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Row over 35-A exposes Mehbooba Mufti's deceitful politics
9/12/2018 11:27:09 PM
Early Times Report
Jammu, Sept 12: Former J&K Chief Minister and president of PDP, Mehbooba Mufti is these days busy dishing out one after another statement and giving interviews on the row over Article 35-A, to salvage whatever little faith and credibility her party has in Kashmir.
Mehbooba insists that her government, despite being in alliance with the BJP, had hired the best available lawyers in the country to defend Article 35-A in the Supreme Court after multiple petitions were filed there by some NGOs affiliated with the RSS challenging the legislation.
The PDP-BJP government had reportedly paid Rs 21.50 lakh to senior advocate Fali Nariman, Rs 8.10 lakh to senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, Rs 10.30 lakh to Rakesh Dwivedi and Rs 4.50 lakh to constitutional lawyer KV Viswanathan per sitting to mount a 'strong' defence of Article 35A in the apex court. That's Rs 44.40 lakh per hearing.
The then Minister for Rural Development, Law and Justice in Jammu and Kashmir, Abdul Haq Khan, had confirmed that the government was "forcefully defending" Article 35A and Article 370. He had said the law department had hired a battery of senior advocates to vigorously pursue the case. "It's more than Rs 44.40 lakh. In fact, this is a nominal fee as these are very senior lawyers," Khan had told a web portal in February this year.
Rs 44 lakh per hearing is by no means a small amount, particularly for a poor state like Jammu and Kashmir, where the salary of government employees is barely managed, that too after the government goes to Delhi with a begging bowl. Since abrogation of Article 35-A is a burning issue, one could however justify the government's spending money to defend it in the apex court.
But what is intriguing is this: Why did the PDP government not hire even a junior lawyer to fight cases against corrupt and 'deadwood' officials in the state administration? Moreover, the appointment of the senior lawyers occurred only after Hurriyat Conference pushed the state government to take the matter seriously, implying that Mehbooba had succumbed to the separatists' pressure. Also ironic is the fact that the then BJP state president Sat Sharma had justified hiring these senior lawyers, saying: "These are big lawyers and have to be paid handsomely. But this Article (35-A) has to go one day."
During the 2014 assembly elections, both BJP and PDP had promised in their election manifestos to whip a crack against corruption if they came into power. And when the PDP-BJP coalition government took over in 2015, its Agenda of Alliance reiterated both parties pledge for zero tolerance towards corruption, as J&K has had gained the unwanted title of 'second corrupt state in India after Bihar.'
After the death of former CM Mufti Sayeed, when Mehbooba took the reigns of the government, a number of corrupt bureaucrats and officials were declared as 'deadwood' and sent on premature retirement. Almost all of these 'deadwood' officials challenged the government decision in the court, and the court in many cases granted stay or asked the government to reinstate these officials.
Mehbooba Mufti government had the option to go to the division bench of the high court, or if required, to the Supreme Court to save the state exchequer from feeding these white elephants for many more years. It did not however challenge even a single case in the court.
"When Mehbooba Mufti dismissed those deadwood officials, it made headline news, while the court order to reinstate the officials was seldom publicised, which proves that Mehbooba was concerned about earning publicity rather than the welfare of the state," said a Srinagar-based newspaper editor who does not want to be named.
"It would have cost the government a few lakh rupees to challenge these deadwood officials in the court by engaging two-three lawyers. Mehbooba did not do so and instead emptied the government coffers to defend 35-A in the apex court. Mehbooba has exposed her politics, it can't be more deceitful," said the editor.
"Her public facade has fallen," he said. "Her politics of deceit and hypocrisy, built over many years, stands exposed."
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