Omar launches counter attack at PDP on corruption charges23 March 2011
The Daily Excelsior
JAMMU: Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today called upon PDP Legislature Party leader Mehbooba Mufti to substantiate allegations of corruption in Sawalkote electric hydel project leveled by her in the Legislative Assembly yesterday while participating in debate on the grants of the CM's departments. Calling upon Ms Mufti, who was present in the House along with other PDP members including Muzaffar Hussain Baig, to name the officers or any other members of the House, who had taken Rs 50 lakh worth watch or Rs 2 crore worth car as corruption, Omar said if Mehbooba didn't have courage to name the person in the House she could reveal it to Speaker (Mohammad Akbar Lone) for investigation of the charges. The grants of the Chief Minister's Departments were passed unanimously by the House after all MLAs withdrew their cut motions. In his 113 minutes reply to the debate on the grants of his Departments in the Assembly for two days, the Chief Minister launched a counter attack on the PDP saying they should name the person who had offered them Rs 300 crore to Rs 400 crore commission in Sawalkote project, in lieu of which, the party claimed to have secured four micro hydel electric projects, two each for Jammu and Kashmir regions. Mehbooba had yesterday said that Rs 300 to Rs 400 crore commission is common in such major projects and they had secured two micro hydel projects in lieu of that. She had spoken about a gold watch worth Rs 50 lakh, a car worth Rs 2 crore, a Farm House and money stashed in Dubai banks for some power projects but didn't name any Government functionary. 'Who offered the money worth crores to the then PDP Government? What was the benchmark of commission? How was it calculated?' Omar asked and said if this is the case we too could secure three or four micro hydel projects from the State in lieu of the so-called commission in major power projects. Charging the PDP leader with bringing all House members and officials under doubt with her allegations, he said that the people were looking at his watch…the watch of officials, other members with doubt. 'We all get defamed with such allegations', he said and asserted that the Speaker can call Ms Mufti even to his chamber and ascertain names of those having been allegedly bribed in the power project. He reminded the PDP that negotiations, agreement, cancellation of Sawalkote project all took place during the PDP regime. 'We are trying to revive the project. Talks are being held and no decision has been taken so far. Only when the Cabinet approves the project that it can be revived', he added. At this stage, BJP MLA from Hiranagar Durga Dass was seen displaying his watch in the Assembly. He also spoke some words, which were not audible in the press gallery. At the start of his speech, Mr Abdullah, referring to the apology tendered by PDP MLA Nizam-ud-Din Bhat on the allegations of Rs 500 crore worth kickbacks against Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, said he would speak to his lawyers to drop the name of Mr Bhat from the defamation case filed against him. However, without naming another PDP leader and spokesman Nayeem Akhter, a retired bureaucrat, he said he wouldn't forgive the second PDP leader. On August 25 last year, Mr Bhat and Mr Akhter had charged the Chief Minister of receiving Rs 500 crores worth kickbacks in Ratle power project. Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather immediately refuted the allegations. The Government had filed a criminal defamation case against Bhat and Akhter. Mr Bhat sought an apology in the Assembly and withdrew the allegations. Mr Abdullah said he would ask his Advocates to drop charges against Mr Bhat but continued with criminal defamation proceedings against Nayeem Akhter unless he also withdraws allegations on similar lines. In a major announcement, Omar agreed to the demand raised by the legislators, cutting across the party affiliations, for increase in their Constituency Development Fund (CDF). Referring particularly to Congress MLA from Banihal, Vikar Rasool, who had sought enhancement of the CDF to Rs 3 crore, the Chief Minister told the legislators that the CDF was Rs 60 lakh in West Bengal, Rs 50 lakh in Gujarat, Rs 1 crore in Andhra Pradesh and Rs 1.75 crore in Tamil Nadu but with the riders. However, he added, he can't go against sentiments of the House and has agreed to enhance the CDF. 'I assure the House that the CDF would be increased. The modalities and increase in amount of the CDF would be decided shortly and the House most probably would be informed during the current session itself', he said. Mr Abdullah also endorsed demand of the MLAs for increase in their salaries in the current session itself by passing the bill, which was introduced in the House last year. On increase in emoluments, he said the House could itself decide the figures. Asserting that the Government has nothing to hide from the Amnesty International (AI), the Chief Minister said he and his officers met the team knowing well that there would be no praises of the Government but only charges. 