Srinagar: Days after the Jammu and Kashmir high court expressed anguish over the “inordinate delay” in framing of charges in the Gulmarg land scam and sought records from a subordinate court, the Centre has cleared the appointment of senior bureaucrat Baseer Ahmad Khan – one of the accused in the high-profile case – as the fourth advisor to Lieutenant Governor G.C. Murmu.
A communication from the Union home ministry asked the LG to issue the order for appointing Khan as his advisor for effective discharge of his function. “The appointment will be effective from the date from which he (Khan) assumes the office,” reads the communication.
The other three advisors of the LG are K.K. Sharma, Farooq Khan and Rajeev Rai Bhatnagar.
An IAS officer, Khan is presently the divisional commissioner (Kashmir). He was given a one-year extension in service in June last year as a “special case in public interests” after he attained superannuation. His extended tenure was due to end on June 30.
Khan took over as the divisional commissioner in 2016. He was the face of the civil administration in Kashmir after the government of India scrapped J&K’s special status on August 5 last year and put the Valley under lockdown for months.
On March 4, the high court had sought the status of the case – one of the biggest land scams in J&K – from the anti-corruption court in Baramulla, which is hearing the case.
The division bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajesh Bindal sought the records in a petition seeking probe into encroachment of state land in J&K, after it was brought to its notice that there has been no headway in the case despite the passing of almost 10 years.
“The court directed the special judge of anti-corruption court Baramulla to produce the date wise summary of the proceedings of the case since 2012,” said advocate Sheikh Shakeel Ahmad, adding that the court expressed concern over the “long and inordinate delay” in the framing of charges in the case.
“The concern is that there has been no headway on arguments on charge/discharge in the case despite lapse of such a long time,” he said. “Since 2013, the case is pending without charges being framed as highly influential persons are involved in it. They are leaving no stone unturned to scuttle the proceedings.”
As then deputy commissioner of Baramulla, Khan is accused of illegally transferring land worth crores of rupees to several influential persons, including some hoteliers.
In March 2009, the State Vigilance Organisation (now Anti-Corruption Body) had registered a case (FIR No. 08/2009 P/S VOK) against 20 accused, including Khan, then-divisional commissioner of Kashmir Mehbooba Iqbal, then-additional deputy commissioner Baramulla, Farooq Shah and others for misusing official position to transfer the state-owned land at Gulmarg to private persons, in violation of the J&K State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001, also commonly known as the Roshni Act.
The Act was implemented in J&K by then government, led by Ghulam Nabi Azad, to confer proprietary rights of state land to occupants to generate resources for setting up hydropower projects in the state, which has vast hydropower potential.
The land, however, was transferred to private persons at Gulmarg and was earmarked for the development of tourist infrastructure.
Khan was arrested by the Kashmir Vigilance Organisation under the Prevention of Corruption Act in September 23, 2013, for “willfully” ignoring the information pertaining to the case. But, he was released by the anti-corruption court, Srinagar on bail the same day.
At the time of his arrest, Khan was the district commissioner of Kishtwar. He was earlier removed as district commissioner of Srinagar and transferred to Kishtwar, on the direction of the high court.
According to an official, the Anti-Corruption Body had moved against Khan after the J&K state government received sanction on August 21, 2013, from the Union government’s Department of Personnel Training (DoPT) for prosecuting him.
On September 26, 2014, the Vigilance Organisation of Kashmir chargesheeted Mehboob Iqbal, Farooq Shah, a Tehsildar, two Naib Tehsildars, a Girdawar, a Patwari, two stamp vendors of Sadar Court Srinagar and nine beneficiaries in the case.
According to the chargesheet, the accused public servants, in league with each other, entered into a criminal conspiracy with the beneficiaries and manipulated records to illegally confer ownership rights of prime state land at Gulmarg to the accused, in contravention to the Roshni Act.
Advocate Ahmad said the high court has till date on three occasions directed the Baramulla court to expeditiously hear the argument in the case.
The case is listed for hearing on Wednesday.