November 2002 News

J-K to play it safe: Panel to review releases

27 November 2002
The Indian Express

New Delhi: The PDP-Congress Government in Jammu and Kashmir will set up a screening committee soon to monitor the release of prisoners, Congress state chief and Rajya Sabha MP Ghulam Nabi Azad said today. Rebutting the suggestion that this was being done at the behest of the Centre, Azad said this came up when the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) for the coalition government was framed. ‘‘We had informally suggested to the PDP that a screening committee should study cases of prisoners who could be released,’’ Azad told The Indian Express. Confirming today’s Express report, Azad asserted that the state government had approved the release of eight prisoners only and not 26 as was being made out by the BJP. ‘‘These were political persons like Yasin Malik about whom there can be no dispute. After all, Malik has been arrested and released six times. Mohammed Ashraf Shah was imprisoned and then released four times. None of them is charged with heinous crimes or can be called a hardcore militant,’’ he said. The state government was keen to release these persons before the assembly session as a goodwill gesture and as a reaffirmation of its ‘‘healing touch’’ policy, Azad stressed. He said the PDP had informally consulted the Congress on this. ‘‘People must understand that the government has not started functioning fully yet. Being a coalition government, we wanted to win the confidence vote in the assembly session before getting down to business. As soon as the session ends, there will be a cabinet expansion and we will set up a coordination committee so that the coalition can function smoothly,’’ he added. He said the Centre had raked up a controversy over the releases with an eye on the Gujarat elections. Giving a detailed account of the talks the state government had with central intelligence agencies on the issue, Azad revealed that Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed had a meeting with the Special Director Intelligence Bureau and the Director General Police on November 7 at which he listed the names of the eight persons he wanted freed. The only objection from the officials was the timing, he said. They felt the government should wait till after the assembly session but Sayeed was keen to do it before that. The officials said they would consult the home ministry and get back to the state government. ‘‘The Chief Minister waited for four days for word from them before he started releasing the prisoners. And he did it gradually,’’ Azad pointed out. Malik was freed on November 11. The next day, one more was released. Three were let out on November 13 and the sixth on November 14. On the seventh, a woman named Khaleda was freed by the court on bail and the eighth has not been released yet because the formalities could not be completed. ‘‘Why didn’t the Centre say anything when these people were being freed? The whole world knew about it. It was on television and in newspapers. The Home Ministry faxed its opinion only on November 15 after all the prisoners had been released,’’ Azad said, adding that the DO letter from Home Secretary N Gopalaswami to the J & K Chief Secretary was dated November 14. ‘‘What is the point of reacting after the exercise is over?’’ he asked. ‘‘That means it was an afterthought. They want to use it for the Gujarat elections. The BJP should not play politics with Jammu and Kashmir.’’


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