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Omar’s Congress confidant Taj in soup

Taj, a Congress minister very close to chief minister Omar Abdullah, was accused of grabbing forest land in south Kashmir Sedow.

, ET Bureau|
Dec 24, 2012, 06.13 PM IST
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SRINAGAR: Omar Abdullah’s pro-active Congress minister landed in crisis on Monday when corruption watchdog State Accountability Commission (SAC) held him responsible for contempt of the commission. It could lead to reopening of his forest land grabbing case which the minister has successfully insulated from any investigation, so far.

SAC chairman Justice (retd) Y P Nargotra and member Justice (retd) Hakeem Imtiaz Hussain have observed that a case of contempt of the commission charge is established. A notice has been served to the minister asking him why he can not be punished for committing the contempt.

Taj, a Congress minister very close to chief minister Omar Abdullah, was accused of grabbing forest land in south Kashmir Sedow. After the issue was raised in the state legislative council, when a member presented a lot of documents, Chairman Amrit Malhotra set up a house committee to probe the case. In reaction, the minister accused publicly Malhotra of mischief. Within a few days, the members of the committee started resigning and it reached a stage that Malhotra had to withdraw the order that had constituted the committee.

It was during his counter-campaign that Taj stated that all earlier probes have proved his innocence. He specially mentioned the investigations carried out by the State Vigilance Organization and the State Accountability Commission. As SAC dusted its records of 2005 it found no such reference that might have exonerated the minister. The Commission initiated contempt proceedings. Though Taj personally appeared last week, asserting he never claimed so, SAC found it otherwise.

State Vigilance Organization is still investigating the case. Communications available in public domain indicate that the land occupied by the minister is forest land that is currently fenced with no forest official being permitted in.

Though it remains to be seen how SAC will manage the case but the decision could lead to various re-openings of the cases. Some other ministers who also managed to save their reputations in wake of corruption charges might also be reopened.

Taj, who is being termed as the ‘Omar faction of Congress’, is otherwise facing a series of allegations. In Jammu, for instance, he is accused of encroaching around 300 kanals (eight kanals make an acre) of inheritance of a resident and distributing it within his three daughters. The case is pending in the high court. In Srinagar, he is fighting a case with the municipal corporation that has accused him of raising a five-level mall on Residency Road in violation of the set norms. He has built a space triple the size that he was permitted.

At the same time, however, Taj is one of the hyperactive ministers in Omar’s government. His interventions led to the setting up of State Water Resources Regulatory Authority (SWRRA) that is charging for water usage charges. Last year, this tax fetched state government Rs 1000 crore. Taj represents Uri in the state legislature and belongs to an influential family.

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