BUMPY RIDE FOR BELEAGUERED TAJ

Malhotra Stands Ground; Spurns ‘Constitutional Crisis’ Theory

UMER MAQBOOL
Publish Date: Nov 11 2012 12:00PM

Srinagar, Nov 10: Despite National Conference (NC) having withdrawn its legislators, Khalid Najib Suharwardy and Bashir Ahmad Veeri from the House Committee investigating charges of forest land grab against Taj Mohiuddin, Minister for PHE, there seems to be no way out for the minister as the chairman Legislative Council (LC) on Saturday stood ground by saying that the panel is legally valid.
The LC chairman has also taken exception to what he terms “extending privilege and protective cover to Taj” by the members of the House.
Making it clear that he has no doubts over the legality of his action on constituting the House Committee to go into the charges of alleged land grab by Taj, LC chairman Amrit Malhotra in his communication to Minister for Medical Education R S Chib states; “I want to make it clear that 1 am supposed to take decisions on the basis of record and evidence brought before me and on being satisfied about the need and necessity of taking a particular decision. I, while constituting the House Committee, had no doubt about my incompetence or illegality of my action. There was, and there is, no reason for seeking anybody's advice in the matter. Suggestions for seeking legal advice in the matter are unsolicited and unwelcome.”
Malhotra’s communication comes in response to Chib’s plea for quashing the House Committee “as it would lead to a constitutional crisis.” Visibly enraged by Chib’s salvo, Malhotra has virtually snubbed him saying that he did not need to seek consultation of anybody before constituting the Committee.
“I would like to know as to how and what sort of constitutional crises has arisen due to the constitution of a committee to look into the serious allegations of encroachment on forest land,” Malhotra’s communication reads.
Sources privy to the exchange of communications said that Malhotra has made it clear that the decision of constituting the House Committee is “bereft of any partiality or bias” and is only based on the records/evidence produced before him.
“This decision (of constituting of House Panel) was not guided by any other consideration whatsoever. Being the custodian of the rights and privileges of the Hon'ble members of the House, I am duty bound to listen to and satisfy every member of the House, be he/she from the treasury benches or from the opposition benches,” Malhotra’s letter reads.
Malhotra, in his communiqué, has also said that if Taj claims that Accountability Commission or Vigilance Organization has cleared him of the charges, “he should produce documents of the same.”
“So far as clearance, as claimed by the Minister, by the Accountability Commission or Vigilance Organization is concerned, let Taj furnish/submit such reports or clearances, so that the same are forwarded to the Committee for taking into consideration, while enquiring into the matter,” the letter reads.
The letter further states that under the Rules of Procedure, there is no bar on House to constitute a committee against a minister.
“Though under the Rules of Procedure, there is nothing which debars the constitution of a Committee against a Minister and there are ample precedents where the actions of Ministers have been called in question by such committees, yet the present committee has not been constituted against Taj in his capacity as Minister, as no action taken by him in discharge of his duties as a Minister has been called in question. The Committee has been constituted to look into a specific issue i.e., alleged illegal encroachment of forest land. The fact that the person accused of encroachment happens to be a Minister and member of another August House is coincidental and collateral to the issue. Instead of extending any privilege or protective cover on this count, rather it was all the more important to enquire into the allegations leveled on the floor of the House to maintain the sanctity and impartiality of the institution and the Chair,” the letter reads.
Countering objection of Chib over appointing Rafiq Shah as member of the panel, the letter reads:  “Let me also make it clear that as per well-established parliamentary practices and precedents, a member who raises a demand for constitution of a House Committee is always nominated as a member of the Committee to give him an opportunity to present his case before the Committee.”
NC, in a surprise move, on Friday decided to pull out its two legislators - from the five member House Committee that was constituted after Panthers Party legislator, Syed Rafiq Shah  accused  Taj of being in illegal possession of forest land in Shopian district of south Kashmir. More surprisingly, the resignation of NC leaders came before advancement of opinion by Advocate General, M I Qadri over legal validity of the panel.
Pertinently, Speaker LA Muhammad Akbar Lone had forwarded the letter written by Taj to AG for legal opinion on the subject under question. Taj had sought Speaker’s intervention over constitution of House panel while pleading that the member of Lower House cannot be subjected to scrutiny by the Upper House.
Yesterday, eight Congress lawmakers - B R Kundal, Naresh Gupta, Amin Bhat, Ali Muhammad Bhat, Jahangir Mir, Jugal Kishore Sharma, Subash Chandar Gupta and Nabroo Gaylson- had also urged LC chairman to quash the committee.
On November 8, Minister for Medical Education, R S Chib had also made similar demand.
Even Taj had himself written four letters to Legislative Assembly Speaker Muhammad Akbar and LC chairman to get the House Committee quashed.


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