Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Ex-Principal and RTI crusader Prof. S.K.Bhalla says Allah on my side

After spending 35 years as teacher, former college principal Prof S K Bhalla has started his crusade against corruption in the system. Apart from petitioning various anti-graft watchdogs, he has been availing the option of PIL. In last couple of years his activism has led to some sort of action. In his interview with Syed Junaid Hashmi, he regrets that Omar Abdullah’s office was more responsive than his successor

Says Prof. S.K.Bhalla…………………………………………………………………………………….

I have served the education department for 35 years. I have remained a teacher for 29 years and Principal for rest of my period. From day 1, I have had this grouse with my department that those who have genuinely worked in the field of education have been literally ignored. Those people who don’t know much about the academics have been brought to the forefront. Whatever they said was agreed upon, which has ultimately resulted in our system tottering. “It’s tottering”

You take university in Jammu or colleges. They have increased in Number. Though I am not from the school education department but I can say that things are not in order. But what pains me the most is that public which is the biggest stakeholder is never taken into confidence while framing educational policies. “Some people sit in their rooms, make certain policies. They get approved. They are enforced and all start following. This is my observation about the education department of Jammu and Kashmir.

  Regarding corruption in education department

“I have never tolerated anything wrong. Certain things came to my knowledge during my posting in the higher education department but the turning point was my posting as Principal of the Government Degree College (GDC) Thanamandi when I filed the first case with State Accountability Commission (SAC). I got a copy of the report of Pillai Commission on JAKFED. I went to the SAC with the report. The commission which was then headed by Late Justice R.P.Sethi took cognizance of the same and an inquiry started. Some strong orders were also passed. To the best of my knowledge, that matter is still alive especially the impress component.

JAKFED employees take crores in advance. They do not give any account of the same for years. “It is surprising how JAKFED gives crores in advance, then does not bother to seek an account of the same. How do they then adjust this huge amount? How is the billing done? Where is this huge amount spent and why the department sits silently despite having advanced crores of rupees to its employees without having taken any collateral guarantee? This is a critical issue.

About corruption in Higher Education department

I have highlighted a number of issues in higher education department. Anti-terminate scam involving 8 Principals of various colleges of Jammu and Kashmir is under probe in State Vigilance Organization (SVO) Jammu. Based on my complaint, SVO has initiated preliminary verification in this case. A similar scam involving two Principals of colleges is also going on.

But if you ask me about my contribution in the education department when I was in-service, I would nothing substantial apart from having taken by classes regularly as teacher and served with honesty and integrity as Principal for around 7 long years.

The anti-corruption crusade

I am a teacher and my primary responsibility is to serve the society. From the beginning, my temperament has been that teacher does not become redundant even after retirement. After I retired honorably, I thought if I have ability and potential, I should do something for the society. If that has been beneficial or not is not my concern but I have a satisfaction that whatsoever little I could do for the system, I did. And I don’t want to take any credit for that.

About inspiration

I can say my temperament is as such. My father has remained an educationist and thus, my upbringing was all about being honest, truthful and sincere. My father would often advice me about living a clean life. And so, when I retired, I decided to do something. Thus, the journey began. My fight started with the JAKFED case. I firmly believe that if my character is doubtful, I have no right to raise a finger of suspicion at someone else. I have to keep my tail clean. This is my belief. I have all along tried to keep my tail clean. That is my strength. I tried to lead a very clean life and that was my strength which helped me to take cudgels with higher-ups. People try to exert little pressure here and there.

Number of cases

The Rs. 25000 crore Roshni scam is going on. A number of big fishes are in the net of the SVO. Another one is Sunjawan-Chatta Land Scam. A recruitment scam involving ex-speakers of Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly is already in public domain. I have started 3-4 cases at the individual level. I have written about some teachers who do not have a good track record to the Secretary Higher Education Asgar Samoon. I am hopeful he will do something.

We had also taken up case of Kewal Krishan Sharma, ex-Additional PRO of ex-Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand. He has been arrested by the SVO. His track record is also not good. I met certain teachers and told them that we are responsible for Kewal’s rise. We went to him for transfers and postings, which resulted in his rise and he became a don over a period of time. Kewal is not much at fault as are we people who went to him for petty transfers. We are diseased which is why Kewal’s are roaming in almost all the government departments of Jammu and Kashmir.

 Pulls and pressures in this crusade against corruption

No one tried to bribe me since people know me well. But people tried to exert influence. When someone calls you, you have to have pick up and listen. They wanted me to go slow. Some would ask me why I was interested in land grabbing and other similar issues when I was a man from the higher education department. Some others would advice to go slow. There were also some who advised me to quit.  I have complaint with the investigating agencies. They are not working at the pace at which they should have been working.

About the institutions created to fight corruption

I met ex-Director Vigilance Alok Puri several times over various issues especially over the Roshni scam and issues related to it. I have a bad habit of writing letters to the heads of various anti-graft bodies about scams and scandals appearing in various newspapers or becoming known to me through any agency or person. I register my complaint as a vigilant citizen with the anti-graft bodies of the state but I am pained that not much is happening in these institutions.

