The Government of UT of J&K is in action mode. It, it seems, has made up its mind to cleanse the administration of elements allegedly involved in “anti-national and terrorist activities” and “sympathisers of terrorists in the establishment”. How else could one describe the April 21, 2021 decision of Lt Governor Manoj Sinha administration to constitute a Special Task Force (STF) charged with the responsibility of “scrutinising cases of employees suspected of activities requiring action under Article 311(2) (c)”.
Headed by J&K’s intelligence chief R R Swain, the duty of the STF will be to “compile records of such employees, wherever necessary and to refer it” for necessary action to a committee headed by the UT’s Chief Secretary. Swain has worked in the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) for ten years. The committee was reportedly constituted in 2020 to suggest the procedure aimed at invoking Article 311 (2) (c) against employees found involved in criminal offences. The last year’s order had said: “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 the security of the State”.
Many individuals with dubious character antecedents and conduct have been paid salaries and other allowances, without obtaining their mandatory CID verification, the GAD circular had said.
It needs to be underlined that Article 311 of the Indian Constitution deals with the “dismissal, removal or reduction in rank of persons employed in civil capacities under the Union or a State” but after holding an inquiry against the government employees. Article 311, which was not applicable to J&K before the reading down of Article 370 and abrogation of Article 35A, clearly provides for a “reasonable opportunity of being heard in respect of those charges” to the employees against whom this Article is invoked. However, the Lt Governor administration has invoked Section 2(c) of this Article, which 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”.
The Lt Governor administration has not just set up STF but its order also has a reference to the Terror Monitoring Group (TMG) whose duty it is to identify employees accused of involvement in “anti-national” and “terrorist” activities.
It bears recalling that the TMG was established by the Union Home Ministry way back in 2019, when the law and order authorities targeted separatist outfits, including Jamaat-e-Islami and their sympathisers in Kashmir, who were accused of giving support to terror outfits. “The TMG,” according to a report, “will also take action against hardcore sympathisers amongst government employees, including teachers, who provide covert or overt support to terror-related activities in J&K”.
That the Lt Governor administration is out to cleanse the administration of those allegedly involved in anti-state and terrorist activities and sympathisers of terror outfits in the establishment could also be seen from two other steps it took in February and March this year.
In February, the J&K Police set up a Task Force of “cyber volunteers” charged with the responsibility of “patrolling social media and flag posts on ‘radicalization and anti-national activities, among other issues, to the government”. As per a report, “Senior Superintendent of Police Tahir Ashraf, who heads the cyber police in Kashmir, said the volunteers will work as additional support’ in law enforcement”. He also rejected the claims that “the scheme will be misused for political reasons”.
And in March, the J&K administration asked its new employees to “submit details of their social media accounts for police verification”. In fact, the J&K”s General Administration Department issued a circular (O9JK-GAD of 2021) which directed all the “Administrative Secretaries, Divisional Commissioners and Heads of various Departments to get security clearance of unverified government employees from the J&K Police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID)”.
“Many individuals with dubious character antecedents and conduct have been paid salaries and other allowances, without obtaining their mandatory CID verification,” the GAD circular had said. It had also said that the “verification of such cases should be ‘completed expeditiously and no new entrant in the Government Service (will be) paid salary/ allowances till verification’ is completed”.
All these steps of the Lt Governor administration have rattled some Kashmir-based political outfits and “rights activists”. Disturbed and perturbed former CM and PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) chief Mehbooba Mufti has said that the “Centre’s paranoia about Kashmiris has touched ‘a new low’ with social media accounts of government employees now allegedly being monitored”. “The vengeance with which J&K’s special status was scrapped doesn’t seem to have an end in sight,” Mehbooba Mufti also said. The NC (National Conference) also has reacted sharply. Its Lok Sabha MP Akbar Lone has reportedly termed the Task Force as “a toolkit” that “would impede work culture in government departments”. Not just this, he has also accused the government of “trampling on the constitutional safeguards for employees”, “taking away what was given by the constitution to people in the form of fundamental rights” and “putting them (employees) at the disadvantage of being labelled as anti-national”. He reportedly termed the decisions a “colonial hangover”. Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s Mohd Yousuf Tarigami has also taken the plunge. He has said that the “decision to dismiss employees without probe is an ‘overreach’ by the J&K administration” and that “the STF is a tool for the government and bureaucrats to suppress their subordinates by keeping a sword of uncertainty hanging on their heads”. To be more precise, he has termed as draconian and undemocratic the STF. Some Kashmir-based “academics and rights activists” have also expressed similar views. They have reportedly said: “The pervasive decision will impinge on the freedom of speech and expression in J&K, where space for dissent has already been compromised since the reading down of Article 370 in August 2019”.
The opposition of the PDP, the NC, the CPIM and others in Kashmir to the official moves aimed at cleansing the administration of anti-state elements is intriguing. Their opposition could be construed as their overt support to those whom the government considered a threat to national security. And, no friend and well-wisher of India and its UT of J&K would ever appreciate their opposition to the well-conceived and nation-centric moves being taken to establish peace and provide a people and nation-centric administration.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.