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Taj: Does he have a case?
Justice needs to be provided a fair play
By Dr.Javid Iqbal
Taj Mohi-ud-Din---PHE minister, holding Irrigation and flood control portfolio as well seems to be apparently beleaguered, however fighting doggedly persistent allegation of holding forest land as propriety right. While justice needs to be provided a fair play, we may assess objectively…does he have a case? Having grown together in the same neighbourhood and in the same social circle, our paths have crossed right from childhood days, being of the same age. Lately however except on social occasions…over a marriage or mourning, we hardly meet. Beyond exchanging pleasantries, we don’t interact. I have criticised him time and again in my columns, harshly on occasions, in spite of multiple links. Yet he has never ever mentioned it, on the contrary there is an air of recognition of what I am supposed to do. There is one difference though, bonhomie of youth has given way to stiffness of elderly days…attitudes get guarded. Whatever the nature of personal ties, his deed needs to be seen in the light of events that have unfolded, ever since he acquired the land in question.

There is hardly anything about Taj, I wouldn’t be aware of. There are several aspects of his make-up as a person and a politician. That he at all became a politician is a matter that surprises me. Devil may care carefree attitude of his budding years would suggest otherwise. Bubbling with energy in his youthful day, a seemingly compulsive talker at times, his stiff upper lip of present times surprises me. Perhaps he has learned the tricks of political trade to the extent of keeping his own counsels. Yet, at times the street fighter of youthful days comes forth. He went overboard recently in addressing a constitutional authority---Chairman of legislative council---Amrit Malhotra in terms hardly desirable in a press conference, given that the chairman might have acted in excess of his constitutional brief. His apologists had hardly the space to defend him. Taj apologists, as well as his some of his admirers are varied in hue. There is much more to Taj’s make-up than a mere shade or two.

Taj is a part of urban elite; his family has been a part of what is called the creamy layer of up-town Srinagar for nearly a century. His father Brigadier Khuda Bakhsh was a rich landowner, hailing from district Kathua of Jammu province. Apart from his landlord status, the Brigadier was the proud recipient of ‘Order of British Empire’ [O.B.E] for valorous deeds in Second World War. Apart from joining the hall of honour, the Brigadier was allotted land in Multan. Taj’s migrant relatives hold the land in what is post-partition a part of Pakistan. Brigadier Khuda Bakhsh got married to sister of Mir Nasarullah—former chief secretary, incidentally son-in-law of former Prime Minister of J&K State—Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad in 1927—my family elders remember the year. This started the Srinagar sojourn of Taj’s family, developing family and marital link-ups with well known families in the summer capital of the state.

Taj has a Jammu base, a strong Srinagar link-up, and as if it were not enough since last decade or two, he has constructed a house in Uri and made the last post of Indian administered Kashmir his third home. He has thus his footprints firmly planted from one corner of the state—Kathua to another corner Uri, with powerful link-ups to summer and winter capital of the state. From the sale of his Kathua land holdings, he has farmland and a house in suburban Jammu. He has been elected from Uri twice to legislative assembly defeating a known National Conference heavy weight---Shafi Uri, a former minister, presently a Rajya Sabha member—a Uri habitant, born and bred in the town near LOC. This is thus the diversity associated with Taj Mohi-ud-Din…a rural, an urban, and an ethnic mix, rarely seen. This provides him with a political background where Delhi might line him up as a future chief ministerial candidate. I have heard it related in political circles, seriously at times. That however might be far off; presently Taj is in news for wrong reasons.

Politicians are corrupt, unless proved otherwise; unfortunately it has become a common refrain…a buzz word. A friend quoted Taj recently relating to his cabinet colleagues in an unguarded moment…ministers have become like prostitutes…any charge may stick. Was the remark, if he ever made it meant to put up a brave front in the face of an onslaught or was it out of injured innocence? His detractors would call it a show of bravado while batting on a sticky wicket, his apologists on the other hand might call it injured innocence. We may not take either in an objective analysis.

