mental stability. This is what happened with Mathur Bhai Padhiyar of Gujarat when his family was not ready to own him for three years despite knowing he was being nursed at the hospital. He had come along with a group of Gujarati pilgrims to Amarnath cave shrine. After noticing his unusual behaviour, police had brought him to the hospital in 2006.
It was in 2013, Mathur regained his memory and told the name of his village which was then traced through Google Earth. After informing the family, there was no response from their side.
“My papa (Nayim) wife (Madhu) three sisters and a brother will be waiting for my return. Please send me back,” Mathur had said when this reporter met him in 2014. After media highlighted that a Gujarati man regained his memory after seven years, Ghulam Nabi Azad who was then union health minister visited Mathur at the hospital. Azad promised to bear all the expenses needed to shift him to Gujarat. Despite that his family was reluctant to take him home. It was then two years of judicial intervention of District Legal Services Authority that Mathur reunited with his family in April 2016.
Similarly, this year another man from West Bengal was also sent back home who had lost connection with him family and was nursed at the hospital for many years. The doctors too traced his village on the internet and finally he reunited with the family.
The curious case of Mehran
SRINAGAR: It is over eight years since Mehran, a three-and-a-half-year-old boy, disappeared from outside his home in the old city Srinagar. It is still a mystery how a child like Mehran could just vanish without trace from a place, which is a densely populated area of the city.
His disappearance has not just caused suffering and anguish to his parents and his extended family alone, but it has forced other parents of young children like Mehran to exercise caution to let other children out of their sight.
Mehran’s, went missing on May 13, 2008, the year he was admit to Canny Mission School Court Road Srinagar, where he was studying in pre-nursery.
“His disappearance has shattered our dreams. He was witty among all children in our family,” Mohammad Yusuf Mir, Mehran’s uncle told The Kashmir Monitor.
It was Yusuf, who had brought him to home from school along with his two children, on that fateful day. “I dropped them at home at 2:30 pm then left for my work. At 3:30, we came to know that Mehran was missing,” he said.
According to his uncle, Mehran had insisted to go maternal uncle’s home. His mother accompanied him. “His mother left him there. Later, when Mehran didn’t reach home, they started looking for him but got no clue.”
He was then the sole child of his parents, who are yet to come out of the shock and have been moving from pillar to the post to search for their beloved son. “Prior his missing, we all used to live together. But after Mehran’s missing, his father and mother refused to live here and have shifted to Gojwara. They are yet to come out of the shock. His missing continuously haunting us and has scattered our family,” Yusuf said.
It remains an unsolved mystery even though many investigating agencies including India’s premier investigating agency, the CBI have been probing the case.
In December last year, the family got a call from a CBI officer that Mehran was located in Rajasthan. “My brother, (Mehran’s father) and his maternal uncle went to New Delhi for the identification. After identification, they said that the boy was not Mehran. Mehran was circumcised while the child who the CBI showed was not circumcised,” he said.
The family had filed a missing report on May 13, 2008 with Kral Khud police station police, which investigated the cast for two years. But Yusuf said the police didn’t not take immediate measures to locate him on that fateful day. “We were even denied to search him in Auto rickshaws by making announcement on loudspeakers on the pretext that we may resort to stone pelting. But we continuously searched for him and did not work for 45-days.”
The investigating agencies have failed come up with anything substantial, but some of his family members were “interrogated” by the Crime Branch. “My husband and his brother was interrogated for a month. The police failed to trace our child but the Crime Branch interrogated Mehran’s uncles. We lost everything and our financial condition has also deteriorated,” Mehran’s aunt Masrat said. “Whenever we get to know that any child has been found, we rush there. We once went to Kangan at 10:30 pm when police told that a child was found there.”
The family says that they don’t suspect any one behind his abduction and won’t stop pleading the case. They had protested several times seeking attention of the government to locate him. “We also went to New Delhi, Mumbia to search him,” Yusuf said.
In Kashmir, according to police records, two cases of kidnapping get reported on an average daily in the Valley. According to the official details of police department, 638 kidnapping incidents were reported in 2013 while as police had registered 694 cases of kidnapping in 2012 and almost same number of cases were registered in 2014. Police had registered 471 and 579 cases of abduction in the Valley in year 2008 and 2009 respectively. However, scores of such cases go unreported either due to remoteness of the location or their families failing to follow such cases due to the poverty and also not having photographs to show the police for investigating the matter.
“Many kidnapping cases are still unsolved,” a senior official of Crime Branch said, “Mehran’s case is one of such cases which is still a mystery.” However, he said the CBI was investigating the case after the Crime Branch handed over case to it on directions of the High Court.
‘VecMania’: Baramulla’s automobile enthusiasts
Located on the Baramulla-Handwara highway is a glittering Auto Engineering startup which catches eyes of every passerby. “Vecmania Auto Engineering” first of its kind in Kashmir.
Tell us about Vecmania
Vecmania (Vec- vehicles, and Mania-obsession) Auto Engineering is a building brand in Kashmir for petrol heads offering custom modification of bikes and cars. Vecmania was started by three automobile enthusiasts ErfaanKirmani, Aamir Kirmani, and Omar Ayub. We offer individual solutions to individual cases as per customer’s request. Our promise is to deliver top-notch products in valley. Our valley is quite hard to do business in, we all know what is conditions we live in and during those conditions startups suffer alot, we kept that in mind, which led us to a strategy to overcome it. They say people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do it and Vecmania is one among those.
Tell us about the working of Vecmania. How do you assemble the parts?
Gone are the days when automobile were just a mode of transport. Today automobile is a lifestyle statement. It is an extension of oneself. Same as what you wear, how you look, how you talk, and an automobile you ride also tells a lot about your personality. We have dedicated national and international partners who supply most of parts, some of them are assembled from factory itself and we have to work on fitting it into module but major parts are assembled at our garage.
How did you raise your capital?
This kind of business needed a heavy Capital: Investment for showroom, investment for garage, investment for products, marketing and payment for employees. Total of 20 lakh capital had to be invested in Vecmania, so we had to approach EDI. Out of overall capital, EDI provided the half, we arranged rest of it from our savings and with help of our families.
How did your family react to your idea?
Ours is not a conservative family. From the beginning we were allowed to take our own decisions and peruse fields of our choice. Throughout the journey they have been our spine. They believed in our idea and even invested in Vecmania. AllhumdulilahVecmania is a new concept in Kashmir and Kashmiries usually take time to absorb something new.
What kind of response you usually get from people?
We had expected maximum Rs 1 lakh sales in the first month but we crossed Rs 2.5 lakh, which was more than double. We literally don’t get time to sit during the working hours as customers keep pouring in. As the customer sets foot into the showroom his face illuminates with a bright smile and that is our satisfaction. Beyond that we are getting number of orders for the kind of safety gear we have been providing. The helmet for example are designed in such a way, the biker loves to wear it all day long. That is the kind of response and it’s satisfying.(Courtesy: Gyawun.com)