The J&K Anti-Corruption Bureau, which re-investigated the 2009 Gulmarg land scandal, has again indicted Baseer Ahmad Khan, an IAS official who has since retired and is now Advisor to the Lieutenant Governor, for his alleged role in the case.
Chargesheeted, arrested on September 23, 2013 and released on bail the same day, Khan went on to become Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir. He was named Advisor by the Centre in March this year. The new indictment by the ACB is leaving red faces in the administration which has been claiming success in its fight against corruption, especially after the abrogation of J&K’s special status last year.
On June 11 this year, the Court of Special Judge, Anti-Corruption, Baramulla, hearing the case since 2012, asked the ACB to investigate the “impact” of two documents “regarding the involvement of the accused in the case and produce the supplementary chargesheet” on October 10.
The two documents were a letter written by Special Secretary (Law) to Commissioner/Secretary, General Administrative Department, on September 15, 2016; and the opinion of the then Advocate General sought by the Law department regarding grant of sanction for prosecution against the accused officials on March 23, 2011.
Now a detailed report, submitted to the court by Senior Superintendent of Police, ACB, Baramulla, states that the “two communications referred for further investigation by the Hon’ble Court of Special Judge Anti-Corruption, Baramulla, do not alter the culpability/involvement of accused public servants and private beneficiaries chargesheeted before the competent court on 25-09-2012 and 21-09-2013.”
Khan did not respond to phone calls, text messages from The Indian Express for comment. The official spokesperson for the J&K government too did not respond to queries on the ACB report.
In 2009, the State Vigilance Organisation (now ACB) registered a case against 20 people, including Khan who was then the Baramulla Deputy Commissioner, and six other top bureaucrats, for allegedly misusing their official positions to transfer state land in Gulmarg, earmarked for development of tourist infrastructure, to private parties. This, the SVO said, was in violation of the J&K State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001 or Roshni Act.
According to the chargesheet, the probe concluded that the accused officials, including Khan, entered into a “criminal conspiracy” with the beneficiaries, manipulated records, violated the Roshni Act to illegally transfer the ownership of state land to private parties.
Khan was arrested on September 23, 2013 by the SVO on the charge of corruption. The Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) had granted sanction for his prosecution on August 21, 2013.
In 2018, after central rule was imposed in J&K, the Roshni law was scrapped by the then Governor, Satya Pal Malik.
Last Friday, the J&K High Court ruled that the law was “unconstitutional”, turning all land transfers made under this Act “void ab initio” (invalid from the outset). The High Court also ordered a probe by the CBI into land transfers made under this law.
These are some details from the ACB report to the court on October 10:
*“The challan of the case was produced before the competent court on 25-9-2012 against the then divisional commissioner Kashmir and 18 others and supplementary chargesheet against the accused deputy commissioner Baramulla was produced on 21-9-2013 after receipt of prosecution sanction from Government of India vide order dated 21-8-2013”.
* “However, the Honourable Special Judge Anti-Corruption Court, Baramulla vide his order dated 11-6- 2020 has put the proceedings of charge on hold, directing ACB to investigate further the impact of documents regarding the involvement of the accused in the case and produce the supplementary chargesheet on 10th of October 2020.”
*“During further investigation, facts of the case were revisited and it was found that …..the two opinions have already been addressed during the investigation itself.”
* “…opinion of Advocate General has been already well thought by the government of J&K before granting sanction for prosecution”.
* “During investigation, it has been found that the process has not been put on hold by accused public servants of their own will, but due to the intervention of higher authorities… The process has not been put on hold before giving the occupants an opportunity to deposit the amounts and stake their claim.”
* “…the status of the land in question was sought from the offices of Deputy Commissioner Baramulla, Tehsildar Tangmarg and Gulmarg Development Authority. Their responses… revealed that the accused occupants continue the possession of land and are running lucrative hotelier business over it. The accused occupants have a legal claim over the land after depositing the amounts in response to the demand notices of accused public servants. So the objective of the conspiracy has been achieved.”
* “Despite the fact that J&K State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act 2001 has been repealed by the State government in the year 2018, neither the premises have been vacated nor the amount deposited by them have been refunded.”
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