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May 07, 2013 at 07:00pm IST

PM did wrong by appointing Bansal as Rail minister: Vivian Fernandes

The Indian Railways was always famous for having a well-oiled commission-based procurement system, an institutionalised form of corruption. Now close kins of the Railway minister have been found to be involved in rackets ranging from choosing candidates for Railway top jobs to decisions on purchase orders. How far and deep does the rot run? Senior journalist Vivian Fernandes joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on the issue.

Q. Why is the government silent on railway minister. With out his knowledge this sort of activities wont take place. Is Mr Manmohan Singh acting as a puppet in the hands of madam? Asked by: balabhaskarmenon

PM did wrong by appointing Bansal as Rail minister: Vivian Fernandes

How far does the rot of corruption run in Indian Railways?

A. I cannot speculate the reason, but I agree that the Railway Minister must resign.

Q. Right from Lalu, Nitish, Mamata, and many more have done nothing for the improvement of railways, they have only promoted their kit and kin in getting lucrative contracts, catering, laundry, rdso, ticketing, IRCTC are hot beds for corruptions. Look at the New Delhi railway station, is it the best station in INDIA Asked by: S ESHWAR

A. Nitish did try to put some method in the madness. He ushered in a few timid reforms. He sacked 17 of 19 chairmen of railway recruitment boards, appointed by his predecessor Ram Vilas Paswan,in 1998. The inference is obvious. Lalu Prasad kept his kin out of Rail Bhavan when he got complaints about them. He had the good sense to appoint Sudhir Kumar as Officer on Special Duty and back him up fully in reforming the Railways. Owing to a combination of high economic growth, measures taken to increase freight and passenger offtake, as well as dynamic pricing, Railway finances improved considerably. The understanding was that Kumar would massage Lalu's battered image, while getting a free hand to shake up the Railways. Mamata was an unmitigated disaster. It is not true that there were no scams under her. Last January, the CBI booked a West Bengal firm for falsely declaring that it was supplying iron ore to domestic users (and claiming lower freight rates), when it was both over loading the rakes and exporting the ore (which fetches a higher freight rate). The scam is said to be worth around Rs 1000 cr. I am of course not suggesting that the minister was involved.

Q. Is it possible to make Railways as State owned like State electricity boards except interstate trains. Asked by: K Sharma

A. That is a good idea. To bring in competition initially, without provoking the unions, states should be allowed to run trains. For example Gujarat and Maharashtra could team up to run passenger and freight trains. Similarly Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. We need faster and more comfortable trains, and seat availability on demand.

Q. Does it mean that there was No Corruption in the Previous Railway Minister's tenures? Asked by: Javeed Ahmed M

A. The Railways have an annual purchase bill of Rs 20,000 cr. Our ministers are not hermits.

Q. Not surprised about corruption in Railways as it is accepted by and large that all govt. departments are involved in it regardless of which party rules the country/state. So why media is creating so much noise. Asked by: shahidda jiwa

A. Just because corruption is commonplace does not make it acceptable.

Q. Should the Minister resign for his alleged links (family members) been direct beneficiaries? Asked by: Sumitra

A. Yes. For two reasons. One, the drain has washed up at Pawan Bansal's feet. Two, he is up to no good. There is not a single reform he has initiated. The PM did a grave wrong to the Railways and the nation by bringing him in. He should have let C P Joshi, the Highways Minister,retain additional charge. Joshi was keen on a rail tariff regulator, the restructuring of the Railway Board along business lines and other reforms. Bansal has no vision. He has disregarded the directives that the PM gave at a meeting last November. Unfortunately, the PM does not care to assert his authority. He keeps writing letters!

Q. Do you consider Lalu the best railway minister we had? Any other candidate? Asked by: Kamal Agg

A. He was one of the better ministers. But the measures he took did not make the Railways a low cost transporter. He tried to expand the carrying capacity of the Railways by tweaking the system (allowing higher wagon loads, shorter turn around times and so on). Passenger amenities took a toss. I think Madhav Rao Scindia and before him TA Pai were better railway ministers. Dinesh Trivedi could have joined that list if Mamata has not sacked him.

Q. Why don't the so called Mr Clean takes out a leaf from Sri Lal Bahadur Shastri and Sri Vajpayee and put his papers? Asked by: Prasad KDV

A. In our political cesspool, he is still Mr Non-stick. Unfortunate.y, personal honesty has not produced institutional integrity.

