Kashmir turmoil seized by vested interest to steal from govt coffers

Those companies which recorded big profit margins until recently, are now in shambles.

Srinagar: The two-and-a-half decades’ old turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir has seen many of its public sector undertakings and other government-run businesses falling under red. Even some of those which had recorded big profit margins until recently are now in shambles.

But their real or purported ‘sickness’ is an outcome more of mismanagement, corruption, nepotism and political interference than a repercussion of the turbulence or any market woes. In fact, some unscrupulous elements within these organisations and outside forces and other vested interest have only seized the Kashmir situation to further their own interests. They virtually filled their own coffers after stealing from that of the government.

One of the enterprises which was earning profits for its owners but has starved for good people resulting into its imminent collapse is Jammu and Kashmir Cements Limited (JKCL). It seems the failure is manipulated than real. Insiders say that there have been deliberate efforts on part of vested interests to turn the ₹ 500 Public sector undertaking a ‘sick unit’ to pave the way for its being leased out to a prominent business house of the valley.

JKCL began as a 600 TPD cement plant in the village of Khrew in the State’s southern Pulwama district in 1971. The site for the ambitious plant was chosen for being surrounded by hills full of high quality limestone deposits. It soon turned out to be one of the profitable public sector undertakings in Jammu and Kashmir and even flourished during the heyday of insurgency in 1990s. In 2006-2007, the authorities installed another 600 TPD plant in an effort to bridge the huge gap between demand and supply of cement. It was also authorised to set up a 300 tonnes per day clinker grinding-cum-packing unit at the Industrial Growth Centre (IGC) at Samba near Jammu. The company posted a profit of about ₹ 2.28 crore in 2009-2010 fiscal and continued to show a good profit performance till 2012-2013 but then suddenly reduced its earnings expectations.

The private player taking the advantage of the situation moved the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) proposal before the State government and has even offered to settle the issue of payments with the employees if the same is through. Paradoxically, the proposal is being promoted even by some key players in the government and that too at a time when requisite measures for revising the JKCL to make it a profit-making unit again had been recommended by some sincere engineers, technocrats and concerned government officials as well. The Kashmir Inc. has urged the government to initiate immediate measures to take the JKCL out of distress.

Meanwhile, the officials who resented shady moves within the JKCL in particular purchase of inferior quality imported coal from local dealers in violation of laid down procedure, a case which is already being investigated by the State Vigilance Organization, are being harassed by the ‘blue-eyed’ executives. Some of these executives are not even qualified to hold the positions they are in but it is their clout in the corridors of power which keeps them going. It has also been a sad story of misuse of authority, corruption, political favouritism and nepotism. The latest victim of this bigotry and retribution is Iffat Gul, deputy manager (finance). After facing harassment and even being allegedly abused by In-charge Managing Director Atul Sharma, she has sought voluntary retirement citing health issues.

Though Mr. Sharma has vehemently denied the charge asserting that he himself is victim of a particular lobby after he tried to address the issue of corruption within the JKCL, Husan Ara Watali, the finance advisor, has in a letter written to the Commissioner/Secretary (Industries and Commerce department) to the J&K government corroborated Ms. Gul’s complaint. She said that she was present in an official meeting when Mr. Sharma used “unparliamentarily and abusive language” against Ms. Gul. Ms. Watali said that she has worked in the JKCL for over 30 years and besides being a senior female officer herself can only say Mr. Sharma’s behaviour is “unacceptable and intolerable”. She also sees it as wanton disrespect towards the dignity of women “besides disturbs the smooth functioning of office.”

Insiders also said that irregularities have been detected in purchase of machinery, upgradation of old plant, procurement of raw material and maintenance of the equipment from time to time. Also, ₹ 16 crore worth shortfall was detected in raw material and cement some time back. But “political interventions” have always come to the rescue of those involved in the scams. “This with backdoor appointments has ruined the once profit-earning JKCL,” said an employee.

He pointed out that a probe conducted by a 4-member team constituted by Industries and Commerce Department last year had held former MD, R. K. Razdan, responsible for illegal appointments, purchasing of sub-standard items and other irregularities causing over ₹ 100 crore loss to the JKCL. He was also accused of “misleading” the government on clinker grinding-cum-packing unit at Samba. But no action has been taken against him either so far and the case is gathering dust in the vigilance organisation.

The suffering employees and other stakeholders have now decided to approach Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, to seek her intervention towards salvaging JKCL. “We also trust and hope she will ensure those who are responsible for the present predicament are severely dealt under law as she has publicly committed herself to getting the State rid of corruption after taking over as the Chief Minister recently,” said an official. He added that the JKCL has a potential of earning huge profits even after providing employment to over 1,000 semi-skilled, skilled, specialised and super-specialised workers besides more than 200 distributors and sub-dealers who are engaged in its cement sales promotion.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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