Ex-Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad misled congress president Sonia Gandhi when she was all set to take action against ex- Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand for his alleged involvement in multi-crore Katra Municipal Committee Scam.
A top congress leader in New Delhi told Newspoint Bureau that a complaint had reached Congress President Sonia Gandhi wherein it had been mentioned that the then Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand was involved in changing the process of tax collection in Katra Municipal Committee purely to reap alleged illegal benefits worth crores of rupee. They added that congress President Sonia Gandhi had immediately sought detailed report from the then Congress State President Prof. Saif-ud-din Soz.
This leader told Newspoint bureau that Soz immediately enquired and found the complaint true to the extent of process of tax collection having being changed in Katra Municipal Committee by the then Deputy Chief Minister, who was also in-charge of Housing and Urban Development Department.
Soz had been handed over a copy of the complaint on the same issue by a social activist, a copy of which he forwarded to me, said the top congress leader. He added that Soz filed a detailed report against Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand with a plea to congress president to take appropriate action against the then Deputy Chief Minster. He had forewarned that if action is not taken, it would convey wrong message to the Congress rank and file, said the leader.
When the report of congress state president reached Sonia Gandhi, she immediately called up Ghulam Nabi Azad who was then Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, for a meeting over the issue, said the top congress leader requesting anonymity. He added that Azad reached Sonia Gandhi’s residence and during the meeting vehemently defended Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand and rebuffed all the allegations leveled against his trusted aide.
Azad, according to Azad this leader, termed the allegations against Tara Chand a conspiracy and said that this complaint was purely to defame him (Azad) since it was he (Azad) who had proposed as well as strongly recommended Tara Chand’s name for being elevated as Deputy Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir after having served as the speaker of the legislative assembly for six long years in the PDP-Congress coalition government.
Azad had proposed his name despite stiff opposition from the then State President of Congress Prof. Saif-ud-din Soz, said the leader. Soz wanted a well-qualified leader of Congress as Deputy Chief Minister, the Congress stalwart said. During this meeting over the allegations leveled against Tara Chand, Azad had even said that since Tara Chand was loyal to him and also a schedule caste, he was being targeted deliberately by upper caste and leaders close to then Congress State President Prof Saifuddin Soz.
This leader who is writing a book has quoted these developments reportedly in his book which is likely to hit the stands by the end of this year. This leader told Newspoint Bureau that he has sighted these instances in his book as illustration of how corrupt and nepotistic elements were shielded by the leaders who enjoyed both proximity and trust of Gandhi family.
Talking to Newspoint Bureau, this leader said that had Congress President acted against the then Deputy Chief Minister, congress would have been saved in Jammu and Kashmir. He said that the then Congress State President alongwith some well-wishers of congress in Jammu had kept Sonia Gandhi’s office informed about all congress ministers including the then Deputy Chief Minister but those backing these leaders in New Delhi ensured no action is taken against them.
”Disaster was waiting to happen and could have been prevented; had Sonia Gandhi and his son Rahul Gandhi been allowed to take actions against ministers whose alleged corrupt practices were part of public discourse in Jammu,” said the leader. He said that Azad should not have allowed corruption to flourish around him. “He could have made all the difference, had he stopped meddling unnecessarily in Jammu and Kashmir. Congress suffered heavy defeats in Jammu region and one among many reasons was backing of those leaders who deserved to be shown the door,” added the leader.
It is pertinent to mention here that Katra Municipal Committee Scam pertains to abrupt change in the process of tax collection which was brought about by the then Deputy Chief Minister and Minister for Housing and Urban Development Tara Chand without taking various stakeholders on board. The complainant had claimed that Municipal Committee (MC) Katra used to tender the collection of tax from the pilgrims of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine who would avail services of Mule, Mazdoor and Palkies.
KMC had outsourced the collection of tax. This outsourcing had yielded great results with revenue showing massive increase. According to the complainant, tax collected from pilgrims of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine who availed services of Mule, Mazdoor, Palkies and that too at nominal rate of Rs. 8 was Rs. 2.96 crores when 80 lakhs pilgrims visited in the year 2007-08, Rs. 3.68 core when 83 lakhs pilgrims came in 2008-09, Rs. 4.55 crore with 87 lakhs pilgrims in 2009-10 and Rs. 7.86 crore with 103 lakhs pilgrims in 2010-11.
Thus revenue earnings had been increasing with each passing financial year. The complainant had alleged that for reasons best known to the then Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand, Municipal Committee (MC) Katra in the year 2011-12 shelved the outsourcing of tax collection from Mule, Mazdoor and Palki owners. Pointing towards the scam, the complainant has said that the tax collection should have shown massive jump from Rs. 7.86 crore in 2010-11, which was not the case.
He had alleged that in the year 2011-12; municipal committee Katra collected Rs. 5.67 crore, which clearly points towards embezzlement. He had further said that the department had shown to have collected just Rs. 5.67 crore despite having charged Rs. 12 per ride.
He had alleged that despite steep increase in the number of pilgrims visiting Vaishno Devi, tax collection has been shown too low compared to where the agency to which this had been outsourced had left. This is despite the fact that for the collection of tax from pilgrims; the then officials of Municipal Committee (MC) Katra had illegally established collection booths at Charan Paduka, Adhkawari and Bhawan, all of which were outside their municipal jurisdiction.