BHOPAL : Much to the consternation of corrupt senior officials, Minister for Railways Mamata Banerjee has asked the CBI to investigate corruption in Indian Railways Procurement System. The move comes almost six months after The Statesman reported the nexus between suppliers, the Railway Board, and Research Standard and Design Organization (RDSO) that has siphoned off at least Rs 50,000 crore from the public exchequer over the past decade.
The CBI probe is restricted to corruption in the purchase of 20 items and does not extend to hundreds of others where the same process of restricted competition and grossly inflated prices for kickbacks continues.
Interestingly, the minister’s decision to involve the CBI comes at a time when the Railways' vigilance department appears to have begun achieving some success in its investigations, item by item. Sources in Rail Bhavan have told that a senior director in the Railway Board has been found guilty in the scam surrounding the first item investigated ~ Odour Control Systems ~ by the vigilance department which has recommended the harshest penalty for him. If investigations continue apace, many more skeletons will tumble out of a richly stocked Board closet.
The move to involve the CBI follows questions submitted by MPs in the stalled Parliament session about the scam and the Railways whistleblower Mr Atul Kumar. Listed for oral answer on 10 December in the Rajya Sabha was MP and senior Congress leader Mr Motilal Vora’s question about "the bungling of Rs 10,000 crore by mechanical department every year" and asking for information on "the steps taken by the government so far to ascertain the truth". Mr Vora also asked for names of officials who took bribes from Kolkata-based firm M/s Pioneer Friction.
Despite assurances by Mamta Banerjee early in her tenure and the CBI’s involvement in the the M/s Pioneer Friction case for over a year, no official has yet been named or punished.
Two related questions were also submitted for written answer in the Lok Sabha on 9 December. MPs Mr Vishwa Mohan Kumar and Mr Abdul Rahman asked for statistics on cases of corruption reported in Railways and action taken against officials over the past three years. Lok Sabha MPs Mr Shafiqur Rahman Barq, Mr Ravindra Kumar Pandey, Mr Bhola Singh, and Mr Sanjay Jaiswal jointly asked for details on corruption in procurement, whether suppliers sell articles to Railways at prices much higher than market prices, and the total loss suffered.
Crucially, though, and despite Mamta Banerjee's move to call in the CBI, old and new procurement scams still continue given that the same flawed approval system and Lucknow-based RDSO’s near-total control over it persists. Railways have not announced any changes in procurement policy that would introduce true competition, break cartels and bring down prices.
The recommendations of the Minister for Railways - appointed expert committee on RDSO still remain to be implemented. The committee's recommendations include a complete overhaul of the supplier approval system and a transfer of both approvals and inspections away from RDSO. The expert committee report, which was last heard to be stuck with the Member, Mechanical, Railway Board, for months, is in danger of being swallowed by the bureaucratic black hole.
There are still no cost-estimation cells to determine market prices when new items or specifications are introduced for purchase. "Expressions of interest" still do not get wide publicity so that the most able Indian manufacturers can compete. Works contracts, with even more margin for corruption than supply contracts, have not been brought under e-procurement. And, there is yet no centralised system via which zones can inform each other about rogue firms.
Furthermore, according to Mr Atul Kumar, who first brought the massive scam to the knowledge of the Railway Board, the victimisation has not stopped. Mr Kumar told that after yet another unceremonious transfer, intended to hound him out of Kolkata, he felt forced to apply for VRS. But, with over three months having passed since the application, it appears the Railway Board, unhappy with the exposure, is now not even allowing him to retire.
Courtesy: RAILWAY SAMACHAR