Taking serious note of ministers appointing their relatives as PROs (public relations officers), the Jammu Kashmir High Court on Friday directed the State Government to frame some standard criteria for the purpose to be adopted by them and other higher ups.
After hearing advocates Sheikh Shakeel Ahmed and Rahul Raina who appeared for the petitioner Prof S K Bhalla, a social activist, Justice Tashi Rabstan ordered that the entire exercise shall be completed within three months. “It is very strange that ministers take any person, generally their relatives without adhering to any criteria as their PROs, otherwise how could a forest guard (Kewal Sharma) officially distribute cheques of Rs 20 lakh in presence of Sub Divisional Magistrate, Khour, amongst the flood affected people of Palatan and Chahani Divanoo,’’ he observed.
Kewal Sharma was PRO to the Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand in previous Omar Abdullah led National Conference-Congress government. Prof Bhalla had filed a writ petition seeking high court’s directions to the state government for withdrawal of undue security cover provided to a forest guard turned PRO and holding of an enquiry into the distribution of government cheques worth Rs 20 lakh by him amongst flood victims in presence of SDM Khour during September last year.
Justice Tashi Rabstan also passed severe strictures against the then Senior Superintendent of Police, Jammu, Atul Goel for providing undue security cover to the forest guard. “It is very strange that merely on the verbal request of his wife, SSP deployed four PSOs (Personal Security Officers) with Kewal Sharma and also deputed four security guards at his residence without even bothering to ascertain the allegations or investigating the matter in its right perspective,’’ he observed.
“How could a police officer of the rank of SSP provide such a huge security to a mere forest guard and that too only on the verbal request of his wife when, besides other allegations, serious charges of corruption have been leveled against him, including amassing huge wealth and properties allegedly by indulging in unlawful means and immoral activities while acting as PRO to the then Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand,’’ he asked.
Expressing his displeasure, Justice Tashi further observed that the said security cover cannot be provided without the knowledge of higher authorities. Although the security provided to Kewal Sharma has been withdrawn, but the higher police authorities too seem to be under some sort of pressure or were part of the entire episode, he added.
About petitioner’s request for initiating disciplinary action against the Forest Guard, Justice Tashi observed that the matter is stated to have been referred by General Administration Department to the State Vigilance Organization for investigation into the amassing of huge wealth by him through unlawful and corrupt means during his tenure as PRO to the then Deputy Chief Minister. Looking into the gravity of the allegations, he directed the SVO to investigate the matter and take the investigation to its logical end.