'The AI report can't be ignored. It can't be thrown to the dustbin. We would seriously consider its recommendations', he said, adding that some lessons could be taken from it. Referring to the PDP allegations on imposition of Public Safety Act (PSA) on the youth, he said the Act was used during the PDP regime as well and the party can't blame only the present Government for it. But, he said, the present Government would look into all aspects of the Act as to how it can be amended and made a better law. 'A Gene once released can't be put back in the bottle', he cited but asserted that the issue can be debated and discussed as how to reform the PSA or even change it. Mr Abdullah appealed to the Indian and the Pakistani Governments to not allow bilateral talks to get derailed as it affects people of the State. 'We request the Governments of India and Pakistan not to allow it (talks) to get derailed. It will go fast and at times slow down, but talks should continue,' he said. Home Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan will begin in New Delhi next week. 'India and Pakistan have resumed talks again. It is a good step. I request through this House to the Centre not to allow talks to derail,' he said. 'When Indo-Pak relation becomes sour, it affects us and when it gets better, it benefits us,' Omar said. He said when the relationship is better, buses, trucks and trains run between the two nations. It also helps in track-2 diplomacy, interactions between journalists and intelligentsia, he added. Mr Abdullah today renewed his appeal to separatists to be part of the process of 'political engagement' in the State and come forward to hold talks with Central Interlocutors. 'They (separatists) should come forward for talks with interlocutors. There is no need for them to surrender, no need to sign any documents (to hold talks with interlocutors)', Omar said. Omar said 'you (separatists) have not to sign any agreement or paper. Come forward and hold talks. If you can freely say outside about Azadi, merger with Pakistan, plebiscite, they should tell it to the Interlocutors'. 'They (Interlocutors) have never said that they are not ready to listen to them. They have not laid any pre-condition', he said adding it (separatists point of view) would be registered in their report once they meet them and Centre will have to look over it. Referring to the situation in the State, Omar said 'Jammu and Kashmir should be engaged politically. It is a political society in the State which talks of their demands in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh'. 'I presented this point of view before Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi. We are not thankless people. We get full benefit of the packages but the basic issue of Jammu and Kashmir is political in nature.' The Chief Minister said that there can be different basis for governance-like Autonomy, Self-Rule, 1975 Sheikh-Indira Accord, Constituent Assembly, Abrogation of Article 370, but it is all political in nature. 'That is why Interlocutors were appointed and talks were held,' he said adding 'I want one time settlement and not in piece meal. If it happens, it will be better for the people of the State'. Referring to the Interlocutors, he said 'I request Interlocutors that there is no need to go to press. You have been placed as a bridge for undertaking political dialogue. Please do it'. He appealed to the Interlocutors to give a comprehensive one time report on political settlement of Jammu and Kashmir instead of giving the report in installments. On efforts for a Kashmir solution, he said it should be acceptable to all sections and regions of the people of the State. 'All sections and regions ideologies has to be kept in mind. It will not work if we think the solution should be Jammu, Ladakh or Kashmir centric', he said. 'I always say that the solution should be accepted to most of the people. It cannot be accepted by all (100 percent people) of the State. Such situation could not be created during the Sheikh Abdullah's Government and it cannot even be thought of now', he said. Asking the BJP not to oppose talks between India and Pakistan, the Chief Minister said the BJP's tallest leader and former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, with whom he got an opportunity to work, had also declared from the Red Fort that mistakes of past wouldn't be repeated. He said like the people of Bihar, the J&K residents also want development but, simultaneously, they would like Kashmir problem to be solved politically. Attacking PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti, Mr Abdullah said she was repeatedly naming Egypt, Algeria etc to fan trouble in Kashmir in the ensuing summer in June. She is linking Egypt, Algeria and everything to June, he said, and asked in such a situation how the tourists would come to the Valley? Already, he noted, there had been a drop of 60 per cent in tourist arrival in the Valley as compared to last year. He cautioned that the tourist's flow could be diverted to Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal as memories of last year's trouble coupled with statement of some organizations were not giving a good sign to the tourists. Shifting the blame of stone pelting to the PDP, he said its foundation was laid when a former Forest Minister (Qazi Afzal of PDP) first gave land for Amarnath shrine and then took it back. 