Sunday, May 5, 2013

RAILWAY POSTING SCAM: Yet Another Scam Rocks UPA-II

Railway Minister’s Nephew Held For Promising Officer A Top Job For 10 Crore Bribe Cong Caught In A Bind Over Bansal’s Fate

New Delhi: Railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal on Saturday washed his hands of his nephew and key political aide, arrested for taking bribes for fixing a key appointment in the Railway Board. But Bansal failed to secure an “all clear” from the Congress leadership that is reeling under a spate of scams and controversies.

Bansal told both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi that he never let Vijay Singla, his sister’s son who minds the minister’s political and business interests in his hometown Chandigarh, influence his official decisions. The nephew and others have been accused of corruption for allegedly seeking bribes from Railway Board member Mahesh Kumar for fixing appointments through the minister.

However, the Congress’s core group, which discussed the fallout of the latest corruption scandal to hit the UPA, deferred a decision on his continuation in the Cabinet, signalling that it was not ready to give the minister the benefit of doubt yet. The core group will meet again on Sunday.

There was no confirmation of reports that Bansal had offered to resign even as he proclaimed himself innocent. Deferring the decision is significant because Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi had in the afternoon cited the railway minister’s defence to dismiss the opposition’s demand for his resignation.


The indecision, viewed against the backdrop of the perception of Bansal being a “clean person” and the PM’s personal choice for the crucial infrastructure ministry, suggested that the decision would be shaped by the larger context where scandals and allegations of corruption against UPA functionaries have dented the image of the coalition. The embarrassment comes as the fate of another Punjab Congressman, law minister Ashwani Kumar, appeared to be hanging by a slender thread.

Congress leaders grappled with the new crisis even as the CBI’s dragnet closed in on Bansal, with sources revealing the agency might seek clarifications from Bansal, his two sons Amit and Manish, and at least one more nephew in connection with the bribery case.

Oppn scents blood, bays for 2 ministers
The UPA is staring at the possibility of losing two ministers—law minister Ashwani Kumar and railway minister Pawan Bansal—in the face of the opposition onslaught, dashing its plan to end its tenure with a blaze of populist projects like the food security and land bills. The Bansal scam is threatening to take some shine off the victory the party is expecting in Karnataka.

2G, CWG, ADARSH, COALGATE...NOW, JOBS FOR SALE
THE DEAL
Vijay Singla (above), nephew of railway minister Pawan Bansal, caught accepting Rs 90 lakh as part payment for appointing Western Railway GM Mahesh Kumar as member (staff) on Railway Board

CBI tapped Singla and Kumar’s phones. Deal struck at a Delhi hotel. Six calls between Singla and Kumar when Bansal visited Mumbai on April 16.

Kumar is now suspended
DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Pawan Bansal | Cleared Kumar’s name for consideration of the Cabinet committee on appointments. No direct link to payment yet, but may be quizzed by CBI soon

Vijay Singla | While Bansal denies he has any business or financial dealing with Singla, the nephew is seen as the minister’s key political agent. Their proximity is well known

POLITICAL FALLOUT
Congress core group reserves judgment on Bansal, to meet again on Sunday after voting in Karnataka ends. Rising oppn furore raises cost of backing Bansal

Oppn seizes opportunity, demands Bansal’s resignation along with that of law minister Ashwani Kumar, in the dock for “vetting” the CBI status report on Coalgate.

Set to block Parliament 

Mahesh Kumar | He had a reputation of being bright, efficient. Wanted to be member (electrical) but settled for member (staff) as an interim arrangement

Manjunath | Promoter of GG Tronics Ltd in Bangalore, was conduit for the bribe on behalf of Mahesh Kumar. Goes back a long way with him

Sandeep Goel | Rail contractor known to Singla. Was in touch with Manjunath, a rly supplier working for Kumar Kumar wanted to continue as Western Rlys GM

Garg has already been named in the FIR CBI filed on Friday evening alleging that Mahesh Kumar, member (staff) of the Railway Board, agreed to pay Rs 10 crore for an appointment as member (electrical) on the board. The money, which was to go to Singla through a Chandigarh-based railway contractor Sandeep Goel, was to be raised by a group of fellow businessmen dealing with train equipment who were promised business from railways by Kumar.

As per the understanding, Kumar was to pay half of the agreed amount upfront before the appointment and the rest after his appointment as member( electrical). Kumar could not get the post of his choice, and was appointed as member (staff) instead.

He was unhappy but Goel and others asked him to be patient and wait for the elevation of the current member (electrical) Kulbhushan as the chairman of the board after the retirement of the incumbent Vinay Mittal in June.

Kumar agreed but wanted to continue as general manager of Western Railways while being on the board. Goel accepted the demand in return for an additional Rs 2 crore in bribe. CBI on Friday recovered Rs 90 lakh, allegedly the first installment of the transaction, and has arrested Singla.

Appointments of chairperson of the board, its members (who are equivalent in rank to Union secretary) and general managers of railways are handled directly by the rail minister. Although the final approval rests with the Appointments Committee of Cabinet, the panel usually goes by recommendations of the minister.

The Opposition cited this to argue that Bansal was culpable “not just morally but even criminally”, while demanding his dismissal.

Although Singla is known in Chandigarh as Bansal’s confidant, the rail minister denied the charge of any wrongdoing. He said he had no knowledge of the deal that Singla and others were negotiating with Mahesh Kumar, who was placed under suspension on Saturday evening. “Though a close relative, he or any other relative of mine does not and cannot meddle in my official functions or influence my decisions.”

However, sources said that CBI is proceeding on the assumption that it was impossible for Mahesh Kumar to have agreed to pay such a hefty sum unless he was confident about Singla’s ability to leverage his family ties and get him the job.

Official sources said they had been tapping Mahesh Kumar’s phone for three months. Two Delhi-based businessmen, Samir Sandhir and Rahul Yadav, Faridabad-based businessman Sushil Daga and Bansal’s relative Ajay Garg have been named in the FIR along with the arrested persons, Mahesh Kumar, Singla, Chandigarh-based businessman Sandeep Goel and Narayan Rao Manjunath of Bangalore, allegedly the main financier.
COURTESY:
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