Srinagar: A teacher is among 11 employees who have been sacked by the J&K’s Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha without what many are alleging is a fair investigation.
The dismissal of Razia Akhtar, whose father Mohammad Sultan, a member of Jamaat-e-Islami, was reportedly killed by Ikhwanis, the dreaded militiamen who unleashed terror on locals during the heydays of the insurgency, was approved by the LG this month.
Jamaat-e-Islami was banned by the Union government in 2019 as part of its larger crackdown on individuals and outfits who were seen to be associated with “secessionist and subversive” activities.
Sources said Razia, a resident of Anantnag district in south Kashmir, was working in J&K’s education department as a teacher before her dismissal. “She was involved in subversive activities which pose threat to the security and law and order,” the official line has held.
The list also includes Syed Ahmad Shakeel and Shahid Yousuf, sons of the Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Salahuddin, who have been accused of involvement in terror funding, and two policemen who were allegedly abetting militant activities.
A junior-level employee of J&K’s health department, an inspector in the power department and two more teachers are in the list of those dismissed from service.
Officials said four among the 11 targeted employees hail from south Kashmir’s Anantnag district while three are from Budgam and one each from Baramulla, Srinagar, Pulwama and Kupwara districts.
The dismissals were greenlit by a committee headed by Jammu and Kashmir’s chief secretary Dr Arun Kumar Mehta. The cases are referred to the committee by a ‘Special Task Force’ chaired by J&K’s intelligence chief which was set up in April this year.
The dismissal orders are issued by LG Sinha by invoking Article 311 of the constitution. The grounds for an employee’s dismissal “shall be supported by…interrogation report and other collateral evidence to justify dispensing with the holding of an inquiry in the interest of security of the State,” Sinha said in an order last year.
However, these grounds have neither been revealed publicly nor are they shared with the targeted employees, raising questions about the credibility of the whole process.
Earlier, seven employees, including a college professor and a middle-rung police officer, were dismissed from the service on the orders of the LG under section (2) (c) of Article 311, which makes them ineligible for a fair representation
A senior officer in General Administration Department said the termination of employees is an “ongoing process”.
In 2015, he said, the J&K government had terminated 63 “tainted” government officials “including five administrative officers, top engineers and doctors”.
In such cases, legal remedy can be pursued only in the high court of Jammu and Kashmir.
The dismissals are part of the larger move by the J&K government to purge the administration of the employees who are accused of working “against the interests” of the government or propagating and funding secessionist and terrorist activities.
The Article 311 of the constitution lists out the procedure for the “dismissal, removal or reduction in rank of persons employed in civil capacities under the Union or a State” after holding inquiry against them.
The article was not applicable to Jammu and Kashmir until the Union government read down Article 370 in early August, 2019.
According to rules, the employees who are going to be terminated from service by the government must get “reasonable opportunity of being heard in respect of those charges.”
However, section 2 (c), which is being invoked by the J&K administration, bypasses the condition of inquiry if “the President or the Governor…is satisfied that in the interest of the security of the State, it is not expedient to hold such inquiry.”
According to sources, the government has identified hundreds of employees, mostly from Muslim-majority Kashmir, who are seen to be working against the “security of the State.”
“We are conducting internal inquiries first after which dossiers are prepared under the Article 311 which are submitted to the committee (headed by the chief secretary) for approval,” a senior officer in J&K government said.
The decision to terminate the employees comes amid the change of laws in Jammu and Kashmir after the bifurcation of the erstwhile state into two Union Territories. The new domicile rules for J&K have opened local government jobs for new citizens who belong to different parts of the country.
With the BJP pushing new sets of rules and policies on Kashmir following the reading down of Article 370, it has raised fears of “systemic dispossession” among the locals of the Muslim-majority Valley where unemployment rate is one of the highest in the country.
Earlier, the J&K administration, which is run directly by New Delhi, introduced amendments to the Civil Service Rules, empowering the authorities to retire any public servant after 22 years of service or 48 years of age.
The local government, which is the largest employer in Jammu and Kashmir, is a six-lakh-plus strong work force. Experts believe that their “total obedience” is crucial for the BJP to normalise the political changes in J&K since the reading down of Article 370.
However, the administration denies the charges. “Some of these employees like the police constable Abdul Rashid Shigan have been found involved in directly aiding and abetting terrorist activities. They are on trial in civil courts as well,” the officer quoted above said.
Shigan is among the 11 employees who have been terminated in the latest order by the J&K government. He was arrested by J&K Police in 2012 for running a shadow outfit of Hizb and accused of targeting political leaders and security forces.
Barring Shigan and Salahuddin’s two sons Shakeel and Shahid who were arrested by the National Investigation Agency in a terror funding case (none have been convicted), the J&K government didn’t release details of criminal charges against those terminated in its latest order.
The government has also set up an army of volunteers to patrol the social media on the behalf of security agencies and report ‘suspicious’ activities, a move that is seen to further choke the space for freedom of speech and expression.
Free speech activists and political opponents of the BJP government believe that those being dismissed from the service are being targeted for belonging to a different political ideology.
“These are attempts to deny people a dignified and rightful livelihood. The security of the state is not so fragile to be threatened by a social media post,” said Habeel Iqbal, a US State department fellow and a lawyer based in Shopian.
Earlier, following the termination of three employees in April, the Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Omar Farooq had also objected to the government’s “draconian measures.”
“We ask the government to revoke these draconian orders and stop harassing and intimidating the government employees,” the moderate Hurriyat chief had said in a statement.