February 2008 News

As Polls Beckon, Corruption Charges Haunt Azad Govt

12 February 2008
The Indian Express

Srinagar: The past one month has been a tough one for Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. His three year relentless “jihad against corruption” seems to have boomeranged on him and now hangs like a millstone around his neck. With the raging controversy over the Kundal Committee report on corruption in the forest ministry even closing in on his forest contractor brothers, Azad finds it hard to distance himself from the swirling muck which has already claimed state Congress president Peerzada Muhammad Sayeed. And all this has happened at a time when the state is bound for the Assembly elections which are likely to be held before October this year. On the other hand, Azad’s coalition partner, People’s Democratic Party, too hasn’t emerged unscathed. The Kundal report has indicted two senior ministers of the party - Finance Minister Tariq Hameed Qarra and Forest Minister Qazi Muhammad Afzal. Making things further uneasy for the PDP, the Opposition National Conference has gone to town with the issue. In the recent Assembly session in Jammu, during which the report was tabled, the NC made the Kundal report the centre of the debate. In fact, the Government was forced to adjourn the session ten days ahead of the schedule as NC continued to stall the proceedings, demanding resignation of the two PDP ministers. The Assembly session, one of the most tempestuous in the state, also saw an independent MLA, Shoaib Lone, charging the state Congress President Peerzada Sayeed with taking a bribe of Rs 40,000 for giving permission to his sister for opening an elementary teaching training institute. The allegation which put the CM’s “jihad on corruption” on its first acid test, however, ended up restoring his credibility after he forced Sayeed to resign. But it was back to square one again as the past of his own brothers soon tumbled out of the cupboard. Questions were also raised over his Government’s decision to enforce parity in the rates for the extraction of timber in Kashmir and Jammu provinces. In Jammu, Azad’s main constituency, the rates for the extraction of timber were earlier lesser than that in Kashmir. It was alleged that the parity in rates was designed to benefit Azad’s brothers in Doda, who work as forest contractors. Meanwhile, Azad’s response has been belligerently righteous and rhetorical. He asserted he was personally above board on this issue. And “hang them” if they (the brothers) were found involved, he said.

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