'Your Minister first allotted the land and then took it back. The Minister first justified his decision and then backtracked from it in 2008', he said, adding it was Shopian in 2009 and last year 'we all know what happened'. Omar said Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) could only be withdrawn or removed from the State once the congenial atmosphere is created. However, he told the House that two Army battalions were removed and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) presence was reduced considerably in 2009. After October last year, 39 CRPF bunkers have been removed. The CRPF has been asked to stay in barracks unless required. Quoting internal security experts, the Chief Minister observed that one cycle of insurgency is followed by law and order problem and then the situation could return to normal. Asserting that he wouldn't deny that there was a problem in Kashmir but, at the same time, was not ready to lose tomorrow for the problem of last four months of summer, he said the students career was spoiled, shopkeepers and shikarawallahs suffered immense losses last summer. 'Instead of sending a message for peace, some organizations were spreading canards and creating fear psychosis about blanket arrests and victimization of the youth, which is not a fact', he said, adding that during four month summer unrest, 1153 cases were registered for violence for which about 4100 arrests were made. Only four youths were arrested in one case. 'I would have resigned had 4000 youths were in jails even today. I don't need the chair if I had to put 4000 youth behind the bars. The fact is that only 171 youth are in custody at present-128 under PSA, 24 in judicial lock-up and 19 in police custody', the Chief Minister clarified in response to charges leveled by the PDP members about large scale arrests being made in the Valley. Responding to another charge by the PDP that a large number of youths have deserted their houses for the fear of arrests, Mr Abdullah said a number of youth have gone to New Delhi and Jammu for studies, career building and in search of jobs as many companies, financial institutions, insurance companies, private banks and hotels and factories have shut their business in the Valley in view of summer unrest. In a rare word of praise for PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig, Omar said whether in politics or Bollywood, he would have earned a name and position for himself. He declared that on spot recruitment in far off areas would continue. He said it was a co-incidence that Director General of Police, Kuldeep Khoda accompanied him to Kishtwar when he was going to address a public meeting while the police chief was heading for on-spot recruitment. Cautioning Rural Development Minister Ali Mohammad Sagar, whose Khanyar Assembly segment has become a bone of contention between NC and PDP for on spot recruitment of 200 youth in police, the Chief Minister said during 2002-2008, direct recruitment was conducted through the DGP at 18 Assembly segments. Sixteen MLAs, in whose constituencies the recruitment was done, lost their seats while only two of them Mian Altaf (Forest Minister) and Taj Mohi-ud-Din (PHE, Irrigation and Flood Control Minister) managed to save their seats. The PDP had alleged that only NC workers were recruited in Khanyar. 'I have told Mr Sagar that he shouldn't blame me if he lost from Khanyar next time', he said in a lighter vein. Criticising the Opposition for attaching 'political motives' to 'on spot recruitment', Mr Abdullah said the process would continue in under represented areas including Wachi, Bijbehara, Jammu East and West in a transparent manner. Mehbooba Mufti represents Wachi while another PDP leader Abdul Rehman Veeri represents Bijbehara. BJP leaders Ashok Khajuria and Prof Chaman Lal Gupta represent Jammu East and West respectively. Describing the 'healing touch policy' of the PDP as 'flop', Omar said the PDP Government had even invited President of India to distribute SRO-43 orders. They invited several other top functionaries of the Centre for the compassionate appointment orders, he added. He reiterated that there was no move with the Government to encourage Ikhwanis. 'Re-arming or re-grouping the Ikhwanis is out of question', he said. Declaring that no works would be done without tenders, he said e-tendering would be started from April 1 in the PMGSY. On Indus Water Treaty (IWT) losses, he said the Government has already engaged a Consultant and would seek compensation after receipt of the figures. He announced that Local Bodies elections would be held after Panchayat polls. Taking a dig at PDP Omar said, 'blacklisting of passports, Ikhwanis, Task Force, SOGs, etc were kept live only changing the nomenclature of some of these', he said and read out the Government Order issued by the then Mufti-led Government changing the name of Task Force. 