On August 5th 2019, Times of India published a report that alleged that the production of Train 18, or Vande Bharat Express has stopped. The report made largely two assertions. One, that there is a feud between the electrical and mechanical departments which played out over the procurement of industry-changing propulsion system that was acquired from a Hyderabad company. The report says that dominated by mechanical engineers, the procurement system did not ensure a ‘level playing field’ and there were questions raised at every step after the first rake was commissioned in 2018.
The second issue mentioned is that the vigilance wing of the Railway Board is investigating the procurement procedure and all existing tenders have been cancelled. In the rest of the article, Times of India essentially praises the propulsion system that was procured by Railways from the Hyderabad based company saying that it was the best in class, was an engineering marvel and that it was Rs. 10 crores cheaper than industry standards.
Indian Railways showed a glimpse of its futuristic vision by introducing Vande Bharat Express, the semi-high speed train. It has been running on full occupancy since its launch, creating punctuality records and providing the passengers with much better travel experience by its modern design and state-of-the-art amenities.
In May 2019, this marvel of Indian Railways successfully completed its one lakh kilometre run time without missing a single trip. It is speculated that this train has also attracted passengers who earlier avoided travelling by trains.
However, allegations of the production being stopped, an internal feud and the questions regarding the procurement process have dampened this success by India.
OpIndia reached out to senior railway officials to get clarity on what the truth of the matter was. The railway officials said that the Hyderabad based company that had supplied the propulsion system was given the go-ahead to supply to the company directly without any tendering against the existing contract of supply of propulsion equipment for the suburban train, thereby bypassing the norms of competition that ensure the highest level of transparency and quality. In subsequent tenders of ICF for procurement of propulsion equipment, it has been observed that undue favours have apparently been given through tailor-made eligibility criteria to suit Hyderabad firm and to systematically keep other eligible players including one navratna public sector company out of fray deliberately so as to ensure that the said company gets unhindered business without following due process of tendering and without any improvement in product design.
Prime Minister Modi’s vision has been to ensure transparency within the system and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal echoes that sentiment. The subsequent tender has been cancelled because Railways wanted to ensure that all companies who have the capability to supply the propulsion system get the chance to bid for the tender.
Railways officials further said that after the first train was inaugurated in February, the railways have got significant feedback on how to improve the specifications and ensure better quality production under Make in India.
“As soon as Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO) is ready with the specification, the tendering process will be initiated at ICF without any delay, providing level playing field to all prospective bidders. The procurement will be done in a manner to maintain transparency and integrity in decision making at all levels with compliance to `Make in India’ policy of Government of India as envisioned by our Hon’ble Prime Minister”, said the official.
The official further said, “Vande Bharat type trains have been developed successfully for the first time on Indian Railways however, system employed in Vande Bharat train had been procured against a contract of suburban trains, therefore there are problems interalia related to its safety and energy efficiency besides non conformities to governing technical specification of RDSO, which needs to be improved in subsequent versions of train. This Hyderabad firm is trying to supply this design in semi high-speed train like Vande Bharat train, which is suited for suburban trains. Such infirmities in the propulsion system had also been pointed out by a high-level committee of Additional Members of the Ministry of Railways. Further, improvement in product design in the subsequent version has always been the endeavour of Railway Production Units and RDSO. RDSO is currently working in this direction by making necessary improvements in technical specification”.
Speaking to OpIndia, the official also confirmed that the vigilance wing of Railway Board has indeed initiated an inquiry against the officials who confirmed the order to the Hyderabad firm without accepting tenders from other bidders to ensure competition, fairness and transparency.
The official said, “It has been the foundation of the Modi government and especially Railways headed by Minister Piyush Goyal to ensure transparency and fairness in the procurement system. The officials who breached the process and granted the tender to the Hyderabad based company without accepting bids from others will be taken to task. As soon as the process is over and RDSO comes up with revised specifications, the tendering process will resume”.
Officials said that the fearmongering regarding the production of Vande Bharat Express train being stopped are rumours. It is expected that the regular production of this train will be started at ICF during 2020-21.
While railway officials have maintained that the tender was cancelled because certain officials granted the contract to the Hyderabad based company without inviting other bidders, one certainly wonders why the Times of India has written a one-sided article while heaping praise on the propulsion system supplied by the Hyderabad based company.
The railway officials rubbished all claims of an internal feud between electrical and mechanical departments.
In fact, the Times of India doesn’t just stop at that. It goes on to subtly imply that it is the Railways Chairman, VK Yadav who runs a ‘powerful lobby’ since he is an electrical engineer and Piyush Goyal wants to achieve the electrification of railways. Times of India almost makes it sound as if there is a nexus that is headed by the Chairman who was appointed in December 2018.
VK Yadav has had a long and illustrious career. He has held several important executive and managerial positions in Indian Railways, United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, Union Ministry of Industry, Indian Railway Construction Company Limited, Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation and Rail Vikas Nigam Limited. He has also served as the Divisional Railway Manager, Lucknow Division, North Eastern Railway; Additional Divisional Railway Manager (Operation), Delhi Division, Northern Railway; Group General Manager (Electrical), Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited. He also held assignments as Programme Manager, Technology Diffusion and Support Programme and as Project Director, International Centre for Advancement of Manufacturing Technology at United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and as Director, Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion, Ministry of Industry, Government of India.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that Vande Bharat Express has been the target of misinformation. Earlier in July, The Hindu had also alleged irregularities that were then rubbished by railway officials.