The spirit with which State Vigilance Commission (SVC) had been constituted has got defeated. It is basically a government body and work as per the government directions since it is not an autonomous body. State Accountability Commission (SAC) gets active for some time and then goes dead again. These days the commission is active and has been doing some good work. But how long they will remain active is a million dollar question.

About the Crime Branch of Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP), the less I speak, the better it is. They are bent upon shielding their own people. There are so many complaints but there is no visible impact in the society of its functioning. All those who head crime branch are government employees, planted by the state government.  What I have seen is that mostly, the convenient people are there. Only people who are convenient for them are posted there.

About getting demoralized

 I am 63 year old and there is no question of getting demoralized. I have full faith in the power of almighty Allah. I have written a letter to the people. I don’t know whether you will approve my crusade or not but Allah is on my side. And when Allah is on my side, Crime Branch or any other institution will matter. I will keep knocking at their doors and won’t stop, come what may.

Our Judicial process is slow. There is no fast track system. Wheels of Justice are slow. But that does not mean we should stop knocking at the doors and following the cases vigilantly. It is a continuous process. We should not get disheartened. It is a big fight and it will go on for years to come because we are dependent on the investigating agencies.

 Inaction and low rate of conviction

I fully agree that rate of conviction is low. But that doesn’t mean we should put a full-stop on this. We are fighting against the menace of corruption. We may not succeed but someone somewhere might get inspired and take this fight to its logical conclusion. So, we have to keep fighting.

About the seriousness of Previous CM Omar Abdullah and Present CM Mehbooba Mufti in fighting against corruption

 I don’t know what is in someone’s heart. But I have a bad habit of writing letters. I have been writing letters frequently to the heads of the government in Jammu and Kashmir since last seven years that is the day I retired to this day. I wrote letters to ex-Chief Minister Omar Abdullah when he was in office. This is a hard fact. And I have a file with me, where available records bear testimony to the fact that ex-Chief Minister Omar Abdullah forwarded all my letters to the concerned agencies for investigation. Whether something happened or not is a debatable issue but I am happy that an educated and wise Chief Minister (Omar) forwarded my complaints and concerns expressed in letters appended with required evidence to the concerned agencies. This was a big thing for me.

I would frequently send my complaints alongwith proof to the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. I have not met him at all neither I ever tried to meet him nor I ever desired to meet him. But whatever I wrote to him, he would within 10-15 days send the same to the concerned agencies. This would boast my morale. I got some encouragement from the Governor’s office but not the kind of boost that ex-CM Omar Abdullah gave to my crusade.

But from the day, this new Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has come; I have also sent her a lot of material but she has maintained a beautiful silence. “Lekin Badi Khoobsurat see Khamoshi hai,” said Bhalla. Madam had come and I expected a lot from her. I wrote to her even about some women issues but that beautiful silence is yet to be broken. But even this has not discouraged me. I am doing my duty vigilantly.

 About the response from the PMO

Nothing substantial but the response is routine. They send your applications and complaints back to the Chief Secretary. Even the Chief Secretary did not do anything. There are inherent internal problems in all the institutions. Every institution has issues.

About the usefulness of State Information Commission (SIC)

 It is a useful institution. I have got best response for all my RTI applications. In one or two cases, I had to approach first and second appellate authority. But in most of the cases, I got required information. So my issue is not with RTI component but with SVC, Crime Branch and SVO. We send them fool proof cases strengthened with information received under RTI. But the kind of action that should have been taken is missing most of the time. People sleep over the files.

What do those heading these institutions say?

Their reply is something which one can easily guess. A one liner “We are looking into the complaint.” Most of the time, when we approached High Court, our complaints got activated. It is the High Court which forced SVO, Crime Branch and SVC to initiate action on our complaints. Sometimes, I feel irritated about this. Why should we go to the High complaint all the time?

We are forced to generate pressure at the level of high court to get our complaint at the level of SVO and Crime Branch. What was our fun of going to the High Court? Some people say Prof. S.K.Bhalla is a chronic litigant. That title is quit repulsive to me. I am not interested in knocking at the doors of the High Court. We are compelled to knock at the doors of High Court due to excessive delay in taking action over the complaints filed by us.

 Do u have a team or you are working all alone?

It is an individual effort with couple of friends. I am satisfied that I am doing whatever I can do to bring corruption down in our state.

Is Militancy an impediment in fighting corruption?

Militancy has nothing to do with fighting corruption. There is no will to fight corruption. All have vested interested, which prevents them from taking effective steps to fight corruption. If you want to fight corruption, why would militants stop you?

If given an opportunity, would you like to become a part of any institution which is fighting corruption?

I have no inkling in joining any government institution. I am doing much better as a common man. And I want every commoner to stand up and fight against corruption.

 

This is an interview which Prof. S.K.Bhalla gave at the time when PDP-BJP coalition was ruling the state. This is being re-produced for the readers of The Straight Line who could not read it then. Not much has changed since then apart from the fall of PDP-BJP government.

 

 

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