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In Kashmir, Manoj Sinha steps up fight against corruption clogging rise of new Kashmir

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Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha led J&K administration has cancelled the police sub-inspector recruitment and recommended a CBI probe after the recruitment came under scanner.

Late last week, Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha virtually dropped a bombshell when he ordered cancellation of a selection list for the appointment of 1200 Sub Inspectors (SIs). Simultaneously, he ordered a CBI investigation into the entire recruitment process.

"JKP Sub-Inspector recruitment has been cancelled and a CBI probe has been recommended into the selection process. Culprits will be brought to justice soon. It's a first big step towards securing the future of our youth & govt will soon decide future course of action for fresh recruitment", Sinha tweeted.

The LG's decision is a sequel to a month-long inquiry conducted by a 3-member committee of senior bureaucrats headed by the Additional Chief Secretary Home, R.K. Goyal. The inquiry had been ordered immediately after the selection list, prepared by the Jammu and Kashmir Services Selection Board,(JKSSB), triggered by allegations of corruption, nepotism and favouritism. It was pointed out that multiple members of over a dozen families, with common parentage, did figure in the controversial selection list. Even as cynics ruled out any action by the government, Sinha accepted the recommendations of the Inquiry and ordered cancellation of the present process.

Highly placed authoritative sources insist that at least six senior officers of the Jammu and Kashmir Administrative Service (JKAS), who were associated with the selection in the JKSSB, are likely to be removed and attached till conclusion of  CBI investigation.

Since the day of his joining at  Raj Bhawan in Jammu and Kashmir on August 2020, Sinha is simultaneously fighting two major wars-- one against the 30-year-long Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and its meticulously co-ordinated ecosystem across different institutions of governance and civil society, including media and mainstream politics; another against the perennial corruption and nepotism that has shattered the faith of the Kashmiri youths in the Indian system a many times.

Until 2020, there were just a few names in the top rungs of the Police, bureaucracy and the civil administration who were ever arrested or punished for corruption or other unfair means in governance, like nepotism and favouritism. One remembers the days when the then Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed set his State Vigilance Organization (SVO), now known as Anti-corruption Bureau (ACB) against a senior IAS officer Ajit Kumar, 20 years ago. One remembers, the SVO going hammer and tongs against the senior bureaucrat Sushma Choudhary in a matter of  purchasing computers at exorbitant rates for the government's Revenue Training Institute. However, there is no trail of such high- profile cases reaching the logical conclusion of the prosecution in a court of law.

According to the eminent Jammu-based advocate and RTI activist Sheikh Shakeel Ahmad, all successive governments either turned down the mandatory sanction to the prosecution of IAS, IPS and JKAS officers or put the same 'pending' for years and decades. In most of such cases, prosecution sanction was turned down for the fact that most of the evidence had been destroyed or witnesses had expired. One of such typical cases, concerning a former Law Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir, was rejected by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah over 25 years after it was instituted by the SVO. Advocate Shakeel is fighting this and other cases, in which prosecution sanction was denied to the investigation agency, in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.

Advocate Shakeel has a long list of the influential bureaucrats and officers who managed to hush up the SVO, Crime Branch and even CBI investigations against them in different governments in Jammu and Kashmir. Details obtained by Ahmad through RTI applications from the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and other government agencies indicate a pattern. Quite a number of the sanctions sought by the investigation agencies have been rejected outright without a potent reason. A larger number of such files have been returned with flimsy queries which didn't go back to Delhi for years. The net result is the impression that a class of politicians, bureaucrats and officials is "above the law". As a corollary, for decades, there has been little accountability in the government and no fear of punishment for any delinquency.

In the last couple of years, nevertheless, a sequence of the developments has ruffled feathers in the system. Credit will go to a Division Bench of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court but it is also a fact that neither the LG's administration nor the Union Government interfered with the CBI investigation in the so-called Roshni Scam. Just last month, there was a series of the CBI raids on the residences and other premises of the persons who have served as the most powerful bureaucrats for decades in Jammu and Kashmir. One of them even served as Advisor to LG Sinha. Two of them served as Divisional Commissioners in Kashmir. Several of them functioned as Deputy Commissioners and major Heads of Departments.

Apparently without interference from the UT government, the CBI is also investigating the infamous case of the DCs having issued thousands of gun licences in Jammu and Kashmir from 2010 to 2018 allegedly for huge considerations of money and other benefits. Residences and other premises of a number of IAS and JKAS officers, serving as well as retired, have been raided by the CBI in the last over one year. According to reports and insiders in the government, at least a dozen of the sitting or retired IAS and JKAS officers are in the soup in this scam. Sources insist that the issuance of prosecution sanction is in the final stage. Top level bureaucrats in the Mufti government made sustained efforts to detail this investigation by the Anti-terrorism Squad of the Rajasthan Police after a huge money transfer was noticed in one IAS officer's bank account.

As the then J&K Government did not cooperate in the investigation with the Rajasthan Police, the Government of Rajasthan forwarded it to the Central Government for a thorough CBI probe which is currently underway.

Sinha lost no time to act when a former J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik, who is still a governor in the North East, revealed how he had been offered bribes of Rs 150 crore each for shutting his eyes on two big contracts given to two major companies allegedly through fraudulent means. On Sinha's communication to the Union Government, the CBI is now progressing with its investigations in both cases. According to Malik, one allotment had been managed by a man "very close to the RSS" while another by a J&K politician "who would boast of his proximity to the Prime Minister". This politician, who was a Cabinet Minister in the Mufti government, has been grilled by the CBI in a session of questioning in another high profile case, which has also been separately handed over to the CBI by Sinha's government. Sources privy to the two investigations insist that once the State's most powerful and well-connected politician, is deeply involved in the two scams and likely to be arrested any time. He too is allegedly the beneficiary of the Farooq Abdullah government's Roshni Scheme.

In an unprecedented move, Sinha has shifted a number of the senior IAS and JKAS officers from prize positions to insignificant places after the investigation agencies came up with strong evidence of corruption and other unfair practices against them in the last 2-3 months. One of the most powerful bureaucrats, who also served as Principal Secretary to Chief Minister, was recently removed from the Civil Secretariat and transferred to a North-East State.

"One Roshni scam, involving a senior officer, surfaced in the media in 2008-09. A preliminary inquiry was conducted by ACB which led to registration of FIR. The investigation was completed within a year and a charge sheet filed in 2009. 13 years later, the case is still in a trial court. This is how the system fails most of these cases. And the prime accused, then DC in Baramulla, during this long period was promoted to the rank of Divisional Commissioner. Before his retirement, he was further elevated and appointed Advisor to LG. Only this year, LG Sinha has removed him but the trial is still going on at snail's pace in Baramulla. LG should act in a no-nonsense manner and pull up the organs discrediting not only the government but also the country. He should act tough", advocate Ahmad told India Narrative.

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