Centre appoints bureaucrat accused in Gulmarg land scam as advisor to LG of J&K

26 March 2020
Umer Asif
Umer Asif

On 15 March, the union ministry of home affairs sanctioned the appointment of Baseer Ahmed Khan, Kashmir’s divisional commissioner, as an advisor to Girish Chandra Murmu, the lieutenant governor of Jammu and Kashmir. Baseer is accused of being involved in a multi-crore land scam in 2009. A case against him regarding the matter remains pending with a special anti-corruption court in Baramulla. His elevation brings into question the Narendra Modi government’s promise of corruption-free governance in Jammu and Kashmir post the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution.

Despite an allegation of corruption against him, Baseer still managed to hold many powerful administrative posts in the erstwhile state throughout his career. According to a September 2019 report in The Caravan, his father, Nazir Ahmed Khan, was the chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission, between 1977 and 1982. The commission shortlisted both Baseer and his brother Munir Ahmed Khan for appointment towards the fag end of their father’s tenure. Those left off the list later approached the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir, accusing the commission of manipulation. The allegations could not be proven in court. In 2001, Baseer became an officer in the Indian Administrative Service and a decade later Munir joined the Indian Police Service.

In March 2009, the Jammu and Kashmir State Vigilance Organisation, or SVO, an anti-corruption watchdog, registered a case against 20 people for their involvement in the illegal transfer of state-owned land to private persons in Gulmarg, located in Kashmir’s Baramulla district. Baseer, who was the deputy commissioner of Baramulla at the time, and Mehboob Iqbal, a former divisional commissioner of the Kashmir division, along with other public servants and businessmen were booked in the case for violating provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership Rights to the Occupants) Act, 2001, also known as the Roshni Act. The Roshni Act laid out provisions for vesting ownership rights to occupants of state-owned land for financing power projects. The SVO could not present the challan, or chargesheet, against Baseer regarding the matter until September 2013.

Still, in December 2011, the then state government appointed Baseer as the deputy commissioner of Srinagar. Around one year later, Shiekh Mohammad Shafi, a social activist, and SK Bhalla, an anti-corruption activist and retired professor, challenged the appointment in the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir. The high court delivered its judgment in the matter on 4 March 2013. It directed the state government to relieve Baseer from the post as “a person who has been facing serious charges of corruption could not be permitted to remain posted in the capital city.” The court also mentioned that the chargesheet against Baseer was not presented as the central government had not accorded sanction to prosecute Baseer until then. 

Instead of complying with the court’s direction, the state government contested the order by filing a special leave petition in the Supreme Court that month, according to Sheikh Shakeel Ahmed, the lawyer of the petitioners. Then, in the same month, the state government withdrew its petition, removed Baseer from the post and appointed him as the director of panchayats in Jammu and Kashmir’s department of rural development and panchayati raj. Within five months, he was made the deputy commissioner of the Kishtwar district. 

In August that year the central government accorded sanction to prosecute Baseer. On 23 September 2013, he was taken into custody and produced before a special anti-corruption court in Baramulla. There, the SVO presented the chargesheet against Baseer, invoking several provisions under the Ranbir Penal Code—the main criminal code applicable in the erstwhile state under the aegis of Article 370. The provisions included those for penalising criminal conspiracy and forgery, and Sections 5 (a) and (b) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 2006, which deal with criminal misconduct. Baseer was released the same day on bail. 

After this, he continued to rise through the ranks of the bureaucracy in Kashmir. In July 2016, Mehbooba Mufti, the chief minister at the time, appointed him as the divisional commissioner of Kashmir. He was due to retire on 30 June 2019, but the central government issued an order to extend his tenure for a year “in public interest.” On the same day, Munir, who was serving as an additional director general of police for law and order, and was set to retire on 30 June that year as well, also received a one-year extension from the government.

Ashutosh Sharma is a freelance journalist.

Keywords: Article 370 Jammu and Kashmir corruption