In May 2013, the CBI arrested the then railway minister Pawan Bansal‚Äôs nephew, Vijay Singla, when he was caught red-handed accepting part of a bribe for fixing a top position in the Railway Board. With serious loopholes in the investigation coming to light, the CBI‚Äôs role is now under the scanner.
The arrests of Singla and others in the case came at a time when the UPA-2 government was already under a shadow for the Coalgate scam and alleged attempts to influence the probe into it. CBI Director Ranjit Sinha had showed the confidential status report of the probe to the then law minister Ashwani Kumar, Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati and two officials of the PMO, and modified parts of it based on their suggestions. The Supreme Court had found this seriously objectionable. As the PM was in charge of the coal ministry when the controversial coal block allocations were made, this gave rise to allegations that it was an attempt to save his skin. The CBI initially told the court that it had not shared the report with anyone, but had to backtrack after media reports nailed the lie.
With fingers pointing towards it, the CBI then took the daring step of arresting Singla and his associates in the Railway Board job-fixing case. The focus of the media exposures soon shifted to Bansal. The arrest of his nephew and his own dubious role in the case forced Bansal to resign from his post as railway minister on 10 May.
Despite Singla‚Äôs arrest and Bansal‚Äôs subsequent resignation, the evidence with TEHELKA proves that the CBI has always tried to shield Bansal in the matter. It avoided mentioning his relationship with Singla in the FIR lodged on 3 May. The report referred to Singla as an individual from Chandigarh without hinting at how he could have influenced the decision related to appointment of a railway board member. Bansal was not named in the list of the accused in the CBI chargesheet filed on 2 July.
Documents with TEHELKA reveal that the CBI has all along done nothing to either nail Bansal for his involvement in the scam or clear the allegations against him¬†completely if, as CBI’s chargesheet says, he is not guilty. Instead of questioning his contradictory statements, the CBI turned him into a prosecution witness. The CBI had purportedly tapped the phone calls of 10 people, but chose to ignore two others whose conversations could have proved crucial in shedding light on the role of Bansal and other influential figures in the case. In every instance where the accused said something that went against Bansal‚Äôs favour, the CBI did not probe it further and it ignored whatever seemed to point towards the former minister‚Äôs involvement in the case.
TEHELKA has access to documents running into 3,000-odd pages pertaining to the investigation that would help unfold the story right from the beginning.
Three of the six Railway Board members ‚ÄĒ namely, Member (Mechanical), Member (Staff) and Member (Traffic) ‚ÄĒ were to retire on 30 April while Board Chairman Vinay Mittal was to retire on 30 June. Member (Electrical) Kulbhushan was to step into his shoes. Mahesh Kumar, who was the then GM (Western Railways), was eyeing the post of Member (Electrical), considered a ‚Äėrewarding‚Äô position as the official is responsible for deciding on contracts worth crores.
In January, Kumar revealed his intention to his friend and railway contractor, Narayana Rao Manjunath, MD of GG Tronics India Pvt Ltd. The CBI got wind of it and started tapping Manjunath‚Äôs phone calls from 28 January. Manjunath contacted Sandeep Goyal, Chandigarh-based railway contractor and head of Pyramid Electronics Ltd. Goyal is reportedly a close friend of Singla.¬†The documents with TEHELKA have some references of the possible involvement of Bansal’s son Manish Bansal also in this case.
On 30 March, a rendezvous between Kumar and Goyal was set up at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai. Manjunath was also present. The meeting went on till past midnight and was followed over the next few days by a series of phone conversations between Kumar and Goyal. (These conversations were tapped by the CBI, TEHELKA has the transcripts).
Singla and his friend Ajay Garg were briefed by Goyal, and it was decided that Kumar will be invited to Chandigarh and introduced to Singla. A telephonic introduction was quickly fixed. A meeting in person could not be arranged as Singla went away to Germany. (Evidence with TEHELKA shows that Singla preferred to use landlines instead of cell phones and often asked people to contact him on Pawan Bansal‚Äôs home and office numbers)
By the end of February, the CBI had begun tapping Goyal‚Äôs calls as well. Kumar had allegedly told him that he had already approached Sonia Gandhi‚Äôs secretary, Ahmed Patel, regarding his promotion. TEHELKA has evidence to prove that a call was in fact made to Patel from Kumar‚Äôs number. But the CBI‚Äôs role becomes questionable as it never once tried to tap the phone calls of the person around whom the story revolves, Mahesh Kumar. It also did not find it necessary to keep an eye on Singla. Records reveal that Singla‚Äôs number was used to call Pawan Bansal‚Äôs home and office numbers several times. He even used to talk with Bansal‚Äôs OSD Vitul Kumar and son Manish regularly.
