Govt Informs US Embassy About Ejaz's Arrest
21 September 2007
The Daily Excelsior
Srinagar: Crime Branch (CB) has informed the American embassy in New Delhi about the senior Indian Forest Service (IFS) official Ejaz Ahmed Bhat's arrest and sought all details regarding his frequent shuttling between India and USA from the Central Immigration authorities. It has now surfaced that Bhat had travelled to India as a US citizen over a dozen times, spent days in hometown Srinagar but mentioned only a fake address in New Delhi as his destination in this country. Informed sources told EXCELSIOR that CB has on Thursday formally informed the USA embassy in New Delhi that it has arrested an American citizen, Ejaz Ahmed Bhat, for violating provisions of Indian Passport Act and Foreigners Act. Government has also approached the Immigration authorities in Ministry of External Affairs and sought all details regarding Bhat's frequent travels between India and USA in the last five years. The US embassy, according to sources, has been asked to check whether Bhat, an Indian immigrant who has adopted the surname of Shah, had acquired that country's citizenship by fair or fraudulent means. Bhat has been arrested for violation of the Indian Passport Act days after he was removed as Managing Director of J&K State Forest Corporation (SFC) and attached to General Administration Department (GAD) earlier this month. After working with an American company in the US for several years, Bhat had returned to Srinagar and managed to get not only restoration of his service but also prestigious posting as MD SFC in July 2006. He had been initially fired for allegedly indulging in irregularities in SFC in days of Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad taking over the PDP leader Qazi Mohammad Afzal's portfolio of Forest and Environment on September 2. Azad has later ordered a high level inquiry, being conducted by a team of senior officials headed by Financial Commissioner Home B R Kundal, into the SFC and other Forest-related departments. Bhat's American citizenship surfaced when CB and CID officials asked for his passport to take details of his stay in USA and frequent travels between the two countries. Investigators, according to sources, have discovered that Bhat had earlier this year mentioned himself as an Indian national of Kashmiri domicile and applied for a 'fresh' passport at Regional Passport Office (RPO) Srinagar. The RPO made his passport after getting necessary clearance from J&K CID headquarters which reported that 'nothing adverse' had been found about the applicant official. Even as Bhat had obtained an Indian Passport from RPO New Delhi in July 1992 and the same had expired on July 13, 2002, he had suppressed the facts and had not mentioned anything about his previous passport. When the 'fresh' passport was ready in all respects and was about to be delivered, CID and RPO learned that Bhat had suppressed information about his previous Indian passport. On this particular ground, his 'fresh' passport was cancelled and a criminal case was subsequently registerered against Bhat for violation of section 12 of passport act and cheating. If proved guilty, he will be liable to imprisonment for one to five years and fine between Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000. Government, according to sources, has already decided to terminate his service which has become easier after Supreme Court of India quashed the 1995 induction into IFS of 35 J&K Forest officials, including Bhat earlier this year. 'How can we retain an American citizen on our establishment?', a senior official said and made it clear that irrespective of Bhat's conduct in honouring or violating the American laws, he would have to face prosecution under Indian laws in Srinagar. Investigators have noticed that Bhat had adopted the surname of Shah, managed to become a Green Card holder while working with a foreign company in Texas and subsequently acquired an American passport in 2002-03. Later, he managed to get a multiple entry visa from the Indian embassy in Washington DC which is valid till 2013. Bhat returned on this US passport while mentioning a New Delhi address as his destination in this country. In New Delhi, he, however, got tickets for a Srinagar-bound flight and travelled as an Indian national of Kashmiri domicile. He, according to sources, has repeated the same exercise in about a dozen of his journeys between India and the US. The New Delhi address has now turned out to be fake. Invoking provisions of Foreigners Act, Bhat has never appeared at the Foreigners Registration Office at Srinagar Airport or the capital city to register himself as an American citizen travelling on the US passport. He even got back his forfeited job in Forest Department after nearly 10 years of absence from duty and manned the highest position in SFC for about a year. To Chief Minister Azad's surprise, Bhat had neither revealed two of his secret visits to USA in the last one year nor bothered to seek permission of visiting a foreign country from the Government. Officials at the American Embassy in New Delhi confirmed to EXCELSIOR that they had received a letter in which J&K Government has informed the mission that one Ejaz Ahmed, travelling on an American passport and staying here on an Indian visa, had been arrested after he committed the crime of impersonating as an Indian citizen and attempting to get an Indian passport by fraudulent means. They said that further details were being gathered. 'There's no dual citizenship treaty between India and USA. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had initiated the process of dual citizenship for the Indian Green Card holders in the US but, in the last few years, there hasn't been any progress', a senior US embassy official said and made it clear that no American passport holder can simultaneously have an Indian passport. Official sources in Srinagar said that CB had also written a letter to the Central Immigration authorities in MEA, asking for details regarding Bhat's India-US visits in the last over five years. These details are expected to be made available to the State Government in a week's time. Sources said that Bhat's entire service record was also being examined by the inquiry headed by Mr Kundal.