As the Railway Board continues its probe against alleged irregularities in the procurement of electric propulsion systems for EMU/MEMUs (Electric Multiple Unit / Mainline Electric Multiple Unit) and the Train18, the officials under scanner continue to allege conspiracy behind the probe. The officials facing the vigilance investigation have been alleging that it is a ploy to stop making the Train 18 in the Integrated Coach Factory in Chennai and import the same from foreign manufacturers.
The Times of India published a report by journalist Siddharth Prabhakar earlier this month which carries similar charges levelled by an official who was transferred from the ICF. The report quoted a letter by former chief mechanical engineer of the ICF to Railway Board Chairman V K Yadav, where he had alleged that the probe and the change of specifications by Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) has caused delay in production of Train18, and this delay has been used to float a proposal to import 60 train sets at a cost of ₹25,000.
But there is no truth in the allegations, as the government of India has repeatedly confirmed that the Train18 sets will be made at ICF in Chennai after the technical issues with them are resolved. Last month while answering a question in Lok Sabha, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal had said that ICF will make 160, 240 and 240 coaches of Train18 respectively during 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22. After that, Railway ministry had informed that the ICF has been given the approval to manufacture 45 new sets of Train 18, also known as Vande Bharat Express, by 2021-22. This translates to 720 coaches of the train to be made by ICF by 2021-22.
Earlier the production of Train18 was halted at the ICF after it was found that the trains didn’t meet RDSO specifications. The coaches were heavier and consumed more power. The tenders for the train were cancelled due to this reason. The issues with the train have been resolved and the specifications were revised. The Railway Board chairman Vinod Yadav had also informed that although no new sets of Vande Bharat Express will be made in the current fiscal due to the issues, 40 sets will be made in the next two fiscals with new specifications. This means the Railway Ministry has ordered five more trainsets than the estimate of Yadav.
The Times of India report also quotes an anonymous Railway Board official claiming that due to the ongoing probe, ICF is not able to process tenders. The official said that they don’t know when ICF will be able to process the tenders due to the issues. But a cursory glance at recent tenders issued by ICF proves that it is not correct. Tender monitoring websites list several ongoing tenders issued by ICF, showing that there is no halt in tender processing at the factory.
Moreover, the ICF produced its 3000th coach of the year in less than 9 months, displaying a huge improvement in efficiency. Over the last 5 years, the average time taken to manufacture a coach has come down drastically, resulting in a three-fold increase in the number of coaches built at the factory. In 2013-14, the ICF took 217 days to make 1000 coaches, while it made 3000 coaches in 215 days. These figures prove that there is no impact on the operations at the ICF due to the probe and change of specifications for Train 18, and the allegations made by the disgruntled officials have no base.