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Minister faces cheating test

- Exam caper FIR against Kashmir Congress leader’s stepson
Peerzada Mohammad

Srinagar, Jan. 4: Kashmir’s exam scandal has returned to haunt senior Congress minister Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed, with police registering a case in connection with longstanding allegations that his stepson cheated in his Class X exams with his help.

State crime branch chief Javid Mujtaba Geelani today said the FIR names Peerzada’s stepson Imam Sauban and “two or three” school board officials who allegedly wrote his answers in the 2009 exam. Peerzada was then state education minister.

Although not an accused, the minister is likely to be questioned about his alleged role. He was not available for comments today.

Sauban, 20, a college student now, is the son of slain Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front militant Parvez Billa and Tabassum, a medico and daughter of a Congress leader. Tabassum married Peerzada after Billa was killed by the Hizb-ul Mujahideen during a clash in the 1990s.

The cheating allegations were made by some of Sauban’s fellow students in 2012, and Peerzada was divested of the education portfolio after massive protests.

National Conference chief minister Omar Abdullah, however, had to retain him in his cabinet after Sonia Gandhi was said to have rejected Peerzada’s resignation. He is now minister for public enterprises, floriculture, Haj and Auqaf (wakf).

“She (Sonia) has not accepted my resignation. I was asked (by her) to continue working (in the ministry),” Peerzada had told reporters two years ago.

Omar, however, had to order an inquiry under public pressure and hand the case over to the crime branch for an “investigation within seven days”. The formal FIR comes nearly two years after Omar’s directive.

Peerzada is said to be close to the Congress high command, having worked as state unit chief during the peak years of militancy.

Police sources claimed to have prima facie evidence against Sauban. “The papers have multiple handwritings, which means they were written by more than one person,” an officer said.

An internal board probe had recommended action against Sauban but the plea was rejected by a senior education department official, who was later appointed the board’s chairperson.

Peerzada had faced corruption charges in 2008, when a then Congress MLA, Shoaib Lone, claimed to have bribed him to facilitate the transfer of a relative in the education department.

Peerzada had to resign as education minister from the Congress-PDP ministry but won the polls that year and was reinstated in the NC-Congress government that took charge.