Q. Will one ever get to see the high moral ground set by leaders like Lal Bahadur Shastri who simply offered to resign after a rail accident? Why should Bansal still cling on even when the writing is on the wall? Asked by: Satish Kumar

A. Shastri's responsibility was vicarious; Bansal can only claim that he has not handled the cash.

Q. Railways should take up elevated high speed corridor and have dedicated network for these. They should look to compete with airlines....but under private dispensation. Asked by: S ESHWAR

A. Yes. But the Railway Board has no vision or leadership. And they like ministers who will let them keep their privileges.

Q. What is this railgate corruption all about? Asked by: Stanley

A. It is all over the papers.

Q. Vivian, Why is it that business channels like yours cover the news from investment angle but when an scam breaks out news is not covered like in Indian Business Hour? Asked by: Manav

A. Good question. Some business channels (and financial news agencies) see themselves as investor services. They do not do investigative journalism either because they do not have the wherewithal or the risks involved (defamation suits and so on). They report scams once they break out. I think there is a place for all kinds of journalism. But the danger is when business reporters become pally with corporates and ignore bad news because they do not want to upset their contacts and lose access to a continuing steam of headlines, that will enhance their careers. In which case, they are neglecting their duty to viewers/readers.

Q. Every Ministry seems to be under some kind of scanner since the corruption is happening at the Minister level. It is under direct guidance of the ministers that things are happening. Can the PM have a closed eye and carry on? Who owns the moral responsibility? Asked by: Sumitra

A. I would say that non-corrupt ministers are the exception. First, the sums involved as not to be scoffed at. The money they can potentially maks can take care of their families for generations. Secondly, an impecunious politician is a nobody, unless they have great rapport with voters. Thirdly, for most of our politicians, politics is a career; they have little to fall back upon when out of power, unlike say lawyers like Kabil Sibal or P Chidambaram or politicians in the US.

Q. Why not privatise the railways-especially the factories/units? Asked by: srinivasan

A. A recommendation that was made as early as 2000 by the Rakesh Mohan Committee.

Q. Do you feel that this habit (bribe for promotion) was not in practice before this incident? Asked by: Jitrndra Nath

A. No.

Q. Do you think Sonia and Manmohan by supporting the minister's extension are abetting corruption ? How can Sonia and Rahul absolve themselves? They are winning Karnataka by default, not because they are less corrupt. Asked by: Dilip

A. Yes.

Q. What would it take to cleanse the system? Asked by: Daksh

A. There is plenty of advice in the Rakesh Mohan Committee report of 2000, and the White and Vision papers of 2011.

Q. Do you think the recent hikes in the railway fares is justified? Asked by: Najadh Beeran

A. Long over due.

Q. How can we make the recruitment of executives more transparent? Asked by: Daksh

A. By reducing their capacity to enrich contractors. Under the present system, there are no losers, only greater and lesser winners. For every item that the Railways wish to purchase there are a few vendors. They decide among themselves how each one should bid. The contract is awarded on the basis of the lowest price but the lowest bidder does not get the entire contract. The others get to supply as well, at the lowest price. Unless we create winners and losers, collusion will continue.

Q. Dear Vivian, CBI actions seems like bolt from the blue.After all they are considered to be the defenders of the govt of the day. What is the matter? Asked by: Kamal Agg

A. They may be wheels within wheels

Q. Has Cong lost an opportunity to fix railways as it had got the portfolio after a long time and it seems that its allies were running it professionally? Asked by: Arvind

A. The PM has squandered a great opportunity. He could have done to the Railways what Atal Behari Vajpayee did to the highways.

Q. Is there any hope - any chance of a correction happening in the system - and how? Asked by: c4conscience

A. What can you say about a PM who defends a non-performer and one who seems close to being implicated.

Q. Do you think these incidents of corruption in railways and the law minister incident will become a precedent and now a new low benchmark has been setup and we will see worst things across political parties. Asked by: venkatesh

A. These low precedents are not news. There are bunched up now.

Q. Kapil Sibal has hit back that media is corrupt as it has its own issues to deal with so who has more credibility or is it an attempt to deflect the issue. Asked by: Hitesh

A. The media is corrupt. It cannot be an excuse for more corruption.

Q. Dear Vivian, Hasn't the time come to privatise the Railways? that however would be a step-by-step process. What must be done in the short term and long term to stem this rot. Asked by: Narayan

A. I have answered the question already.

Q. I think everything is up for sale, why focus on railways only. I am told LG post is up for 250 Cr, only hope it is wrong. Asked by: Rakesh Katyal

A. It is hard not to be cynical.

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