Sources said the Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC) has cleared the elevation of Arunendra Kumar, currently ‘interim’ railway board chairman and Member (Mechanical) as full-time chairman and the rail ministry is likely to issue orders on Tuesday.
The appointment to the top post in Railway Board, which handles projects worth thousands of crores, was mired in controversy after one of the contenders, North Frontier Railways general manager R S Virdi, alleged that his claim was sabotaged by Kumar.
Coming in the wake of the ‘cash-for-jobs’ scam, involving Member (Staff) Mahesh Kumar and relatives of then minister Pawan Bansal, the fresh controversy embarrassed the Congress-led UPA and blew the lid off the scale of corruption in the railways.
The string of controversies slowed down UPA’s big ticket projects such as high-speed trains, elevated corridor in Mumbai and dedicated freight corridor and dashed the hopes of pulling the state-run transporter out of its financial mess.
The post of chairman has been vacant since June as the entire process of appointment to railway board came into question after the ‘cash-for-jobs’ scam.
Even Kumar’s elevation is not without controversy, and questions are being raised as the Cabinet panel has deviated from the twin norms for the chairman’s post — one year experience as ‘open line’ general manager and two years of remaining service. The norms have been in place for the last 10 years.
It is understood that railway minister Mallikarjun Kharge is not amused with the decision as the Cabinet panel had earlier rejected his proposal to appoint A K Mittal, general manager of South Western Railway. The ACC had also asked the ministry to revise the selection norms. Mittal fulfilled the twin norms for the post.
In 2005, then railway minister Lalu Prasad was overruled by the ACC in the appointment of Member (Staff) but he got the decision changed in his favour using his clout during the UPA-1 regime.
The Federation of Railway Officers’ Association has opposed changing the rules for the chairman’s post and many feel change of norms may invite judicial scrutiny. The association pointed out that rules could be changed only prospectively following the approval of the department of personnel and training and the ACC.