By Abdul Majid Zargar
Soudagar & Dalal are two urdu words which generally find a mention in the lexicon of trade & commerce. The former means a merchant or simply a person who trades in goods or merchandise while the later refers to a person who acts as a go-between between a seller & purchaser . When you read this article fully, you will understand why I selected these words as title of this write-up.
While the All party meeting to discuss the application of Goods & Services tax Act (GST) to our state was in progress, a tete-a-tete occurred between Davinder Rana, the horizontally challenged MLA friend of former chief Minster, Omar Abdullah and the current finance Minster, Haseeb Drabu, widely perceived to be the person pushing RSS agenda in the State. In the argument that followed, Drabu taunted Rana for surrendering the fiscal autonomy of State to New-Delhi, (referring to NC’s decision of transferring J&K Bank’s powers to manage State’s ways & means functions to Reserve bank of India), the latter retorted by referring to a move under his directions to facilitate appointment of non-state subjects as Directors of J&K Bank by amending the articles of association of the bank. Hitherto, such persons were appointed as only additional or alternate directors. It was exactly like two monkeys taunting each other for the redness of their bottoms. Both assumed silence after few moments as if to enter into an unwritten compromise of -‘ I will wipe your bottom-you wipe mine’
But It was by no means a stunning revelation as some would presume . The entry of non state subjects into the State has been a regular feature facilitated by every Kashmiri politician for varied reasons. Look at the following instances:
In 1997/1998, Chief Minster Farooq Abdullah facilitated transfer of a prestigious five star Hotel (Oberoi Grand Palace) with all land below & appurtenant thereto, to a non-State subject (Lalit Suri) through dubious & devious means. The whole property was, first transferred to a female State subject hailing from a highly influential family(Batras) from Jammu,who also happened to be related to Suris. Thereafter a joint stock company was incorporated in which the non-state subject relatives(Suris) of female Transferee were made shareholders. This way the Hotel and the land became the property of Lalit Suri and is shown as such in their website- www. Thelalit.com. The finance for the deal was arranged by J&K Bank. In sum & substance, Farooq allowed a non state subject to acquire property in our State with the help of our own money.
It is not that no body from J&K was willing to purchase the property. Many of the top businessmen of the State were craving for the property and made herculean efforts to acquire it but the then Chief Minster dissuaded all of them for reasons though unknown but fully imaginable . Infact one businessman was even threatened with life for pursuing the matter further. The deal with Lalit Suri had his full protection & patronage along with the then chairman of J&K Bank and the instance shows to what extent our own rulers & bureaucrats can go in demolishing our identity.
The story does not end there. If one remembers, the front side of the hotel was dotted with a row of shops of local Kashmiris selling shawls, carpets ,gems & Paper-machie items etc. etc to Hotel Customers. Immediately upon taking possession of the property, Lalits closed the doors of the hotel, demolished the shops threw the stocks of the local businessmen on the roadside.
In the year 2000, Abdullah Govt. enacted Shree Amarnath Shrine Board Act . section 4 of the said Act states that only 20% of the total members should be State Subjects . In other words 80% of the members can be non State subjects . Read this with two other provisions of the same Act . One is section 5 – which confers a status of “body corporate” to the Board. By dint of this provision, the Board can, among other things, acquire property, movable or immovable, in the State in its own name with a perpetual succession . It defies logic & common sense as to how Abdullah allowed such an Act, (with powers to purchase property in its own name with 80% of the members of the Board as non State Subjects) to pass the muster of State legislature.
Another Provision in the Act –section 17 confers total immunity to the Board and its employees for all its acts & deeds done in good Faith. By virtue of this provision the board & its employees virtually enjoy complete immunity for all their acts. That means even if the Board vandalises the whole environment of Pahalgam, Sonamarg & its surrounding area, it cannot be tried in a Court of law simply because of the good faith clause. Remember the Honb’le High Court of J&K has already delivered a Judgment in favor of the Board on the basis of this clause. It is because of these obnoxious provisions in SASB Act that the board has become a State within the State.
In November 2008, four Rajya Sabha seats from the state fell vacant. Farooq Abdullah attempted to sell atleast one seat to his friend -in-voluptuousness, liquor baron Vijay Mallya. It was a huge public outcry against the move that Farooq dropped the idea. Mallya is these days cooling heels in London for default in repaying bank loans.
In 2011, NC surrendered the last post of fiscal autonomy enjoyed by J&K State to New- Delhi when the ways & means function of the State undertaken by J&K Bank was entrusted to Reserve bank of India. The then Finance Minster, Abdul Rahim Rather justified the move on the basis of bringing financial discipline & economy in State Govt. expenditure. But the fact is that New-Delhi wanted to denude us of this last post of fiscal autonomy and by way of a quid pro quo, appointed Mr. Rather as chairman of empowered committee of State Finance Minsters to prepare a road map for application of Goods & Service Tax Act (GST). Never did Mr. Rather raise the constitutional validity of application of GST in State of J&K. It is an irony of sorts that the same Mr. Rather is now on the forefront of those opposing application of GST to the State.
And now comes the news of application of GST to state through 101st Indian constitutional amendment being made applicable to State and also induction of non state subjects as directors in J&K Bank. Mr. Drabu defends the former on the ground that so far 46 amendments have been made applicable to State and it hardly matters if one more amendment is made applicable? In Kashmiri folklore, it amounts to ‘duzen duz tu yi girah ti duz’( Let the last straw also burn ). For appointment of non state subjects as directors of J&K Bank, an alibi is under manufacture and is expected to be out soon.
In short, Be it Abdullahs or Muftis or their predecessors –they are all merchants and dalals and their stock-in-trade consists of Kashmir land & its people. The difference is of degree only. And that also explains the title of this write-up.
(The author is a practicing chartered Accountant. E mail: email@example.com)