‘Srinagar Satellite Township’: Months before ACB’s probe, NABARD had unveiled Rs 250 crore loan scam in J&K State Cooperative Bank
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz JAMMU: National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) had unveiled Rs 250 crore loan scandal in the Jammu and Kashmir State Cooperative Bank Ltd (JKSCBL) months before the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) started a preliminary inquiry and, upon establishment of charges, filed the First Information Report (FIR). Even as the owner of a non-existing ‘cooperative society’ was swiftly arrested and jailed, Chairman and Managing Director of JKSCBL were only ‘called for questioning’ and no effort was made to arrest either of them until the ACB issued a lookout notice for the deposed Chairman on Tuesday.
ACB issues lookout notice for ex-chairman J&K Coop Bank Jammu: The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) on Tuesday issued a lookout notice for a former chairman of J&K State Cooperative Bank Limited in connection with his alleged involvement in Rs 223-crore land scam. The chairman of the Jhelum Cooperative House Building Society (JCHBS), Hilal Ahmed Mir, was arrested on May 14 in the alleged land scam. “The ACB issues lookout notice for Mohammad Shafi Dar, ex-chairman J&K State Cooperative Bank Limited. Any person giving information about his whereabouts will be suitably rewarded,” an ACB spokesman said.
“If any person is having any knowledge and information about the whereabouts of the accused, he or she may inform or communicate through email, WhatsApp or toll-free numbers to ACB,” he said. The organisation said that any person giving the information shall be suitably rewarded and his or her identity will be kept secret.
Insiders revealed to STATE TIMES that everybody in JKSCBL had knowledge of how an amount of Rs 223 crore had been sanctioned as ‘loan’ and diverted to 18 bank accounts of a third party, conveniently during the Government’s Darbar Move break in April 2019, without fulfilling requisite formalities and verifying the borrower’s antecedents but nobody dared to be a whistle-blower for about a year. It was only after the transfer of the Secretary Cooperative, Registrar Cooperative Societies, Chairman and MD that the officials began spilling the beans. It was in response to a deluge of complaints from the residents of Shivpora, sources said, that Raj Bhawan ordered a thorough investigation and the top brass of the JKSCBL was removed along with a reshuffle in the administrative department. Senior IAS officer Navin Choudhary assumed additional charge of the Agriculture, Horticulture and Cooperative departments in January 2020. Senior KAS officer Asif Hamid Khan was appointed as Registrar Cooperative Societies in September 2019. Kashmir’s Divisional Commissioner P.K. Pole and Additional Commissioner Tassaduq Hussain Mir were subsequently given the additional charge of Chairman and MD respectively. Even after this total reshuffle, an advocate engaged and given a brief on behalf of the bank appeared in a court conversely in favour of a petitioner against the bank. Thereafter his services were terminated. After a preliminary inquiry, ACB registered FIR on 8 March 2020 and one Hilal Ahmad Mir, so-called promoter of the non-existing “River Jhelum Cooperative House Building Society, Magarmal Bagh”, was arrested in the middle of May. According to well-placed sources, both, deposed Chairman Mohammad Shafi Dar, and deposed MD, Mohammad Laief Dar, were only called for “questioning”. Ex-Chairman Mohammad Shafi Dar was not arrested even after J&K High Court dismissed his petition seeking quashing of the ACB FIR against him on 27 May. ACB concluded that both, ex-Chairman and ex-MD, had gone into hiding. On Tuesday, 2 June, ACB issued ‘Hue and Cry’ notice against the ex-Chairman, announcing suitable reward for anybody revealing his whereabouts. In its preliminary inquiry and subsequent investigation, ACB sleuths have concluded that the detained accused Hilal Ahmad Mir had been operating only small time businesses and he had no strong financial standing, leading to suspicions of his being a front for some hidden group of businesspersons with considerable clout in politics and bureaucracy. Both, NABARD in 2019 and ACB in 2020, have observed that Hilal Ahmad Mir has approached the then Secretary Cooperative Abdul Majid Bhat with a one-page application seeking loan of Rs 300 crore ostensibly for acquiring land measuring 257 kanals at Shivpora in Srinagar for setting up one ‘satellite township’ in April 2019. Secretary marked the application to then Registrar Cooperative Societies MM Ghasi who in turn forwarded same to Chairman and MD of JKSCBL. On 24 April 2019, proposal for loan of Rs 250 crore was initiated in favour of the applicant by then MD. Within hours, then Chairman accorded his approval to the proposal without seeking proper application and project report and without ascertaining registration of the “applicant’s society” with Registrar of Societies. During enquiry, Additional Registrar Co-operative Societies, Kashmir, has reported that the copy of the Registration certificate bearing No. ARK/SS/3, dated 31.03.1994 was contradictory in nature as the registration certificate showed two dates i.e. 31st day of August 1994 and 31.03.1994. Moreover, the signature affixed on the certificate could not be ascertained as there was no Registration Certificate issued under the same signature in the office of Additional Registrar Cooperative Societies Kashmir. As “River Jhelum House Building Society” had no bank account, an account was hurriedly opened within minutes, not at any branch but at the Chairman’s/ MD’s office without holding “KYC” (know your customer) formalities. The loan was not secured with any bank guarantee or mortgage even as the receiving parties have claimed that land of 257 kanals and 19 marlas, subsequently taken over on “power of attorney” was lien marked by the patwari for the bank without completing legal formalities under the distress sales law. “On 26 April 2019, a Cash Credit A/C No. 000115003100001 is opened in the name of the non-existent Society. The borrower is a complete stranger with no Current Account or Cash Credit Limit Account maintained with the Bank as on the date of sanction of limit by the bank. However, no KYC, PAN details, Board resolution, etc., of the Society is available on record”, records a note dated 13 January 2020 of NABARD accessed by STATE TIMES.
It has been discovered that JKSCBL itself raised loan of Rs 230 crore against its fixed bank deposits worth Rs 242 crore in J&K Bank Cargo branch. Out of this, an amount of Rs 223 crore has been transferred to 18 bank accounts of an extended family of Kashmiri Pandits who are known to have migrated from Kashmir in 1990. Interestingly, on 15 June 2019, well after the loan amount was released, Hilal Ahmad Mir has appointed one Abdul Hamid Hajam as Secretary of the non-existing society and executed a “lease deed” with him, giving him authorisation to further raise loan from any financial institution for raising the township.
“The JKSCB releases 92% of the loan amount to the borrower, i.e. Rs. 223.00 crore within three consecutive days of Annual Darbar Move Holidays viz. Rs. 55.75 crore on 29 April, 2019, Rs. 102.21 crore on 30th April and Rs. 65.04 crore on 1st May 2019 from its limit. This amount is arranged by JKSCB by raising loan from J&K Bank against its’ Fixed Deposits amounting to Rs. 242.99 crore”, the NABARD note has mentioned.
“It was after the preliminary inquiry that Registrar Cooperative and ACB froze an amount of Rs 187 crore. But Rs 36 crore of the poor agricultural depositors is still untraced. There are reports that one of the receiving parties has transferred this amount to London. Investigation is underway”, said an official source. “It straightaway appears to be a case of the bank robbery. We would call it scam only if the applying society would have been registered and lawfully existing”, said the official. According to him, over 40 government officers, many of them posted in Civil Secretariat, have subsequently “purchased” lands measuring one to two kanals from the same Kheewat at Shivpora at the rate of Rs 1.60 crore per kanal. Some of them are now approaching different courts, seeking possession of the land that has been fully attached by Srinagar Deputy Commissioner under orders of Principal Secretary Cooperative and Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir.
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