The latest to go is acting Chairman Arunendra Kumar

A peculiar situation has arisen at Rail Bhawan. All nine top contenders have been eliminated from the race for Chairman of the Railway Board for one reason or the other in just four months.

The latest to go is acting Chairman Arunendra Kumar, whose name the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has not recommended for regularisation, even as the Rail Bhawan corridors were abuzz with the doings and undoings in the higher echelons of the Railway Ministry after North Frontier Railway General Manager R.S. Virdi was eased out of the race.

Highly placed sources said the CVC had recommended the names of only Kolkata Metro General Manager Radhey Shyam, who is also in charge of South Eastern Railway, and South Western Railway General Manager A.K. Mittal for the top post. The CVC recommended a CBI probe against the acting Chairman.

Mr. A.K. Mittal, however, faces a problem: the outgoing Chairman, Vinay Mittal, issued a confidential letter, in which he said his performance was not up to the mark.

The first to get eliminated was the Member (Staff), Mahesh Kumar, after his arrest in a bribery scam. The Member (Electrical), Kul Bhushan, the senior-most member of the Board, was named in a preliminary inquiry by the CBI.

Northern Railway General Manager V.K. Gupta, too, is no more in the reckoning as his name figures in the conversations taped by the CBI in the bribery case. He is facing other charges also.

Three others do not fulfil the criteria prescribed for the post: completion of one year as zonal general manager and two years of residual service. As a matter of fact, Mr. Virdi was on the top of the list, fulfilling these criteria, but his prospects were affected by minor penalties recommended against him by the CVC in a 10-year-old case, though the watchdog cleared his name for promotion as Member (Electrical) in February.

The CVC’s action has surprised most officers, with Federation of Railway Officers Association secretary-general Shubhranshu writing to Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge and the CVC, urging that the decision be reconsidered because it would affect the performance of the Railways.

Mr. Virdi has formally protested the CVC’s recommendation, writing a letter to Mr. Kharge, in which he said: “The timing of the case is clearly designed to stall my chances.”

The post fell vacant after the retirement of Mr. Vinay Mittal on June 30. Member (Mechanical) Arunendra Kumar has been given additional charge of Chairman for three months.

Mr. Virdi has charged the acting Chairman with “machination” to reopen the case with the sole objective of preventing him from becoming Chairman.

He pointed out that the case, pertaining to the trial of perfume dispensers and a disinfectant dispenser, was closed by the CBI, and the CVC suggested systemic improvements. He asserted that his name had never figured in the probe.

In his letter to the Railway Minister on Thursday, Mr. Shubhranshu maintained that victimisation of this nature would affect induction of technology in the Railways.

Mr. Shubhranshu, who has sent copies of the letter to both the CBI and the CVC, maintained that the CVC’s action violated the rules as it had not sought any explanation from Mr. Virdi and two retired members, who too had been proceeded against. He warned that such an action would result in witch-hunt.

The CVC has directed the Railways to find means of acting against two retired members — P.N. Garg and S. Dhasarathy — knowing well that rules did not permit action against those who had been in retirement for more than four years. Officers alleged that the attempt was to sully their names in a bid to get at Mr. Virdi. They maintained that Mr. Garg was so shocked by the news that he suffered brain haemorrhage and was in a critical condition.

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