Unprecedented pandemonium in Assembly, Speaker adjourns House till Monday
24 January 2008
The Daily Excelsior
JAMMU: A near replica of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar Legislatures was witnessed in Legislative Assembly today with Opposition members, seeking resignation of two Ministers indicted in Kundal Committee report, turning down desks, mikes and chair and rushing towards the treasury benches amidst a free for all situation for a couple of minutes till Speaker Tara Chand adjourned the House till Monday. As the House met at 11.40 am after one and a half hour adjournment in the morning in view of protests and sloganeering by all Opposition members and the Speaker asked Finance Minister Tariq Hamid Qarra to start his reply, all NC MLAs trooped into Well of the House shouting 'Gali Gali Mein Shor Hai, Qazi Qarra Chor Hai'. They tried to march towards the Speakerís podium but were surrounded by a large number of Marshals from all sides. Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was in New Delhi for last two days, also joined the Assembly on his return from the Union capital but only to see the House plunged into pandemonium. Simultaneously, all four MLAs of National Panthers Party (NPP) besides BJP and JSM members also stood up from their seats and started shouting 'Assembly Ko Bhang Karo' and 'Governor Rule Lagoo Karo'. Amidst loud sloganeering, Mr Qarra read few words from his speech and then charged National Conference with making a 'mockery of Legislature' and 'destroying sanctity' of House. As NC legislators tore papers in Well of the House and paper missiles flung in air, the Marshals were seen pushing NC MLAs back to the Well as the latter made repeated attempt to march towards the podium waving reports of Kundal Committee and throwing papers in air. In a virtual free for all situation, NPP Legislature Party leader Harshdev Singh and Balwant Singh Mankotia besides NC leader Ali Mohd Sagar stood up on Assembly benches and started shouting anti-Government slogans with full force. At one time, Mr Sagar even headed towards treasury benches, aiming Mr Qarra, but was immediately whisked away by the Marshals towards Well of the House. As there was no let up in sloganeering and Mr Qarraís speech was lost in the din, the Finance Minister finally handed over his reply to the Speaker through the Assembly Secretary saying it be treated as read. This led to fresh trouble in the House with several NC members overturning desks and mikes and a chair of Assembly Reporters. Paper missiles flew in air and one of them even landed at the Speakerís chair. At this stage, even Marshals found it difficult to control the agitated members who included nearly 20 NC MLAs, 4 NPP legislators and lone MLA of BJP, Jugal Kishore. JSM MLA Ashwani Sharma only protested from his seat. 'Ek Naheen Do Naheen, Sare Mantri Chor Hain', 'Assembly Ko Bhang Karo', 'Governor Rule Lagoo Karo', shouted the NPP and BJP MLAs while all NC legislators indulged in massive sloganeering 'Har Taraf Shor Hai, Qazi Qarra Chor Hai' and 'Corrupt Mantriyon Ko Dafa Karo'. In the melee, Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig, Incharge Law and Parliamentary Affairs proposed adjournment of the House till Monday. Accordingly, the Speaker adjourned the House till January 28. Though January 26 and 27 were already holidays in Assembly calendar, January 25 was listed for grants of Chief Ministerís departments. Even after adjournment, NC, NPP and BJP members continued shouting of slogans while Watch and Ward staff was seen carrying out immediate repair restoring the pre-trouble status of benches, mikes and chairs. This was probably for the first time in current Assembly, which is going through its final year, that an unprecedented situation was witnessed in the House with members uprooting benches and mikes and throwing paper missiles. A number of members were seen standing on top of the benches shouting anti-Government slogans with full blooded blow. Mr Azad left the House soon after the Speaker announced adjournment. He was seen watching entire drama with curiosity. Earlier in the morning, as soon as the House met for the day at 10 am, all NC members marched towards the front row and started chanting 'Choron Ko Nikaal Do, Tainted Ministron Ko Nikal Do, Daagi Mantriyon Ko House Se Bahar Karo'. As the Speaker tried to go ahead with scheduled business of Question Hour and Minister of State for Forest, Ghulam Mohd Saroori started replying to a question of NC MLA Dr Ghulam Nabi Bhat, the NC members intensified their sloganeering and the Ministerís voice was lost in the din. 