Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir Police announced the arrest of four separatist leaders, including some constituents of the Hurriyat Conference, for "selling" MBBS seats in Pakistan to Kashmiri students and using the money to support and fund terrorism, an official spokesperson said.
In a major crackdown on terror, a team of Counter Intelligence (Kashmir), a branch of CID Department of J&K Police, had registered a case in July last year after receiving information that several unscrupulous persons, including some Hurriyat leaders, were working with some educational consultancies and selling MBBS seats and seats in other professional courses in many colleges and universities of Pakistan.
A case was registered under relevant sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), he said.
During the probe, it surfaced that seats in MBBS and other professional degree courses were preferentially given to students who were close family members or relatives of killed terrorists.
There were also cases where the quota allotted to individual Hurriyat leaders were sold to anxious parents who wanted their children to pursue MBBS and other professional degrees.
More than 80 cases were studied in which either the students or their parents were examined for academic years between 2014-18.
Searches were undertaken in about a dozen premises in the valley to look for evidence of money collected and how it was used further. The analysis of digital records and paper receipts as well as records pertaining to bank transactions revealed that a sizable portion of the money was kept aside for personal use.
He said that Pakistan's snooping agency ISI had initiated the programme for "incentivising terrorism by compensating the family of killed terrorists" by way of providing free of cost MBBS and engineering seats.
However, during examination of witnesses it emerged that many were disappointed as monetary consideration was given precedence over the intended objective of the ISI programme.
As per the investigation, on average a seat costs between ₹ 10 and 12 lakh but in some cases, the price was brought down on the intervention of Hurriyat leaders. In other words, depending upon the political heft of a Hurriyat leader who intervened, concessions were extended to the aspiring student and his family.
Those arrested by the Counter Intelligence (Kashmir) were Mohammad Akbar Bhat alias Zaffar Bhat, self-styled chairman of Salvation Movement, Fatima Shah, Mohammad Abdullah Shah and Sabzar Ahmad Sheikh.
The police are also looking for Zaffar Bhat's brother, Altaf Ahmad Bhat, and Fatima Shah's brother, Manzoor Ahmad Shah, and others in connection with the case. The two named accused had allegedly exfiltrated to Pakistan during early 1990s for illegal arms and ammunition training and settled on the other side.
A conservative estimate indicated that the money involved could be around ₹ 4 crore per year on the basis of the fact that each Hurriyat leaders were were allocated around 40 seats for the MBBS programme every year.
"It could also be more. This aspect is still open and a matter of further investigation," the spokesperson said.
The investigation has also revealed that at the time of collecting money from the parents as well as channelling it for use by terrorists and separatists, intermediaries used to layer the transactions to conceal the end-use, he added.