Kharge to face tough task as two contenders for post of CRB face graft charges

16-kharge.newRailway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge has a difficult job in hand – that to appoint the chairman of the Railway Board (CRB). But with two of the contenders under the scanner for alleged wrongdoings, the minister’s task is cut out.

Incumbent Vinay Mittal’s tenure ends on June 30 and Rail Bhavan is abuzz with speculation over his probable successor ever since former Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal was forced to resign in the wake of allegation of corruption and the CBI’s ongoing probe into the ‘cash-for-posts’ scam.

So far there are four names in the fray. Among these include Railway Board member (electrical) Kul Bhushan; general manager (North Frontier Railway) R.S. Virdhi; general manager (South-Western Railway) A.K. Mittal and general manager (Northern Railway) V.K. Gupta.

Race for top job

But the race for the top job is not so straightforward. With projects worth thousands of crores at stake and, considering the fact that the CRB is the one who calls the shots in deciding their fate, it is to be seen who the ministry chooses for the post.

The CBI inquiry naming Kul Bhushan in the ongoing probe in railway postings, promotions and projects has virtually ruled him out of the race of which he was once the front runner.

That puts Virdhi as the front-runner. But even his road to CRB is not without bumps and one created by a senior officer of his own trade – mechanical. It is learnt that a CVC enquiry has been sought against Virdhi when he was an executive director-rank official in the Railway Board.

Virdhi otherwise fulfils the criteria and leads the race from the mechanical branch of Indian Railways, which has not contributed a single CRB in the past one decade.

If luck eludes Virdhi, then A.K. Mittal, who is currently in Hubli serving as GM (SWR) may get the nod. Among the probables, Gupta’s name is being touted as the favourites, even though he is the junior-most in the seniority list. He heads the most important zone, with Delhi as its headquarters.

Gupta took over Northern Railway at Baroda House in June last and had held, before that, the key position of secretary, Railway Board. Officers also claim that Gupta was “most influential during Bansal’s reign and is also considered close to the current board’s top members.”

CBI heat

It is to be seen if it would be a smooth ride for Gupta as top railway sources hint that “there are many projects of Northern Railway sanctioned during Bansal’s tenure which are also under the CBI scanner.”

But a senior Northern Railway official said: “With just two weeks to go for the next CRB to take charge, the shadow of CBI’s ongoing probe and intra-department rivalry may see luck smiling on the dark horse – in this case, the senior-most Railway Board member.”

It is a fact that in the last decade three CRBs – R.K. Singh in 2003, J.P. Batra in 2005 and Vinay Mittal in 2011 – fulfilled their stipulated terms. In the case of the other three CRBs during the period, the senior-most member of the Railway Board was elevated as the CRB, as none of the officers were fulfilling the criteria.

So if that situation emerges, then current member (engineering) Subodh Jain, who also holds the additional charge of member (staff) after his colleague Mahesh Kumar was suspended facing CBI inquiry, may find himself on the top post.