J&K: Why a Top IAS Officer Has Sought a CBI Probe Into the Flagship Jal Jeevan Mission

In a letter to the Union home ministry, Ashok Kumar Parmar has accused J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha of being part of a “criminal conspiracy” by the incumbent chief secretary Arun Kumar Mehta to commit irregularities in the implementation of the centrally-sponsored scheme.

Srinagar: Punching holes in the narrative of “good governance” in Jammu and Kashmir, a top IAS officer has sought a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the alleged irregularities in a Rs 13,000 crore centrally-sponsored scheme.

In a letter to the Union home ministry, the 1992-batch IAS officer, Ashok Kumar Parmar, has also accused J&K Lieutenant Governor (LG) Manoj Sinha of being part of a “criminal conspiracy” by the incumbent chief secretary Arun Kumar Mehta to commit irregularities in the implementation of the flagship Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) scheme in J&K.

The scheme, which was rolled out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019, aims to provide piped drinking water to all the rural households in the country by 2024. Under the scheme, a central grant of Rs 13,259 crore was approved for J&K – of which Rs 3,000 crore is meant only for procuring pipes.

Parmar, who is presently serving as the chairman of the Bureau of Public Standards in J&K, has alleged in a complaint to the Union home secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla that the J&K administration overlooked official guidelines and financial rules, and tainted officers were “arbitrarily” posted at key positions to commit irregularities in the scheme.

The complaint claims that a conspiracy was hatched by the chief secretary to procure pipes worth Rs 3,000 crore in violation of the norms of the JJM scheme. He said that pipes worth Rs 28 crore, which are “unsuitable for hilly areas” of J&K, were already purchased by the administration – allegedly without administrative approval and technical sanction and in violation of norms.

The officer has also alleged in another complaint on July 18, accessed by The Wire, that a purchase committee headed by the chief engineer (Kashmir) of the Jal Shakti department floated tenders for ductile iron pipes worth Rs 690 crore without getting administrative approval per norms.

The tender was floated in January 2022 and the orders were placed in June 2022 under non-JJM specification as “part of a criminal conspiracy” by senior officials of the administration, the complaint alleges.

There was no official reaction to the allegations. Yitesh Yadav, the media advisor to Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, and J&K chief secretary Arun Kumar Mehta didn’t respond to queries from The Wire about the allegations levelled by the senior officer, who has served in J&K for more than 30 years.

However, the administration appears to have begun backdoor efforts to question Parmar’s record. A news report citing unnamed “sources” – published in the Rising Kashmir – says the IAS officer’s career has been “marked by disputes, inefficiency”.

J&K LG Manoj Sinha signed the termination orders. Photo: Twitter/@diprjk

Another top J&K officer, however, rejected the allegations, saying that “these people can’t digest the changes” taking place in the region. “Under the earlier system, nearly 100% allotments were done arbitrarily without tendering, technical sanction, etc. We are today perhaps No 1 in digital governance,” the officer claimed, wishing to remain anonymous.

JJM in J&K: a background

In October 2020, the Union Jal Shakti Ministry said that under the JJM scheme, the J&K administration was “planning to achieve 100% coverage of tap water connection” to 18.35 lakh rural households by December 2022, two years ahead of the national deadline. “J&K will be a leading example to accomplish the ambitious target of providing tap connection to every rural home,” the ministry said in a statement.

Parmar states in his complaint that the target was set “without assessing the bottlenecks such as hostile terrain and extreme climatic conditions, poor capacity and capability of engineering staff of Jal Shakti Department and poor capacity, capability and financial conditions of contractors of UT of J&K.”

As it turned out, the J&K administration, which is run directly by the BJP-led Union government, missed the December 2022 deadline it had set. An official handout issued by J&K’s Directorate of Information and Public Relations, the official media wing of the administration, said the J&K chief secretary extended the deadline to June this year.

Parmar’s complaint – which has also been marked to P.K. Mishra, principal secretary to the Prime Minister and Rajiv Gauba, cabinet secretary – notes that Jammu and Kashmir had planned 3,095 water supply schemes under the JJM scheme.

A scheme gone awry

An official handout states that out of 6,774 projects taken up under the JJM in J&K, only 284 were completed till February this year. “Only Rs 800 crore has been utilised this year till August 2023, including Rs 700 crores for the procurement of pipes only,” Parmar’s letter to the Union home ministry, dated August 15, 2023, claims.

According to official data, out of more than Rs 13,000 crore earmarked for J&K under the JJM scheme, Rs 3,136 crore has been released by the Union government but only Rs 2,336 crore has been spent by J&K. The scheme has shown physical progress of only 22.78% till August 21, 2023.