After Singla returned from Germany, a meeting was fixed with Kumar in Delhi on 7 April. A taxi driver, Pratap Singh, has told the CBI that Kumar hired his cab from the Railway Colony till Lalit Hotel at Barakhamba Road. He met Goyal and Singla there. Half an hour later, the trio left for Bansal‚Äôs official residence at 6, Ashoka Road. There they discussed the plan to make Kumar the Member (Electrical), but the issue of bribe was not brought up. Garg was informed of the developments on phone.¬†After this the CBI started tapping Garg‚Äôs phone calls as he was in constant touch with Goyal.
On 18 April, a demand for a bribe to facilitate Kumar‚Äôs appointment as Member (Electrical) was made for the first time. On the same day, Bansal signed on the papers approving Kumar‚Äôs appointment to the Railway Board, but as Member (Staff), not Member (Electrical). One must look at the day‚Äôs events closely.
At 9.44 am, Goyal told Manjunath over phone that Rs 10 crore must be paid to ensure that Kumar is made Member (Electrical). Half of the sum would have to be paid in advance. He also said that since the post is going to give Kumar power to decide on contracts worth thousands of crores, it was but a paltry sum to pay. At 11.30 am, Goyal received a call from Garg who informed him that Mahesh was being made Member (Staff) for the time being, but he would later be appointed as Member (Electrical). Interestingly, Garg knew this already even though the minister would sign the papers regarding Kumar‚Äôs appointment only in the evening.
Kumar was not pleased with his appointment as Member (Staff). So he sent Manjunath to meet Singla in Chandigarh on 19 April. Kumar reportedly told Manjunath, ‚ÄúTell him to make me Member (Elec.) directly instead of Member (Staff). For now, the appointment of the Member (Staff) should be put on hold. He should make the appointments to the two posts, and the post of chairman, later on.‚ÄĚ
After meeting Kumar and his friends in Chandigarh, Manjunath called up Kumar and told him: ‚ÄúI have had a detailed discussion here. The railway minister does not want the post of Member (Staff) to remain vacant. But he will make you Member (Elect.) later. This has happened thrice before.‚ÄĚ Interestingly enough, Bansal had also asked Vinay Mittal about the process of shuffling of board members a few days ago. Mittal told him that it had happened thrice before.
Kumar demanded that if he is not given his desired post, he must be allowed to retain his former office as GM (Western Railways) and also given charge of the Signal and Telecom office for two months. According to the CBI chargesheet, this would have enabled him ‚Äúto open tenders as GM and pass them as board member later‚ÄĚ.
On 20 April, Kumar was heard telling Goyal, ‚ÄúIf he is making me Member (Staff), let him give me the charge of Signalling for two months. We have a strategy laid out for it‚Ä¶ I‚Äôll send proposals worth 400 crore within two months. And when I am Member (Elec.), we‚Äôll only have tenders (to pass).‚ÄĚ
So far no action had been taken by the ministry to fill up the vacant post of GM after Kumar‚Äôs promotion as Member (Staff), which could be an attempt to fulfil Mahesh‚Äôs desire to hold both the offices for two months. In a statement given to the CBI, Mittal says, ‚ÄúI tried to discuss the matter with the railway minister several times but he kept putting it off.‚ÄĚ
Singla and his associates assured Kumar that his demands would be met in return for an immediate payment of Rs 2 crore. The rest of the money, Rs 8 crore, could be paid later in two instalments. Manjunath took it upon himself to arrange for the buyoff. As a railway contractor, Kumar‚Äôs promotion meant monetary gain for Manjunath as well. It was decided that Rs 1 crore would be paid instantly and another Rs 1 crore after a couple of days. Rahul Yadav, Sushil Daga, CV Venugopal, Samir Sandhir and Murali Krishan were roped in for funding. All of them are associated with the railways as contractors or suppliers.
The CBI tapped Rahul Yadav‚Äôs and Sushil Daga‚Äôs calls as well. Their phone records show that the ‚Äėconfidential‚Äô information Mittal shared with Bansal about the shuffling of board members had spread like wildfire and they were all aware that it would ultimately result in Kumar‚Äôs recruitment as Member (Elec.).
On 1 May, Mahesh was appointed as Member (Staff) while remaining GM (Western Railways). The next day, Mittal again approached Bansal to discuss filling up of the GM‚Äôs post, but the minister continued to ignore it.
By that time Manjunath had managed to arrange Rs 50 lakh and sent it to Delhi from Benagluru through the hawala route. Half of this amount was debited from the accounts of GG Tronics while the other half was lent to Manjunath by another company in Hyderabad. Samir Sandhir collected the money by showing a 10-rupee note with the no. 97W536860 to a hawala broker at Lahori Gate, Old Delhi. Another Rs 10 lakh was borrowed from a company in which Yadav, Daga, Venugopal and Manjunath are partners. Rs 25 lakh was collected from Murali Krishan of Vijayawada while Rs 4.68 lakh was given by Daga. A total sum of Rs 89.68 lakhs had been collected by 2 May.