ail Bhawan currently is buzzing with activity. The loss of lives in the Balasore rail tragedy has come as a painful reminder that safety must remain the topmost priority. Authorities are looking into an electronic track management system that is suspected of failing and causing the deadly train crash. The CBI has also been roped in to investigate suspicions of criminality. Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has pledged stringent punishment for those responsible, but some observers believe that this position assumes that the accident was caused by human error rather than systemic problems with the Railways.
The reasons for the mishap are well known. Ageing tracks, outdated signalling systems and inadequate maintenance procedures persist, despite the government’s focus on launching high-speed trains.
A report from the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), released last year, has detailed the inadequacies and shortfalls and the report strikes a discordant note in the official narrative of rail infrastructure development. The CAG has highlighted an increasing trend towards expenditure on “non-priority works” even as the allotment of funds for track renewal and maintenance has declined sharply.
Fixing accountability in a vast bureaucracy like the Railways is undoubtedly challenging. Though the babus in the Railway Ministry are unlikely to speak at the moment, there is no doubt that there are multiple notes within the Ministry suggesting that increased investments in safety in signalling and a variety of other training programmes are more crucial than many initiatives currently insisted upon by the Ministry on account of the incessant need for inaugurations and publicity events.
A curious contractual rollercoaster
A recent slip-up in the reappointment of Special Protection Group (SPG) chief Arun Kumar Sinha has sparked widespread chatter and raised concerns in babu circles about what it tells us about the functioning of the current government.
The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) uploaded an unusual order stating that Sinha would be re-employed on a contract basis for one year. However, this order was quietly withdrawn and replaced with a new one hours later, extending Sinha’s service as the SPG Director. The ‘corrected’ order ensures Sinha’s continued regular service for one year but failed to specify that it superseded the earlier order. Now, we are being told that the earlier order, of rehiring Sinha on contract, was never issued – it was a draft that was mistakenly uploaded on the DoPT website, even if both orders were signed by the same official and were marked to several government departments, including state chief secretaries.
The likely explanation for this apparent goof-up perhaps lies in a recent gazette notification concerning the SPG Act and the rules that deal with the SPG chief’s appointment. The rules clearly stipulate that the SPG chief must be of additional director general of police rank and that officers of the All India services should be appointed to the SPG under the same terms and conditions applicable to officers of corresponding rank in the Central government. Hiring an officer on a contract basis does not provide them with the same terms and conditions, thus necessitating a modification of the order.
Some observers have noted that perhaps the DoPT babus are not yet familiar with these rules, given that they were only framed recently, 35 years after the inception of the SPG Act in 1988!
Babus clash in Delhi heritage demolition case
The recent controversy surrounding the alleged demolition of a heritage structure for the construction of former Delhi Jal Board (DJB) CEO Udit Prakash Rai’s official residence has highlighted a division within the capital’s babus. Rai has accused Special Secretary (Vigilance) YVVJ Rajasekhar, a 2012-batch IAS officer, of harassment as he oversees the probe against Rai. He also claims that the action against him is politically motivated.
Rajasekhar, on the other hand, maintains that the investigation is based on documentary evidence and that everything is properly recorded. Rajasekhar is busy investigating the alleged Delhi liquor scam and corruption allegations related to the renovation of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s residence. Rai has reportedly sent copies of his complaint to Lt Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena, chief minister Kejriwal and Union Home Secretary AK Bhalla, among others.
According to sources, Rai has suffered a major setback in his fight to reclaim his innocence, with a joint inspection report by the Archaeology Department and the DJB confirming the demolition of a medieval heritage monument, adding weight to the allegations against him. The accusations of harassment need to be viewed in this context. The clash of claims and counterclaims has created an undesirable rift within Delhi’s babudom and is likely to be seen through the lens of politics.
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