Taj Mohiuddin denies he had claimed that the Commission had given him a clean chit in a forest land-grabbing case

For the first time since its formation in 2002, the Jammu and Kashmir State Accountability Commission [SAC] grilled a Cabinet Minister on Monday for an hour-and-half to find out how he claimed to have received a clean chit in a case of alleged forest land grabbing.

Minister of Irrigation and Public Health Engineering Taj Mohiuddin, who appeared before the SAC to explain why contempt proceeding should not be initiated against him, disowned the statement attributed to him by newspapers. The SAC had served the Minister show-cause notice after taking cognisance of those reports.

The Commission, comprising chairperson Y.P Nargaotra and member Hakeem Imtiyaz Hussain, recorded Mr. Mohiuddin’s statement. Mr. Hussain told The Hindu that appropriate orders in the matter would be issued on December 24.

Sources present during the proceedings said Mr. Mohiuddin initially questioned the SAC’s competence and authority to take suo motu cognisance of the matter. He asserted that the Supreme Court had advised courts against initiating contempt proceedings merely on the basis of newspaper reports. But he had been called on a show-cause notice and not a formal contempt notice, the SAC pointed out to him.

During the course of sustained questioning, the Minister denied having made any statement claiming that he was cleared by the commission of any wrongdoing. During October and November, media reports quoted him as saying he had received a clean chit from both the SAC and the State Vigilance Organisation.

Acting on these reports, the SAC checked its records and observed that in 2005, the year purportedly mentioned by the Minister, no such matter was being investigated by the commission. As such, there was no question of granting a clean chit to Mr. Mohiuddin, the notice served on him said.

The matter of land grabbing against the Minister was, in fact, filed before the SAC weeks after an Opposition member raised it on the floor of the Legislative Council on October 10. The Chairman of the Upper House assigned the investigation to a House Committee, but dissolved it after three of its members, belonging to the ruling coalition, withdrew in questionable circumstances.

“Who gave you clean chit in 2005 when there was no such matter pending against you?” Mr. Mohiuddin was asked. He claimed that he had actually written a letter to Forest Minister Mian Altaf Ahmad. “I never issued a statement to the press. Nor did I claim in any interview that I had got the clean chit. I don’t know how the contents of my letter were leaked to the media and these were attributed to me as a press statement,” he asserted. He was, however, left speechless, when asked why he did not issue a contradiction in the past two months.

He stated that several years ago, the tehsildar of Shopian summoned him for demarcation of a piece of land at Sedhav village claiming that he was on the job on the SAC’s direction. “[The] tehsildar did the demarcation and submitted a report to the authorities, with a copy to me, which made it clear that the land in question genuinely belonged to me and I was not in wrongful possession of any land. It was misconstrued by the media as the SAC’s clean chit to me.”

The Commission pointed out to the Minister it did not possess any complaint, inquiry, clean chit, or tehsildar’s report. “Now that a complaint has come up, the matter of alleged land grabbing is under investigation. We are not aware of any such revenue report or clean chit to you.”