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Modi govt sacks MD of bullet train company after Lokpal seeks CBI probe into ‘corruption’

National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited MD Satish Agnihotri appointed in June 2021. Rajendra Prasad, director (projects) at the NHSRCL, to take additional charge as MD.

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New Delhi: The Modi government Thursday sacked Managing Director of the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) Satish Agnihotri, who had a year ago been appointed to the post as a special case and on an out-of-turn basis. 

“The competent authority has approved the termination of office of Satish Agnihotri. He has been directed to be relieved with immediate effect,” read the 7 July letter of the Railway Board, addressed to the company secretary of the NHSRCL, a joint venture of the Government of India and participating state governments for implementing high-speed rail projects.

The letter — accessed by ThePrint — further stated that Rajendra Prasad, who currently holds charge as director (projects) at the NHSRCL, was being directed “to take additional charge as the managing director for a period of three months from the date of assumption of charge or until further orders — whichever earlier”. 

Contacted by ThePrint, Agnihotri refused to comment on the matter. 

Last year, the Railway Board had in a letter dated 10 June approved Agnihotri’s appointment “initially for a period of three years in relaxation to the age and eligibility conditions laid down in the advertisement for the post”. ThePrint has seen the appointment letter. 

The Railway Board’s latest letter did not elaborate on any reason for the sacking order. However, Agnihotri’s termination is being seen as a fallout of the 2 June order of a Lokpal court directing the CBI to probe charges of a “quid pro quo” deal allegedly worked out by Agnihotri with a private company during the former’s earlier nine-year stint as chairman cum managing director of the Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) — a public sector undertaking of the Ministry of Railways.  

The Lokpal court of Justice Abhilasha Kumari had directed the CBI to “ascertain whether any offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 is made out” against Agnihotri, and to submit the investigation report to the office of the Lokpal of India within six months — or before 12 December 2022.

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Allegations of ‘misuse of position’, ‘diverting’ funds

In a complaint submitted last September, it was alleged that two former RVNL officers — Agnihotri and an ex-director (finance) — misused their official position and diverted Rs 1,100 crore (Rs 1,600 crore with interest) in an unauthorised manner to a private company called M/s Krishnapatnam Rail Company Limited (KRCL), a subsidiary of the Navayuga Engineering Company Limited (NECL). 

This resulted in a huge loss to the state exchequer, the complainant further claimed. 

It was alleged that Agnihotri managed to get big contracts awarded by RVNL to NECL in violation of the guidelines of the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). 

It was further alleged that, in violation of government rules relating to a mandatory “cooling-off” period for post-retirement jobs, and on a quid pro quo basis, both Agnihotri and the second official were taken on board at exorbitant salaries and perks by the NECL.

The complainant alleged that Agnihotri received huge amounts “in white” in lieu of kickbacks, when his son and daughter were employed by two companies that acted as consultants of the RVNL. 

Other allegations were that Agnihotri also managed to get his daughter employed in the NECL, and managed to avail the facility of accommodation and other benefits from the private company, even after quitting the NECL and joining the NHSRCL as managing director. 

The complainant had further accused the two officers of manipulating the Performance Related Pay (PRP) applicable to public sector undertakings, as a result of which “they drew more than Rs 1 crore”. 

The Lokpal bench, in its order, requested the DPE to revisit their PRP policy to ensure fair play and forwarded a copy of the order to the DPE and the Ministry of Railways for review. 

With respect to the ex-director (finance), RVNL — referred to as respondent public servant 2 — the bench observed that no further action was required, as there was not enough evidence on record on the allegations of quid pro quo. 

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

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