M A I N   N E W S

Bansal skips Cabinet meet; govt downplays his absence
Ashwani Kumar attends meeting Fate of ministers uncertain
Aditi Tandon/ TNS

New Delhi, May 9
Questions about the fate of beleaguered Railway Minister Pawan Bansal and Law Minister Ashwani Kumar continued to be raised today with the former skipping the Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his Race Course Residence this evening. Kumar was, however, present at the meeting.

The Government for its part defended Bansal’s absence making it sound was a routine matter. “There was no Rail Ministry agenda. So the Minister’s absence is alright,” said Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari after the Cabinet meeting. Asked whether any decision had been taken on the fate of Bansal, Tewari said, “Let the investigation in the matter culminate.”

Importantly, Law Minister Ashwani Kumar attended the Cabinet meeting even though there was no Law Ministry agenda. Earlier in the day he went to the PMO but when asked if he discussed the Supreme Court observations on coalgate with the Prime Minister, Kumar said, “I did not even meet the PM.”

Supreme Court had yesterday directed the CBI not to share any report in the future with the Law Minister. Government sources said the SC observations were not in the nature of an indictment of Kumar and were only normative.

AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh also defended Kumar saying, “SC has not indicted the Law Minister. It has only made certain observations.”

With Kumar’s fate being delinked from that of Bansal, party sources said the greater pressure on the Government was in respect of Bansal, whose nephew is in judicial custody for taking bribes in exchange of plum railway postings.

“The two matters are different. While one involves propriety, the other involves corruption,” said a Congress leader adding that if the CBI questioned Bansal which seemed likely, it would become untenable for the Government to retain him in Cabinet.

There were again reports suggesting that the Government might go in for a Cabinet rejig to address the twin issues of Bansal and Kumar with the latter likely to be rotated to another ministry.

There was no official confirmation of the move though UPA sources said it was a strong possibility considering a reshuffle was in any case due.

Meanwhile, fresh allegations today surfaced about loan worth several crores being granted by a PSU bank to firms owned by Bansal’s family. The catch: Sunil Kumar Gupta was on the board of directors of Canara Bank and also Chartered Accountant of Bansal’s family.

Gupta became non-official director of Canara Bank in 2007 when Bansal was MoS Finance. Three years later, he became a shareholder director who can influence loans in a bank.

Allegedly, within four months of his appointment, he extended loans worth Rs 50 crore to businesses owned by Bansal’s family members.

Reports also emerged that the meeting between Vijay Singla and Mahesh Kumar, who paid him bribe for a plum post, allegedly took place at Bansal’s Delhi residence.

Meanwhile, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has sought a detailed report from the CBI over the Centre's interference in its investigation into the coal blocks allocation scam. The CBI has also been asked to submit its latest status report on the case to the Commission, official sources said today, adding the CVC has taken cognizance of reports citing interference in CBI's probe in the coal blocks allocation case.

The move came after it came to light that certain changes were made in the agency's draft status report on the case submitted to the SC.

Judicial custody for Singla

PK Bansal's nephew Vijay Singla, Mahesh Kumar, the suspended Railway Board member, and three other accused -- Singla's close aide Ajay Garg, businessman Sandeep Goyal and Managing Director of GG Tronics India Pvt Ltd, Narain Rao Manjunath, were remanded in judicial custody till May 20 by a Delhi court. The agency said since the allegations against the accused are serious in nature and they are influential persons, they should be remanded in judicial custody.

Bansal’s PS quizzed

The CBI on Friday questioned Rahul Bhandari, Bansal’s private secretary. Bhandari reached the CBI headquarters in the morning and was confronted with his telephonic conversations with Singla, which are understood to be related to Kumar’s elevation in the Railway Board and his chances of becoming Member (Electrical), CBI sources said.

Bansal must go: JD-U

Changing his earlier stance, JD-U chief Sharad Yadav on Friday asked Bansal to tender his resignation over the railway bribery case as Opposition protests grew louder against the minister's continuation. Yadav also hit out at the government for not taking any action against Law Minister Ashwani Kumar.



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