A case of 'conflict of interest' seems to be playing out in the Railways.
Member Mechanical, Arunendra Kumar - who holds charge as the additional Chairman, Railway Board (CRB) - is himself a candidate for the top job. In this capacity, he will be required to fulfill a bizarre and a constitutionally untenable function: Of seeking ACC approval for his own candidature for the post of full-time CRB.
Established governmental norms are that a civil servant cannot be a part of a tender or a selection committee in a case involving even a close relative. Can the government permit a civil servant to process his own proposal for promotion?
Kumar was the senior-most officer on the panel of General Manager's (GM), but a junior to two other Board members in terms of the date of joining the Railway Board. Therefore, the decision to empower him with "looking after" charges as the acting CRB was inexplicable.
Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) norms since 2003 are that a candidate for the CRB's job must fulfill the twin norms of having one year experience as an open line General Manager, with two years residual service remaining. In order of seniority, three officers fulfill this criteria: RS Virdhi, GM of Northeast Frontier Railway; AK Mittal, GM, South West Railways and VK Gupta, GM, Northern Railways.
In the pre-2003 situation, the senior-most Board member was promoted as the CRB. "Kumar fulfills neither the pre-2003 nor the post-2003 norms, but is placed in an advantageous situation of having access to the movement of ACC files in his capacity as the acting CRB," sources point out.
Such a predicament might have been avoided, if the charge as acting CRB had been given to any of the two members: Member (Electrical) Kulbhushan, the senior-most among the board members; or Member Engineering Subodh Jain, who is not in the race for the CRB's job.
But since this was not done, the only option open for the government to avoid a conflict of interests and ensure a fair and just appointment of the new CRB seems this: To direct the Cabinet secretary to formulate the proposal for appointment of CRB without involving the interim Chairman Railway Board.
The buzz about town is that the Cabinet secretariat has already moved a file to the PMO to post a technically competent candidate from non-Railway services as the CRB.