'I have received this legacy from you and police reforms by my Government are in the offing', he said. He said that his Government is working out a module for police reforms and the same will be put to public domain for suggestions and response. 'I have asked the concerned to place it on the website for general public to comment', he said, hinting at introduction of Model Police Act in the Legislature in next session to make it a comprehensive one. On rehabilitation policy, the Chief Minister said that the PDP when in power opposed the resolution to this effect brought in by M. Y. Tarigami in Legislative Assembly and National Conference voted for it though being in opposition. 'Now, we have worked out a policy with the Centre Government in this regard where under some 600 families have submitted their applications and the cases for 25 are under process of approval and rest are under various stages of consideration', he said. Omar referred to Rs. 6,000 crore State Plan for the current year and Rs. 1,200 crore under PMRP approved by the Centre Government. He said that barring certain Central projects being executed by Central Agencies the spending and the work done under PMRP has been more or less up to the mark. The left out works would be completed during the next financial year, he said giving details of works completed and under completion in various sectors. On the allotment of additionalities to the districts, the Chief Minister said that he has allotted Rs. 116 crore additional funds to clear the liabilities created by previous Governments besides accommodating recommendations of legislators to the tune of Rs. 92 crores and providing Rs. 44 crores for power transformers besides earmarking Rs 10 crore for CT Scans in Government Hospitals in the districts. On electric supply, the Chief Minister said that the peak demand at present in the State is 2500 MWs while the registered load is only 1640 MWs and rest is leakage and theft. He said the generation at present is 1500 MWs in the State during summer months while it reduces to 1000 MWs in winter and the demand is likely to be 4000 MWs by the 2020. 'We have to work out for improving indigenous power generation and in this connection three joint ventures with NHPC and 680 MW Ratle Hydle project are in offing', he said and called for payment of electricity charges by all the consumers in consonance with the consumptions they make. Omar said that as an innovative measure his Government has passed a Bill in the Legislature to make Jammu and Kashmir owners of its waters legally and charge the companies utilizing it for generation of power. 'Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal and other States have approached us to share this piece of legislation with them so that they could also enact legislations accordingly', told the House. On the progress on R&B front, the Chief Minister said that 97 bridges have been constructed in the State during last year while 103 bridges are being constructed this year. 'We are taking up works worth Rs. 125 crores under CRF this year as against Rs. 92 crores last year', he said and thanked the Centre Government for providing required assistance for the completion of Mughal Road which has integrated social and economic bonds between various districts. He also said that the State Government is working with Centre Government for approval of various tunnels to connect the districts and areas for easy access and all round development. Omar said that the Centre Government is also taking up with Centre the State proposals for launch of helicopter service for the inaccessible and cut-off areas on the pattern of North-East States and Himachal Pradesh. We have also placed State Chief Information Commissioner and the two State Information Commissioners are being placed soon. We are also introducing a Bill to bring public delivery system under its ambit so that responsibility for delay in the delivery of service by any Government functionary is fixed for punishment', he said giving details of various measures taken by the Government for creating good work culture and curbing the corruption. Govt Deptts owe Rs 673 cr to PDD Strange it may sound that the Government Departments owed Rs 673 crore worth arrears to the Power Development Department (PDD). The PDD had to take Rs 13.43 crore worth arrears from the quarters of Civil Secretariat employees. Rs 76 crore worth arrears were pending from migrant colonies while Rs 47.9 crore revenue was yet to be realized from installation of streetlights. The figures were given by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who also holds Power portfolio, in the Legislative Assembly today. Referring to BJP leader Prof Chaman Lal Gupta's statement that more power revenue is realized from Jammu than Kashmir, Mr Abdullah said there were more bulk consumers in Jammu than the Valley. The industry is in Jammu and they have double metering. He said so far Rs 507 crore worth revenue has been collected from Jammu region and Rs 315 crore from Kashmir. He added that the Power Department was planning to resume installation of electronic meters.