'Listen to us. We are ready for a debate (on Kundal Committee report). But let the two tainted Ministers first resign', NC MLA Dr Mehboob Beg remarked. Immediately thereafter, NPP leader and former Minister Harshdev Singh too joined the chorus saying the system has totally collapsed both inside and outside the House. 'No work is taking place in and out the Assembly', he said demanding dissolution of the House and imposition of Governorís rule in the State. BJP MLA Jugal Kishore was also heard demanding dissolution of the Assembly. All three NPP MLAs, Balwant Singh Mankotia, Yashpal Kundal and Faqir Nath besides JSM MLA Ashwani Kumar also joined the slogan shouting members. 'Is Defunct Assembly Ko Bhang Karo', 'Sare Mantriyon Ko Barkhast Karo', Harshdev Singh shouted and said 'Yahaan Sabko Barkhast Kiya Jaye, Sare Mantri Ek Jaise Hain (all Ministers are one and same and they should be dismissed)'. The Government has lost its right to be in the office, he added. 'Junglon Ko Loota Hai, Kaumi Sarmaye Ko Loota Hai', NC members Saifullah Mir, Ajay Sadhotra and Dr Beg shouted. Finding no let up in furore, the Speaker adjourned the House within 9 minutes into Question Hour till 11 am but the House eventually met again at 11.40 am only to be adjourned after few minutes till Monday. Talking to reporters outside, Finance Minister Tariq Hamid Qarra, flanked by PDP MLAs Abdul Rehman Veeri, Sartaj Madni, Syed Bashir and Shanti Devi, launched a counter attack on the National Conference saying if the Opposition was so much interested in cleaning the mess in Forest Department 'let us make a beginning from Bhatindi, where forests have been badly ruined'. Mr Qarra made an indirect reference to a senior NC functionary in this regard. Charging the NC with 'political bankruptcy', Mr Qarra said the party had been left with no political issue and was simply trying to hijack the issue coming during proceedings of the House. Referring to NCís slogans of 'Ganderbal, Batmaloo Mein Shor Hai....', he challenged the Opposition to face the PDP on ground instead of merely raising the slogans. 'NCís ground has further squeezed. The party is just trying to show its presence by resorting to rowdiness and taking out processions outside the Assembly while refusing to take part in debate on Kundal report', the Finance Minister said, adding the Oppositionís behaviour in the House during past few days was 'unheard of' in a civilised democracy. Declaring that there was no threat to Government, the PDP leader said 'the PDP and the coalition Government were on firm footing while the NC was trying to make mountain out of a mole and was even resorting to Ďgali glouchí (abuses)'. 'The NC MLAs have destroyed sanctity of the House where once Sher-i-Kashmir used to sit. His soul will be disturbed today on seeing the behaviour of NC MLAs', Mr Qarra remarked. Talking to reporters, Leader of Opposition Abdul Rahim Rather flanked by senior party leaders including Ajay Sadhotra, Dr Mehboob Beg, Ali Mohd Sagar, Sharief- ud-Din Shariq, Sajjad Kitchloo and Dr Chaman Lal among others, observed that allegations of corruption against two Ministers have put a question mark on credibility of Mr Azad. 'The Chief Minister is in dock. His credibility is at stake. If he wants to prove that his slogan of Ďcorruption free Governmentí is not a hollow, he must act and act immediately against the two Ministers (Tariq Hamid Qarra, Finance Minister and Qazi Mohd Afzal, Forest Minister) for their indictment in Kundal Committee report', Mr Rather said. 'Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig has become a party to the issue by not only shielding the two Ministers but also claiming that they had not been indicted in Kundal Committee report', Mr Sagar observed. Asserting that the Government had no intentions to table Kundal report on floor of the House, Mr Rather said the Government was forced to table it after the Excelsior published it in full, which became an eye opener for all that the two Ministers had been indicted in the report. Referring to Mr Baigís assertion made yesterday in a press conference that Ministers have not been indicted in the report, he asked 'there was not even a single page (in Kundal report) where the Ministers have not been indicted. 