By the weekend, it may well be curtains for Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, if the grapevine about Sonia Gandhi wanting him out is to be given credence.
However, the problem of jobs in the railways being hawked to bidders will not go away any time soon. Nor will the problem of relatives being given plum posts.
For example, Bansal’s OSD (Officer on Special Duty) is his son-in-law Vitul Kumar, a 1993 batch of the IPS cadre from Uttar Pradesh. His personal secretary Rahul Bhandari, a 1991 batch IAS officer from Punjab cadre, is his sister’s son-in-law. Vijay Singla, who was arrested for accepting a Rs 90 lakh bribe for guaranteeing Mahesh Kumar, former GM of Western Railway, a better posting in the Railway Board, is Bansal’s nephew. Bhandari and Singla are also related by marriage, and Mahesh Kumar and Singla are reported to have met in Vitul Kumar’s office to discuss the former’s postings.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has quizzed Bhandari and is likely to query Vitul Kumar too.
Unlike Bansal, his predecessors did not get relatives into railway postings, but railway insiders say both Lalu Prasad and Mamata Banerjee have also been associated with their fair share of irregular postings in the Railway Board, Firstpost learns.
These irregularities relate to appointments to four top jobs in the Railway Board – Member (Electrical), Member (Engineering), Member (Mechanical) and Member (Traffic).
Railway Ministers have often used their discretionary powers to supersede senior railway officials with decent track records. Mamata Banerjee was known for utmost honesty during her stint as Railway Minister. Railway officers say she even used to pay for her own tea consumption in the office.
However, she was not above using her discretionary powers while making appointments to the Railway Board. In 2011, she handed over additional charge of Member (Traffic) to Railway Board Chairman Vivek Sahai, even when an eligible railway officer Kuldeep Chaturvedi was in the queue for that post.
When questioned in Parliament about her decision, Mamata had then stated that she was trying to save money by giving dual charge to Vivak Sahai. Kuldeep Chaturvedi, who was General Manager then, was getting around Rs 75,000 a month, while a Board member gets Rs 80,000! So Mamata saved about Rs 5,000 per month in what is probably the world’s largest government-owned commercial organisation employing over 14 lakh people.
The post of Member (Electrical), which is the crux of the ongoing railway bribery case involving Mahesh Kumar and Singla, has always been up for grabs. It is rare that the senior-most eligible railway official has got this coveted post. The present Member (Electrical) Kul Bhushan (1974 batch) had superseded his senior General Manager (East Coast Railway) AK Vohra (1973 batch) during the TMC’s stint in the Railway Ministry. Mahesh Kumar, now under arrest for bribery, allegedly wanted the job held by Kul Bhushan.
Another irregularity during Mamata’s time is the appointment of Member (Engineering). General Manager, Eastern Railway (Kolkata) Deepak Krishan was due to be Member (Engineering). Banerjee, however, rather transferred him to Southern Railway and brought in Deepak Krishan’s junior AP Mishra as Member (Engineering).
Railway Ministers have used several other methods to deny the most coveted posts on the Board to senior railway officials. Highly-placed sources say that the ministry does not usually let a senior railway official become General Manager of an open line, a prerequisite for becoming Board member. An open line is one of the operating railway zones – like Western Railway or North-Eastern Railway. A non-open line posting would involve running the railway coach factory or some such undertaking which does not operate railway lines or train services.
NC Sinha is the senior-most railway official in line for becoming Member (Traffic). But he was never made a GM in an open line. He is Chief Operating Manager at present, while his five-place junior Devi Prasad Pandey has been appointed as GM and thus next in line for Board membership.
Sources say there is no vigilance case against Sinha and he has had a good record. But he was never made GM and so can be ruled out in the race for membership of the Board.
Perhaps anger is simmering among deserving senior officers in the railways for being denied coveted posts. This could be the reason why one of them blew the whistle on the jobs-for-sale scandal.