Rahul Bhandari, personal secretary to railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and a 1997-batch IAS officer of the Punjab cadre who was questioned by the CBI in connection with the cash-for-job scandal in the railways on Thursday, came in contact with Bansal through the minister's nephew, Vijay Singla, if sources in the Congress are to be believed.
This claim is contrary to the perception that Bhandari (40) came close to Singla through the minister.
Congress sources said the relationship between Singla and Bhandari dates back to 2000 when Bhandari was the Barnala sub-divisional magistrate. Their friendship continued even after Bhandari was transferred to other places in Punjab.
Sources in the party said Singla played a vital role in getting Bhandari appointed as the Bathinda deputy commissioner in 2005, a post that he occupied for more than two years. They said Singla also introduced Bhandari to Bansal and recommended his name for the post of personal secretary to the minister. Bhandari took over as Bansal's personal secretary when Bansal was the parliamentary affairs and water resources minister.
Singla, who belongs to an industrialist family, hails from Malout in Bathinda district. Bansal's roots are in Tapa Mandi, a small town in Barnala district. Bansal's father Pyare Lal Aggarwal had served as the Tapa Mandi municipal committee president for a long time. Members of Bansal's extended family are still based in Tapa.
Bhandari was sent on central deputation in June 2009 and will continue to serve there till June 2014. According to party sources, Bhandari and Singla used to often meet each other at Rail Bhawan in Delhi.
Bhandari also remained the SAS Nagar deputy commissioner from May 2008 to January 2009. Prior to this, he held the charge of joint development commissioner, integrated rural development, Punjab.
Bhandari's wife Rakhi Gupta Bhandari is also a Punjab-cadre IAS officer of the 1997 batch. His father-in-law Dr VK Gupta was a 1965-batch Indian Revenue Service officer. Rakhi Bhandari is also on central deputation since May 2010 and will continue to serve with the Centre till November 2015.
She was the personal secretary to the power and railway ministers before being posted as personal secretary to the minister for drinking water and sanitation in October last year.