Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir administration came under criticism of a court in Srinagar on Monday, March 21, which was hearing the bail application of a Gujarati man with suspected Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) links, who was arrested by Srinagar police earlier this month.
The court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Mohammad Tasleem, raised uncomfortable questions about the “lapses” which allowed the Ahmedabad-based man, Kiran Bhai Patel, to con J&K’s civil and security administration before his arrest from a hotel in Srinagar.
“I applied sometime back to seek a personal security officer but my request is yet to be approved. Then how is it possible that a man comes to Kashmir from Gujarat and gets a Z-plus security cover? What was the state doing all this time?” the judge observed.
The court was hearing the bail application of Patel who took the Jammu and Kashmir administration for a ride for four months by procuring five-star hotel accommodation and official protocol, including a jammer and bullet-proof vehicle, while falsely pretending to be a Prime Minster’s Office (PMO) official.
Objecting to the bail application, the prosecution told the court that “public interest” and “security of the state” was involved in the case and a probe was underway to shed light on the frauds allegedly perpetrated by Patel and also to ascertain the role of officials involved in providing him security cover.
However, the defence told the court that his client has not committed any offence and that “his liberty was curtailed by false allegations”. “Even if he managed to get security cover, whose negligence is it? How come an outsider comes and gets security without getting mandatory clearances in a region where security remains on the highest degree of alert,” the defence told the court which reserved its order for March 23.
Patel was arrested from The Lalit hotel on March 2 and is presently lodged in Srinagar’s Central Jail. The J&K Police have filed an FIR under sections 419, 420, 467, 468 and 471 of the Indian Penal Code against him at Nishat Police Station.
‘Involvement of other persons’
But mystery continues to shroud the role of the three men who accompanied Patel on his last visit to Kashmir. The three men have been “let go” by the police. One of them has been identified as Amit Pandya, a Gujarat resident and the son of Hitesh Pandya, a Public Relations Officer in the Gujarat Chief Minister’s office since April 17, 2001.
The other two men have been identified as Jay Sitapara, also a Gujarat resident, and Trilok Singh, from Rajasthan. The three men were part of the ‘PMO team’ which was staying at The Lalit hotel and are suspected to have met a number of people, including a BJP leader, during their visit to Kashmir.
“The statement of one of them has been recorded under Section 164 of CrPC, while the second one has been let go without any charges for now. I met him (Patel) only once in the open court. He told me that there was a political conspiracy behind his arrest,” Rehan Gowhar, Patel’s lawyer, told The Wire.
However, while arguing against the bail application, the prosecution told the court that there is suspicion of the “involvement of other persons” in the case. A senior police officer said that the accomplices of Patel will be investigated as part of the probe launched by Srinagar Police into the case.
“No one is off the hook. If they are required for investigation, we will summon them. A team of Gujarat police is also coordinating with J&K Police so that the investigation of the case is carried out expeditiously,” the officer said.
Kiran Patel’s modus operandi
According to reports, Patel, who has three FIRs of cheating and fraud filed against him in Gujarat, had requisitioned 10 visiting cards which showed him as ‘additional director (strategy and campaigns)’ in the Prime Minister’s Office from a printing press in Maninagar area of Ahmedabad in Gujarat for Rs 100.
Patel “invested only Rs 100 to cheat the entire administration of Kashmir,” said a report in Times of India.
While earlier reports suggested that Patel had gone to only two districts (Baramulla and Budgam) during his at least three visits to Kashmir, sources told The Wire that he also visited south and central Kashmir districts, including an “inspection visit” of a spice park in Pulwama.
During his visits, sources said that Patel, a resident of Ghodasar in Ahmedabad, held meetings with officials from the administration, political activists, police, retired bureaucrats and ordinary Kashmiris. Manzoor Bhat, media-in-charge of BJP’s Kashmir wing, said that during his meeting, Patel told him that he was sent by the PMO to Kashmir to “check the pulse” ahead of the assembly elections.
“I came to know him in 2014 when he visited Kashmir with other BJP workers. He called me recently and sought support for organising some events in Kashmir. He said that he was on a secret mission but I advised him to intimate the officials before any such activity,” Bhat said.
Reports said that Patel would promise prized posting to the officials of the J&K administration to gain their trust. “He also promised to arrange plots of land in Kashmir to some officials,” reports said.
His wife Malini Patel, a doctor, told Hindustan Times her husband had “good political contacts” and “a top politician” gave Patel “his own security cover in Srinagar given the sensitivity of the region”.
Additional Director General of Police (Kashmir) Vijay Kumar told reporters on Sunday that the decision to provide Z-plus security cover to Patel was a “mistake” and the guilty officers will be punished.
“Providing security cover (to Patel) was not an intelligence failure but a mistake which is being investigated. Any officer who ordered to provide security to the conman without due diligence will be dealt with strictly,” Kumar said on the sidelines of a sports event in Srinagar.