'Allotments have been made against the Board decisions, works were allotted on Amani basis, no tenders were held for two years, adhocism was promoted in Forest Department and works were allotted for blacklisted and unregistered contractors. All this, according to Kundal report, was done with approval of the Minister', Mr Rather pointed out. 'Isnít it an irregularity that officers were transferred within six months who didnít appease the Minister'? he asked quoting Kundal report. Mr Sagar read a paragraph from Kundal report to point out the Ministerís involvement. 'In nut shell, gross mismanagement in SFC led to shortage of timber in ĎCí zone. Scarcity created was exploited by Ajaz Ahmed Bhat and G H Marazi to push the agenda of timber import with ulterior motives. The Minister Incharge has all along remained associated in such decisions', he quoted the paragraph and said 'this should be an eye opener for the PDP and Mr Baig'. On many pages of the report, Mr Rather said, it has been written that decisions were taken with approval of the Minister which formed the basis of a prima facie case against the Minister. 'What else evidence is required for their removal'? he asked. He wanted to know how the Vigilance Organisation, Crime Branch and Commissioner- Secretary Forests can hold probe against the Ministers. For fair and impartial investigations, the Ministers must quit, he reiterated. To a question that NC is being held responsible for disrupting proceedings of the House, Mr Rather replied that the NC wants House to run smoothly but, at the same time, it canít compromise with corruption, which was root cause of all problems. If the Ministers turned out to be innocent later, they can come back, he said. To another question on a former NC Ministerís indictment in the report, he added that the Government was free to take action against him as well. Mr Sagar charged Mr Baig with undermining Kundal Committee report by describing its recommendations as 'tentative'. 'Now, when the Ministers have been indicted, they have started undermining the report itself', he said. On Mr Baigís remark that NC was blood thirsty as they have tasted the blood of one Minister (who had to resign recently following corruption charges), Mr Rather countered the remark saying 'it was the PDP which has sucked the blood of Kashmiris. We will stop them. They must know that here is an effective Opposition'. Dr Mehboob Beg said just as School Education Minister (Peerzada Sayeed) has resigned for a fair and transparent inquiry into corruption allegations, these two Ministers should also resign. He recalled that the Chief Minister has himself snatched the portfolio of Forest from Qazi Afzal and kept it with him for 100 days before returning it back (to Mr Qazi) under 'political pressure'. Mr Rather noted that this was for the first time probably in the history of Indian Parliament and Legislature that a Minister was urging the Speaker to treat his reply on the budget as read. NC leader and former Minister Ajay Sadhotra said Qazi Afzal has himself admitted mess in Forest Department. 'He is a party to the mess as he was heading the Department and must resign', he added. Talking to mediapersons after adjournment during which all 4 NPP MLAs and lone BJP Legislator took out a procession outside Legislature and Civil Secretariat complex and later sat on dharna in Secretariat premises, NPP leader and former Minister Harshdev Singh said the Government has totally failed on all fronts and there was a breakdown of Constitutional machinery. 'No business is being carried out inside and outside the Assembly which necessitated the Governorís intervention under Section 92 of J&Kís Constitution to dissolve the Assembly, impose Governorís rule in the State and ensure fresh elections in free and fair manner', Mr Singh said. He added that the Government was facing a crisis of confidence with its credibility touching an all time low. The Government has lost moral authority to continue in office. Congress, PDP and NC are all responsible for it. In such a situation, the Chief Minister should himself dissolve the House and recommend fresh elections, he asserted. 'No body is listening to the Government even in the Assembly. The Finance Minister is pleading before the Speaker to take his reply as read. All these indications were enough to believe that circumstances were not conducive for continuation of the Government', Harshdev Singh said. BJP MLA Jugal Kishore also demanded dismissal of the Government, dissolution of the Assembly and holding fresh elections in the State.