The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Nitish raises rail board storm

New Delhi, June 17: If railway minister Nitish Kumar’s discomfiture, politically speaking, adds to his predecessor Mamata Banerjee’s comfort level, she may now have reason to smile.

Kumar, who took charge of railways after Mamata quit and refused to vacate the seat when she wanted to return, has again come under a cloud after his controversial decision to bifurcate Eastern Railway.

This time, Kumar detractors are neither Trinamul leaders nor rebels in the Samata Party, but railway officials.

The minister’s decision to appoint R. K. Singh, general manager (Northern Railway), a fellow Kurmi, as chairman of the railway board, superseding several senior members, has raised a storm in the board.

With speculation rife over another Cabinet reshuffle to accommodate Mamata before the monsoon session of Parliament in mid-July, the controversy has acquired political overtones in the wake of reports that the railway board has been given more powers to take decisions without consulting the minister.

Three officials have written to the Cabinet secretary, saying they would rather quit than serve under a “junior officer”. The Cabinet secretariat has sought clarifications from the ministry.

There are seven members in the board and, sources say, a few other senior officials, too, are livid with the minister’s move.

Recently, two Samata MPs — Raghunath Jha and Brahmanand Mandal — had written to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee alleging “corrupt” practices in the ministry.

But sources close to Kumar said he wanted to streamline the functioning of the board. The minister has also expressed unhappiness with the performance of several members in the wake of a spate of accidents in recent months. The sources said most incumbents have been accused of lacking “vision” and “drive”.

R.K. Singh will enjoy a two-year stint in the board if appointed chairman, whereas the others in line of seniority have either three or two months to go. To bolster his case, Kumar resurrected a 1987 rule framed by the late Madhavrao Scindia, which said the new chairman and members should be given a minimum term of two years.

Kumar, considered a headstrong politician, is unlikely to succumb to pressure. Sources said he can bank on deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani, with whom he is on good terms. The Advani camp is believed to have played a role in keeping Mamata out of Vajpayee’s Cabinet.

Sources said Kumar’s office will reply to the Cabinet secretariat only after consulting the deputy Prime Minister, who is expected here by the weekend after his foreign trip.

Although Kumar has endeared himself to the RSS and Advani by being silent on the list of victims of the Godhra massacre for more than four months after the tragedy occurred, the BJP leadership in Bihar is livid with him for his alleged “link” with RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav.

The state BJP leaders have complained to the party high command that he has deliberately kept the party’s leaders out of all recent inaugurations of railway projects, though he had invited Laloo Yadav.

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