Political storm as Bansal kin arrested for bribery (Roundup)

New Delhi/Chandigarh, May 4 (IANS) The Congress-led UPA government was hit by a new crisis Saturday as the nephew of Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal was sent to CBI custody after being arrested for taking Rs.90 lakh in bribe from a senior railway official, triggering opposition calls for the minister’s sacking.

An embattled Bansal pleaded innocence and claimed he had no knowledge of nephew Vijay Singla’s activities even as opposition parties demanded a wider probe into recent postings and award of contracts in the railway ministry, which the Congress has come to head for the first time in decades.

With the opposition still insistent on Law Minister Ashwani Kumar’s sacking for his controversial role in the coal block allocation scandal, the Congress core group met at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s residence in the evening to discuss the situation arising from the embarsassing arrest of Bansal’s nephew.

The sordid saga unfolded Friday night when Central Bureau of Investigation officials swooped on the unsuspecting Singla’s residence in Chandigarh, which is Bansal’s parliamentary constituency, after railway official Mahesh Kumar had allegedly paid the bribe money to a conduit.

Singla, his friend Sandeep Goyal and three othes were arrested in Chandigarh formally after midnight Friday. Simultaneously, Mahesh Kumar, the general manager of Western Railway who was named a member of the Railway Board Thursday, was arrested in Mumbai as he landed from New Delhi.

A court sent Singla, Goyal and two others to four days police custody. The other two accused are identified as Dharmendra Kumar and Vivek Kumar.

Singla, a multi-millionaire businessman from Chandigarh is Bansal’s sister’s son. The fifth arrested person was identified as Manjunath, who acted as a conduit.

Singla was accused of allegedly accepting a bribe of Rs.90 lakh from senior railway officer Mahesh Kumar for his (Kumar’s) appointment as a member of the powerful Railway Board.

Kumar, who tried to cover his face with a handkerchief when he was arrested from Mumbai Friday night, was general manager of Western Railway until he was made a Railway Board member Thursday.

In Chandigarh, the CBI teams raided Singla’s palatial residence in Sector 28 through Friday night. Singla’s residence is located close to the residence of Bansal.

A CBI official said Singla had actually demanded a bribe of Rs.10 crore from the railway official but later agreed to accept Rs.2 crore.

CBI sources said the telephone calls of Singla, Kumar and others were being monitored for the last few days before the CBI decided to make the arrests.

Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal Saturday met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and apprised him of the issue, informed sources said.

With the opposition unrelenting vis-a-vis Ashwani Kumar, the Congress was preparing for a turbulent parliament session Monday.

The arrest of the minister’s nephew triggered calls from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the CPI-M and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) among others for Bansal’s immediate sacking.

CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury and BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad said Bansal had no moral right to continue in office. The BJP also sought Manmohan Singh’s exit. BJP’s Arun Jaitley went to the extent of demanding criminal proceedings against Bansal.

AAP said the minister’s statement that he knew nothing about his nephew’s doings was unsustainable. It demanded an investigation into all recent railway contracts.

The Congress brushed aside BJP’s call for the prime minister’s and Bansal’s resignations, saying the BJP was in the habit of seeking everyone’s resignation. But Yechury warned that the Congress would pay a heavy political price if it brazed out vis-a-vis Bansal as in the earlier case of Ashwani Kumar.

Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi defended Bansal, saying that he had clarified his position and “those demanding his resignation were affected by a disease”.

The Congress Saturday said those who took bribe to ensure the promotion of a railway official will be punished.

“Whoever is the culprit will be punished,” Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi told reporters.

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