Pramod Kumar and Manish Anand, Asian Age Correspondents
New Delhi, 10 May 2013. Amid speculation that he could go soon, railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal on Thursday skipped the Cabinet meeting and reportedly was in his Ashoka Road residence throughout the day. The media was told “he was not well”, and sources said since there was nothing pertaining to the railways on the Cabinet’s agenda, “there was no urgent need for him to attend the meeting”.
Work at the railway ministry, meanwhile, seems to have almost come to a standstill with the minister and his top aides staying away from office.
The net appeared to be closing in on the minister with the CBI interrogating Mr Bansal’s private secretary Rahul Bhandari, a 1997-batch IAS officer from Punjab. Mr Bhandari went to the CBI headquarters on Thursday for a second round of questioning. Investigations have revealed some of the meetings to “fix” senior-level jobs in the railways were held at the minister’s residence and office.
Besides “Railgate”, Mr Bansal is also under a cloud for nominating one of his associates as a government director in a public sector bank during his stint as a minister of state at the finance ministry in 2007.
Reports of the railway minister’s son, Amit Bansal, taking a huge loan from the bank for family-run firms are also pouring in.
Tightening its grip, the CBI is now planning to question the officer on special duty (OSD) in the railway minister’s office, Vitul Kumar, with whom Mr Bansal’s arrested nephew, Vijay Singla, was in constant touch. The minister’s private secretary, Mr Bhandari, was during interrogation on Thursday confronted with his telephonic conversations with Mr Singla.
The duo apparently talked about suspended Railway Board member Mahesh Kumar’s elevation and the possibility of making him member (electrical), sources said. Mahesh Kumar, who has been arrested, told the CBI he paid `90 lakhs as the initial amount of bribe only after Mr Singla assured him that the railway minister had agreed to give him additional charge as GM, Western Railway, in addition to being member (staff), Railway Board. Mr Singla was arrested in Chandigarh on May 3 for allegedly accepting `90 lakhs in cash from Narayan Rao Manjunath, a businessman with links to Mahesh Kumar.
Sources said the CBI is also likely to question three more officials who are part of Mr Bansal’s staff. Mr Bhandari’s conversations were tapped by the agency after it put the phones of Mr Kumar and Mr Singla under surveillance. The CBI has so far arrested eight persons in connection with the alleged railway bribery scandal.
The employees’ unions at the railway ministry appear to be divided on the issue of Mr Bansal. While the All India Railwaymen’s Federation is seeking his resignation, the Federation of Officers’ Association, National Federation of Indian Railwaymen, All-India RPF Association and the Indian Railways Promotee Officers’ Federation have come out in support of the minister.