Months before retirement, Railway Board financial commissioner puts in his papers. Financial Commissioner is an ex-officio Secretary to Government of India. It is the topmost post managing finances of Railways, including the Budget.
In a curious move, Railway Board Member Financial Commissioner Sanjoy Mookerjee put in his papers on Friday, seeking voluntary retirement in August, three months before he is due to retire, citing ‘personal reasons’.
The announcement came as a surprise in Railway Board and at various Zonal Railway levels. Several officials said that Mookerjee should continue, particularly now, when there is a need for an efficient leader to pilot the potential ‘merger’ of two the Budgets — Finance Budget and Railway Budget. It is not clear what might have precipitated the crisis.
While no reasons have been cited on what led Mookerjee to take such an extreme step, sources did not rule out the chances of a disagreement on policy issues with the top leadership. Repeated attempts to reach Mookerjee yielded no results. “FCs usually don’t have good times with political leadership. But, there could be questions on the Railways taking on so much of debt and spending on projects which do not yield the cost of borrowing,” said a top railway official.
There is also speculation about a friction on account of the Railways not being the first Ministry to raise offshore or Masala bonds.
Some public sector units from the power sector have raised such bonds, which gave the Power Ministry more “publicity”.
However, the timing of raising offshore funds for Railways is a function of the cost of funds, and the Railways was able to raise funds at lower cost in the domestic market.
“We are shocked. We expect him to continue. He should not put in his papers,” said another official. The soft-spoken Mookerjee is very popular among his cadre as an efficient bureaucrat, who is credited with stepping in to rein-in the Railway’s costs, at a time when the revenues went on a downward spiral.
Mookerjee did not respond to messages from RailNews. But his decision has taken the ministry and his fellow Board members by surprise. Railway Board Chairman A K Mital said he had not had the chance to speak to Mookerjee. “May be he has some personal reasons. I do not know. I will speak to him on Monday,” Mital told.
Financial Commissioner is an ex-officio Secretary to Government of India. It is the topmost post managing finances of Railways, including the Budget. It is also a post representing the Finance Ministry at the highest governing body of the national transporter.
It is also not clear if Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu will request Mookerjee to reverse his decision or if Mookerjee would be amenable to such requests. But one thing is certain, no one saw this coming. Mookerjee left for Allahabad to hold a meeting of all zonal railway accounts officers Thursday. He remained out of Delhi Saturday as well. In Allahabad, he spoke of the future of accounting reforms and economy measures in railway operations, subjects he has been pursuing all along.
Office bearers of Indian Railway Accounts Service Association, a union of the cadre Mookerjee heads, has decided to meet him. “He is a very popular officer among the cadre,” said a member of the association. It is not common for Railway Board members to seek voluntary retirement months before their scheduled exit. Departure now would not change Mookerjee’s retirement benefits, sources said.
Mookerjee is a 1978-batch IRAS officer from Kolkata. Earlier, he was posted as Director General of National Academy of Indian Railways in Vadodara. His tenure as Financial Commissioner is marked by Railways managing the burden of the VIIth Pay Commission, unprecedented external borrowings for infrastructure works, and economy measures within the organisation.