Bribery scam gets murkier as CBI tries to shield Bansal

Railgate came as a rude shock to everybody. No one in media or politics had imagined that the soft spoken, humble and well mannered Pawan Kumar Bansal would find himself in such a controversy. The then railway minister was in media glare as his nephew Vijay Singla was caught red handed receiving Rs 90 lakh as bribe for fixing the post of Member(electrical), Railway Board and the man for whom the post was being fixed – Mahesh Kumar -- had already made it to the post of Member (staff), a post similar in ranking.

The arrest of a minister’s nephew and a board member was unprecedented in the railway ministry. Kumar was arrested just a day after he had joined the railway board.
However, Bansal displayed obstinacy as he refused to resign.  He lobbied vigorously and it looked as though he would continue in the ministry. Only after a wide-spread criticism and pressure built up by opposition parties and the media, Congress president Sonia Gandhi swung into action and asked him to resign. A bewildered Bansal left Rail Bhavan to tender his resignation.

The charge made by the CBI against Singla was that he struck a deal of Rs 10 crore for fixing the post of Member (electrical) for Kumar, then general manager of western railway and was to receive Rs 5 crore before the appointment. Singla was caught accepting part of the bribe. Despite this, Bansal was allowed to remain in the post for a week.

The whole episode shook the ministry. Any one could make out the confusion and anarchy in the rail ministry headquarters at Rail Bhavan following the arrests. CBI officials were regularly on raids and every high official including railway board chairman was under scanner. The legitimacy of the appointment at the top was under a cloud. The questions being asked in the corridors were disturbing to all.  Why was Kumar lobbying for the post of member (electrical) when he had already made it to a similar post? What was the attraction? Member (electrical) in the railway board is considered to be the most lucrative. It would give Kumar all the opportunity to earn fabulously as majority of spending is done through this department. The wealth was eventually to be shared by minister’s nephew, that was allegedly the deal.

The charge sheet filed by the CBI exposed all this which was in the domain of gossip. It exposed the rot in the railway board too. Shiv Gopal Mishra, general secretary of All India Railwaymen’s Federation, rightly commented how honest and senior officers were sidelined and those who were capable of pleasing the higher-ups could make it to the top posts. “There should be transparency in appointments to the top posts,” says Mishra.

Ministry in chaos

How badly the scam affected the morale of the employees can be understood by the fact that the ministry remained in chaos for several weeks to come. Decisions were kept pending and nervous employees were only watching anxiously who would be  called next for interrogation by the CBI. No decisions were taken nor any appointments made for a couple of weeks after the arrests. Transcripts of conversations between accused of cash-for-appointment scam or railgate (Ajay Garg, Sandeep Goyal –other players in the scam - and Kumar) take us into the murky world of tender-fixing and purchase deals. In one of the conversations, Kumar, who was then general manager, western railway, boasted how after becoming member (electrical), he would be able to settle deals for about Rs15, 000 crore.

CBI tapped mobile numbers of Singla, Kumar and other players of the operation — Sandeep Goyal, Manjunath, Rahul Yadav, Ajay Garg, Samir Sandhir and Sushil Daga.  Garg fixed the bribe amount. Bangalore-based Manjunath arranged the money and others facilitated the deal and played some or other role in delivery of the cash amount.

In the 500-page transcript of conversation, Bansal has been referred to at least 47 times either as “MR” meaning minister of railways or by his full name. Amidst widespread speculation that the deal was struck on his behalf, he was not made an accused and it came as a surprise to many.  He was made a prosecution witness. The question many were asking was: how could any one buy the proposition that the former rail minister will depose against his nephew who has taken money and promised promotion to Kumar on his behalf ? It is most likely that he would obstruct the process of justice to protect his nephew whom he has been treating like his son.

It would not be inappropriate to think that the CBI, from the very beginning wanted to save him. All the other accused were under surveillance of CBI since January 29 this year.

However, there is nothing in the charge sheet to indicate that at any point of time the minister was under surveillance. Why did the CBI not investigate minister’s keen interest in this sector?

The questions become all the more relevant when CBI director Ranjit Sinha has himself been monitoring the case because he had been Director General, Railway Protection Force and is aware of railways’ functioning. The question now is, will the CBI be able to bring the culprits to justice?

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