The latest reports point out to the note submitted by Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Shopian. The note as per press reports relates that the minister was in possession of 14 kanals of forest land at Sedow in district Shopian. Taj in response has shot-off a letter to Forest Minister Mian Altaf. While asking for a joint committee of revenue and forest officials, Taj states, “The Officers/Officials of Forest Department have not initiated demarcation of forests and instead are claiming revenue land as forest land,” adding, “Besides, if the committee comes to the conclusion that any portion of forest land is under my occupation as per the records, which is not so, the same may be withdrawn”. That could be a fair argument, it needs to be decided once for all whether the land in question is forest land or not, as the earlier official submissions suggest otherwise. There are reports that DFO has based his finding on the presence of conifer trees, which are otherwise seen in urban residential lawns. The substantiation has to be much more plausible.

Taj, as press reports says, has quoted three instances of being cleared of any wrong doing. Forest department officials clearing him in 1985, by declaring that the land acquired does not belong to forest department, subsequently he was cleared by State Accountability Commission [SAC] in 2005 and state vigilance commission [SVO] in 2011. With all these clearances in his defence kitty, legally he could be right. However, the charges persist, and question remains whether 18 kanals acquired with propriety rights is forest land or not. If the transaction was made in his name by revenue authorities, fully aware that the land in question is not forest land and that it is recorded as such in revenue records, then it could be taken to be a fair transaction. On the other hand, if the transaction was made overlooking the fact of the land being forest land, then it is a serious error, which calls for legal proceeding against the erring officials.

The question arises whether coercion was used, the politicians are often accused of, and Taj detractors would love to point out? Shopian land was acquired by Taj in eighties, nearly three decades back, when his apologists say he was politically a non-entity, thus ruling out political influence in acquiring it. If at all officials erred, could the party be accused of unlawful acquisition? Especially when the minister has publicly announced that he would part with the land, if it is proved to be the forest land. As per reports, more or less 13 kanals attached to the land have been applied for by the minister as an inclusive to propriety rights, the provision provided by Roshni act. Whatever the state of property, the minister is publicly on record to give up the land; in case it is proved that it is forest land. In the days to come the findings of joint team of forest and revenue officials would be watched with interest. There are aspects of the case worth looking at.

Omar Abdullah’s cabinet has had ministers charged with corruption, nevertheless charges evaporated, as rapidly as they were made. In Taj’s case persistence of charges points to much more than meets the eye. Grapevine has it that the manner of his working acts as an irritant to a particular lobby, which monopolises the cabinet, at the cost of regions that remain under-represented. High level secretariat officials express admiration of his grasp of not only his portfolio, but of the entire gambit of government working. Taj’s outspokenness on NHPC’s working in the state has won him admirers from quarters that don’t otherwise have a soft word for any stream of mainstream politics. Even a columnist of Hasan Zaigeree’s repute strident in his comments on mainstream politics had a word of praise for him for outlining the reality of water utilisation and hydroelectric potential of the state.

There are nevertheless limits to the extent Taj could go. The limits civil society got acquainted with, as Taj announced November 12, 1911 deadline for NHPC to comply with provisions of water regulatory act, 2010—a thoroughly revised form of 1940 water regulatory act. The deadline decided by state passed and nothing happened, NHPC continued to be defiant, though there are stray reports of NHPC proposing to comply. One month before that deadline, on October the 9th in an S.P. College seminar on hydroelectric potential and projects, Taj was asked what he would do in case NHPC does not comply. Contrary to what could be expected, willingness to resign, Taj never short of wit related, “In such a situation civil society would have to play his role”. Taj knows his limits, moreover within those limits; he is known to produce results, indicating a method that does not escape notice.

Yaar Zinda Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]

Feedback on: Iqbal.javid46@gmail.com
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News Updated at : Sunday, December 2, 2012
 
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