Railway Board maintains there are complaints against the officers and that vigilance department noted irregularities in the procurement for Train 18. The entire ‘A’ team of the Integrated Coach Factory (ICF) behind India’s first semi-highspeed train Vande Bharat – toasted around the country not so long ago as a symbol of a new India – is now faced with the threat of a vigilance inquiry.
Nine officers, each integral to turning out the train – popularly called Train 18 – at record low costs and within challenging deadlines, have been sent a questionnaire seeking justifications for decisions taken by them as far back as 2016 at the ICF.
At least one of the nine officers has written to Chairman, Railway Board, V K Yadav, calling the questionnaires a vendetta and an attempt to “sabotage the Vande Bharat” project, one of the “greatest make-in-India success stories.”
The officer has alleged that while the ICF is being accused of delays on the one hand, on the other the Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) has changed the specs for new Vande Bharat trains to such an extent that it has made meeting deadlines impossible. Calling the threat of a vigilance inquiry an attempt at “fixing officers”, the officer says he fears this will “kill the Vande Bharat initiative forever.”
The Railway Board, in response to mail sent by Mirror, said the questionnaires were sent after receiving a number of complaints against the officers and after an investigation by the vigilance department noted “irregularities in the procurement of propulsion system for EMU/MEMUs (suburban trains) and Train 18.”
The nine officers facing the heat are – Sudhanshu Mani, who retired as general manager, ICF; S P Vavre, ex-chief design engineer electrical, ICF, and currently principal chief electrical engineer, Central Railway; N K Gupta, principal chief electrical engineer, ICF; S Srinivas, chief planning engineer, ICF; Amitabh Singhal, senior administrative grade officer, IFC; Kanwaljeet Asla, head of finance and accounts and chief administrative officer, project, ICF; L C Trivedi, ex-principal chief mechanical engineer, ICF, now general manager, East Coast Railway; Shubhranshu, ex-principal chief mechanical engineer, ICF and currently chief administrative officer, Rail Wheel Factory, Bela; and D P Dash, ex-chief design engineer, electrical, ICF, who currently holds charge as senior administrative grade officer, East Coast Railway.
The officer who has written to the chairman, Railway Board, has also alleged that the threat of vigilance action against the nine officers is an attempt to get international companies involved in the manufacturing of semi-high speed trains. The letter says that he is aware of an “import proposal for 60 semi-high speed trainsets costing over Rs 25,000 crore” which cites “delays in manufacturing of Vande Bharat trains at ICF.”
The officer is referring to a proposal dated August 19, 2018 prepared by the Railway Board for the involvement of foreign players in the manufacturing of Train 18-type trains in India that weigh slightly less than the Vande Bharats.
Mirror is in possession of the letter written by the angry officer to the Railway Board and a copy of the Railway Board proposal to get foreign manufacturers involved in the Vande Bharat project.
Interestingly, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal has often tweeted his admiration for the team behind the Train 18 success. In October this year, he tweeted that Vande Bharat has become a symbol of self-confidence in India. “The trainset meets the best of international standards and is entirely an accomplishment of Indian engineers. I bow before the hard work of these people,” he wrote.
The Board, however, does not seem to share his view. One of the officers who has received the questionnaire said the feeling is that the ICF is “under siege”. He has every small decision he and his colleagues took is being questioned. “It is a shock. After being feted for our work, suddenly aspersions are being cast on our integrity,” he said.
Another officer under scrutiny said he has been asked 24 questions, each related to decisions he took in connection with tenders issued during his time at ICF. “What is the message being sent – is it a crime to take decisions? Or is it that all the praise that Vande Bharat received is working against us now? And why is this talk of involving foreign manufacturers. Is Vande Bharat a success or is it not?” he asked.
A senior serving railway officer, who did not wish to be identified, said the notices are a clear case of witch-hunt. “If this inquiry goes ahead, why would any officer go out of his way to get things done fast? This will only instill a sense of fear among officers and slow down the decision making in the railways,” he said.