At this rate, J&K will miss the target set by the Union government by two years – and that too if Rs 4,000 crore is spent every year, which according to Parmar’s complaint is “a very difficult rather impossible target to achieve”. He also accused the chief secretary, the LG’s advisor and the chief of J&K’s Jal Shakti Department of “misleading” the Union government and the Prime Minister’s Office.

The senior IAS officer cites the example of Samba district in Jammu and Kashmir to allege “large scale” violations of financial rules and vigilance guidelines in the execution of central schemes. For instance, the complaint states that the J&K administration gave technical sanction to seven projects in Samba after the contracts were already awarded, which is a “violation of codal formalities”.

Parmar claims that these projects were scheduled to be completed in four months but to date, they are incomplete, pointing to the absence of “digital and geo-tagged photographs” and reports of third-party inspection and soil-bearing capacity from the project files, per the scheme guidelines.

Parmar’s complaint also alleges that the J&K administration overlooked the violation of norms of depth approved for laying down underground water pipes and the scope of the projects such as the length of the pipes and trench excavation in Samba district “for payment purpose”.

“During spot inspection it has been found that at many places pipes have been laid over ground, but the payments have been made for trench excavation and refilling,” the complaint alleges, adding that these violations “were not confined to one district only, as similar irregularities were also reported by (J&K’s) ACB (Anti-Corruption Bureau) … in almost all districts.”

In his complaint, Parmar alleges that the administration “did not take any action on large number of advisories” by J&K’s anti-corruption body and “rewarded” a young IAS officer from Kashmir with multiple postings as administrative secretary of tourism and culture departments and chief of Economic Reconstruction Agency, purportedly for overlooking violations of rules as Mission Director of JJM scheme in J&K.

The J&K officer quoted above, however, said that “every single contract in J&K is based on e-tendering, technical sanction, photographic record with geo-coordinates and 100% physical sanction.” He, however, couldn’t specify the number of JJM projects completed in J&K and referred The Wire to the Janbhagidari J&K portal, an official website that shows the list of all the projects taken up by the J&K administration without any specific mention of the JJM scheme.

A woman collects the drinking water from the third tap in Simlipadar village in Thuamul Rampur, Kalahandi. Photo: Ajaya Behera

JJM’s ‘dismal status’ in J&K

Parmar alleges that as principal secretary of J&K’s Jal Shakti Department – the nodal body responsible for the implementation of the JJM scheme – he informed LG Sinha, chief secretary Mehta and the LG’s advisor about the “dismal status” of the scheme which is being implemented in J&K “without doing SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis” in a letter on July 20, 2022.

The complaint claims that Parmar had in a meeting on August 8 last year recommended action against the chief engineers of Kashmir and Jammu divisions of J&K’s Jal Shakti Department for poor execution of the JJM scheme. While one of the officers was suspended, no action was taken against the second officer in a “highly objectionable and arbitrary” decision.

Parmar, who was transferred four times last year, also claimed to have raised the issue of “inappropriate and premature transfers and postings of IAS officers” in J&K with the Union Home Ministry. In a letter to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, Parmar has accused J&K’s LG and chief secretary of “harassment, intimidation and threats” while alleging that his frequent transfers were due to “bias and prejudice” against him for “being a Scheduled Caste IAS officer”.

“Many IAS/JKAS/IRS officers are given the charge of two to three departments without considering their seniority and experience and many of them are allowed to continue to hold post/s more than 3 years of prescribed tenure,” the complaint to the home ministry notes.

The complaint by Parmar, a resident of Bharuch district in Gujarat, also accuses a top IAS officer in J&K of failing to complete an inquiry against a “tainted officer” for “cost and time overrun” of a project in Jammu as part of a “criminal conspiracy” allegedly to post him in a key department responsible for the implementation of the JJM in J&K, despite the officer allegedly not being eligible for the post.

Parmar has also accused the officer of violating the order of the LG, which had empowered divisional and district officers to issue transfer orders of low- and middle-rung officials in J&K’s Revenue and Jal Shakti departments, by centralising these powers in his office “as a reward for committing all administrative and financial irregularities in Jal Jeevan Mission.”

“Since September 2022 to March 2023 in blatant violation of the transfer policy of the government, many engineers were transferred prematurely within two to three months with or without approval of LG, CS or Advisor Bhatnagar,” the letter claims.

“I request you to kindly urgent take necessary action by directing the Anti-Corruption Bureau of UT of J&K and Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate financial irregularities in procurement of pipes and civil works in violation of relevant clauses of Manual for Procurement of goods 2017 of General Financial Rules (GFRs), General Financial Rules (GFRs) issued by Ministry of Finance, Government of India and for large scale transfer and postings of Engineers/revenue officers in violation of Transfer policy and instructions of General Administrative Department of UT of J&K (sic),” Parmar states in his complaint.