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China finds scandals under its bullet trains, probe ordered

world Updated: Feb 28, 2011 00:30 IST

Hindustan Times
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China's infrastructure miracle of bullet trains and giant airports — an inspiration to Indian planners and the public is under a cloud of corruption scandals that have exposed the risks of a rapid building boom.

On the day India announced the railway budget, the safety of China's vast new railroad was put under fresh scrutiny with the dismissal of its minister since seven years— Liu Zhijun, who led the expansion of the Chinese railroad into the world's fastest growing network.

In November 2008, Beijing announced the largest-ever high-speed railroad investment to build its economy out of the financial crisis. Starting from its first 30-minute bullet train launched in 2008, China built itself the world's largest high-speed rail network.

The new minister Sheng Guangzu, 62, a former head of customs, has taken charge with a promise to make 'quality and safety' his priority in executing plans to extend the railroad from 91,000 km to 120,000 in 2015.

The NYT recently quoted an insider speculating that concrete bases for the tracks were cheaply made with inadequate hardening agents so that 'trains would be unable to maintain current speeds for more than a few years'.

The fall of the railway minister is the biggest corruption scandal in the Communist Party since former Shanghai communist party chief lost his job in 2006 to an 18-year prison sentence for corruption. Liu's formal exit was timed before the annual session of the Chinese parliament in March. A Xinhua poll ahead of the politically charged season found that 'corruption' and price controls were the top concerns that citizens expect the legislature to address.

Earlier this month, state media revealed irregularities in China's new airports.

The National Audit Office found 10 airports implicated in false accounting, 23 airports finalised projects without public tenders, and several airports functioning without completed environmental studies. In the next five years, China plans to build 45 airports and add 700 commercial planes.

In 2010, China's central government punished 146,517 officials for violations, including the chief of its national nuclear corporation.