Corruption in railway: Will irregularities in procurement and recruitment continue? 

According to a Prothom Alo report, the lifting jack used to lift the wheels of a derailed train or a rail track that has sunken into the ground costs Tk 19,000 to import from India. Yet the railway authorities have brought this equipment from the contractors for Tk 300,000. It has purchased 12 pieces of such equipment.  

Similarly, a Tk 65,000 drilling machine has been purchased for Tk 965,600. It is 15 times higher than the market price. They bought another machine called cutting disc at 8 times the market price.  

The office of the Track Supply Officer (TSO) of the railway’s East Zone (Chattogram) has purchased 28 items of machinery at Tk 20 million. The actual market cost of these items of machinery is Tk 1.85 million (Tk 18.5 lakh). The government’s Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) submitted a report in June this year concerning these irregularities in these purchases made in the financial year 2018-19. 

Another report shows, the district controller of stores office (R&I department) of the railway’s East Zone in Chattogram misappropriated a total of Tk 26.2 million (Tk 2 crore 62 lakh) in the name of purchasing goods for the repair of a room of this office. 

There have been irregularities in West zone purchase as well. An office of the railway’s West Zone purchased a Tk 280 pipe wrench for Tk 8,475. The store controllers’ office of the Railway West Zone (Rajshahi) purchased various items including insecticide for 2 to 5 times the actual price. 

Serious allegations of corruption and irregularities have arisen within the railways, not only in procurement but also in recruitment. In 2017, a case was filed against five individuals for corruption related to the recruitment of 185 positions for sepoy class IV. It is alleged that the accused were part of the constable recruitment committee. 

Candidates eligible under the freedom fighters and dependents quota were reportedly marked as failing the oral examination, while preferred candidates were given the posts. Furthermore, division quota, district quota, dependent quota, and other quota rules were not properly adhered to. Anger and concerns about corruption and irregularities in the railway have been raised on multiple occasions during meetings of the Standing Committee of the Parliament. 

Railway Minister Nurul Islam frequently informs the public about new railway projects. However, despite reports in the media detailing corruption and wastage in these projects, no action is taken. In December of last year, the minister personally issued DO letters (semi-official letters) to the Public Administration Ministry to promote two railway officials. It also raises questions whether DO letters can be sent in favor of officials from one's own ministry.

The announcement of a new railway line crossing the Padma Bridge is a cause for celebration. However, a significant concern lingers: why have concrete measures not been taken to address the ongoing irregularities and corruption in two vital railway sectors, procurement and the recruitment process? 

Also Read

In 2013, former railway minister Suranjit Sengupta vowed to eradicate corruption within the railways, symbolically pledging to "kill the black cats." Regrettably, his tenure was marred by corruption allegations, forcing his resignation. Despite subsequent changes in railway ministers, corruption and irregularities persisted. 

The current minister may distance himself from the past, but a critical question remains: How will he avoid responsibility for the irregularities in railway procurement, recruitment, and promotions since 2019?