As new revelations emerge in the infamous cash-for-job scam involving former Union railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, the CBI finds itself under the scanner for going soft on him. Bansal is mentioned at least 50 times in the call transcripts annexed to the 4,000-page CBI chargesheet, but he is not among the 10 accused. Additional Sessions Judge Swarana Kanta Sharma remarked, “The high and mighty should not escape the law.” It is an embarrassing situation for the CBI as Ranjit Sinha, the director, is personally monitoring the case.
Bansal’s name figures in the damning phone conversations of his nephew, Vijay Singla, who is accused of fixing the appointment of former Railway Board member Mahesh Kumar. As per the transcripts, accessed first by Times Now news channel, Singla promised to get Kumar appointed as Member, Electrical, of the Railway Board. This required Bansal’s approval. In the intercepted phone conversations, Singla and Kumar are heard mentioning “MR” (Minister, Railways) several times.
Singla and Kumar met several times at Bansal’s official residence. Bansal too met Kumar many times, but later claimed to have never discussed appointments with him, which the CBI accepted. But in one conversation, Kumar refers to a meeting where the former minister discussed a “good thing” for Kumar.
In April, immediately before the appointment was to be made, Bansal and Kumar were both in Chandigarh at an event for launching a new railway project.
According to the CBI chargesheet, Singla and another of Bansal’s relatives, Ajay Garg, along with one Sandeep Goyal, were caught accepting a bribe to fix the posting of Kumar. Bansal’s 12-page statement full of denials was enough to throw the CBI off the scent though his sanction was required for the appointment.
The transcripts provide more damning evidence against Bansal. The job fixing for Kumar was not a one-off case where Singla, Garg and Goyal were conspiring to defraud Kumar by taking a bribe without the guarantee of a posting. Goyal and Singla also discussed other persons aspiring for various postings. They could not have fixed these positions without Bansal’s involvement.
If the CBI fails to link Bansal with the case, it would no longer be a case of corruption but one where Singla and others were defrauding greedy officials. And Singla could be repaying his uncle’s favours by assuming the role of the fall guy in this scam.
The CBI is also inquiring into the postings of the current Railway Board Member, Electrical, Kul Bhushan, and others including VK Gupta, general manager, Northern Railways. As per the transcripts, Gupta wanted Singla to get him appointed as the Railway Board chairman.
In the intercepted phone conversations, Goyal is heard telling Singla about decisions regarding the postings of senior officials. Goyal then negotiated with the officials on the bribes to be paid and acted as a middleman for Singla.
Kumar raised the money for the bribe by promising favours to various railway contractors once he got appointed. The contractors, in turn, arranged for the cash to pay the bribe.
CV Venugopal, manager of GG Tronics Pvt Ltd and director of M/s Venkateshwara Rail Nirman Pvt Ltd, allegedly paid Rs 10 lakh of the Rs 1 crore with which Singla was caught red handed. MV Murali Krishan, director of Efftronics System Pvt Ltd, Vijaywada, paid another Rs 25 lakh from his company’s account. The other contractors named as accused in the chargesheet are Narayan Rao Manjunath, Sameer Sandhir, Sushil Daga and Rahul Yadav.
Other senior railway officials who wanted plum postings include Archana Joshi, now the Divisional Regional Manager, Kota, and PC Sharma, a chief materials manager who wanted a posting close to New Delhi.
Bansal’s exclusion from the first chargesheet is so striking that the CBI judge had to take note of it.
While the judge has questioned the probe, CBI spokesperson Dharini Mishra refused to comment on the case. The SC had recently called the CBI a “caged parrot” in the context of probes involving senior officials.
Bansal has reportedly claimed that all the appointments he made were “within the rules”. He also denied knowing any of the 10 accused other than his two relatives, but refrained from commenting on the duo’s role.
Sources say the CBI is expected to file supplementary chargesheets in due course. It will also look into several cases of transfers of officials during Bansal’s tenure.