Today the Mumbai Mirror published a story on the ongoing vigilance probe related to the procurement of various items for the Vande Bharat Express train, also known as train 18. Several officials from the various departments of the Integrated Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai, where the train is being made, are being questioned by the Chief Vigilance Officer of ICF in this regard, but the Mirror seems to be batting for the officials as they have tried to imply that there are vested interests behind the probe.
The reports by Mirror quotes the officials saying that the probe has been launched by the Railway Board to sabotage the Vande Bharat project. The report states that nine officers have been sent questionnaires regarding alleged irregularities in the procurement of the propulsion system for EMU/MEMUs (Electric Multiple Unit / Mainline Electric Multiple Unit) and the Train 18. The officers facing probe alleges that the threat of a vigilance probe is an attempt to get international contractors involved in the manufacture of Train 18. The officers allege that every decision they took is being questioned, and this will instil fear among officials and slow down the decision-making process in the Railways. One officer is quoted by Mirror as saying that the notices sent to them are a clear case of a witch-hunt.
The Mumbai Mirror report comes across as defending the officials facing probes of corruption. According to Railway sources, several complaints have been received related to the procurement of various items at ICF, particularly propulsion systems. Accordingly, the GM of the ICF Board had asked the CVO of the ICF conduct a detailed investigation, where a number of irregularities were detected in the procurement process of the propulsion system by ICF. After that, questionnaires have been sent to all concerned officials. These include five from Electrical, four from Mechanical, one from Finance & one from Store departments, which means a total of eleven officials are under the scanner by the vigilance.
Some of the irregularities noticed in the procurement of propulsion system of EMU/MEMU trains, as per Railway Board sources, included irregularities noticed in the finalisation of eligibility criteria which was tweaked to favour certain parties specifically a Hyderabad based company. Further, the Railway Board guidelines for such tenders were ignored.
Apart from these, several irregularities were detected procurement of propulsion system for Vande Bharat, which included the tender for the propulsion system being awarded to a favourable party and only a single tender being released. The RDSO specifications were ignored and the delays in the supply were not fined. In fact, OpIndia has learnt that several aspects did not meet RDSO standards and some shortcomings were pointed out in the current rake of Vande Bharat.
Therefore, there have been serious allegations of irregularities at ICF, and the authorities are probing the same as per established rules. To allege the motives behind the investigation will mean encouraging the irregularities and defending the accused officials.
Moreover, the allegation of the officials that the probe is aimed at derailing production of Train 18 at the ICF to favour foreign manufacturer also does not have any basis. An answer by Railway minister Piyush Goyal at the Lok Sabha on 27th November states that a total of 160, 240 and 240 coaches of the train will in made at the ICF in 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22. Two rakes of the train have already been put into service in Delhi-Varanasi and Delhi- Sri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra routes.
This is not the first time that malicious reports have been published to allege that the Train 18 production at the ICF is being affected due to investigation of irregularities. Earlier also such claims were made, which were denied by the Railway authorities.