(An Open Letter to Ms Mamata Banerjee, the Hon’ble Minister for Railways)
7C, Block D, Ideal Towers
57, DH Road, Kolkata-23.
Dated: 28th Feb, 2011
I thought you were a great leader. So you are. You fought for the helpless and the deprived. You fought successfully. You always showed great concern for the poor and the downtrodden. You seemed to have a lot of promise, at least to me.
Soon after taking over as Minister for Railways, you summarily replaced chairmen of all the 20 Railway Recruitment Boards handpicking the new incumbents. The worst ever recruitment scam in the history of Indian Railways followed. That was the first lesson for you – ‘a great political leader and a great administrator/executive are two totally different things.’ But unfortunately you chose not to learn. You stated in parliament that Railway procurement and scrap disposal were plagued with corruption. You reiterated your concern in GMs conference that followed. By these utterances you made one believe that it was your priority to cleanse these areas of Railway working. But when the departmental Head responsible for these areas of working (a man of impeccable integrity) initiated action in this regard through scathing inspection report of Belur Scrap Yard of Eastern Railway and taking a professionally correct stand in a tender case for procurement of wagons in Railway Board (against your wishes?), you overnight removed him from his post in an unprecedented action against all established norms, forcing him to take voluntary retirement. Result – rendering the department responsible for annual procurement worth about Rs. 30000 crores and scrap disposal worth above Rs. 3500 crores effectively headless and totally backbone-less, with great detriment to the organization whose charge you are holding through our votes.
You had won the elections with overwhelming votes in favour of your party. You had the power. Why to blame you if in that power-drunk state of mind, you, as other leaders of your time, also forgot that you owed your power to the poor, the downtrodden. They had reposed their faith in you to administer fairly and competently and to work for their betterment. Instead of acting as a trustee that you and your colleague ministers are, you also chose to act as an autocrat, much more whimsical than any of your colleagues. Largely dedicated workforce of Indian Railways is shattered with their morale at an all time low. Self-austerity could be virtue for an individual but doesn’t help an organization that could be benefited only through good governance and positive corrective actions to plug all-round daylight loot. ‘Railway Samachar’ has been bringing out how there is total chaos in the Railways under you. Thank God, still honest, true and bold journalism is alive in India though mostly we come across nothing but sycophancy in the name of journalism, even by the renowned journalists.
I was another fool who got misguided and misled by your public proclamations. I did some hard work to bring to your notice how avoidable leakage to the tune of Rs. 5000 crores per annum was taking place in Railway procurement and how through simple corrective steps it could be plugged effectively. You and top Railway bureaucracy under you assigned it to dustbin exactly as the report on oil mafia in Maharashtra was assigned to dustbin 15 years back and remained so assigned all these years. It required an officer to be brutally burnt and killed in broad daylight for everyone including officer preparing it and the media to wake up to it. But in this case, soon enough ‘The Statesman’ brought the issue out in four parts telling the nation about loss of Rs 50000 crores in last decade, followed by a perspective article ‘Will Didi slay the Railway demon?’ Now you had to bother, at least for public consumption. An enquiry/investigation had to be ordered. You did so. However the real message was not addressed and the messenger was shot. I was transferred to a farthest location unceremoniously. Politician in you was at its very best. Publicly you were praising the reports in ‘The Statesman’ while in private you were overseeing the victimization of the officer who knowingly/unknowingly had sowed the seed for these reports. The editor of ‘The Statesman’ urged you to act against this victimization through his editorial ‘Mamata must act’ but you didn’t. Instead of slaying the demon, didi had fallen prey to it.
You had been presented with a great historical opportunity. You had only to desire and saving of thousands of crores of rupees per year in Indian Railways was there for the taking. (If your advisors couldn’t, I was always there to tell you how. But sitting at a very high pedestal, you didn’t consider it worthwhile even to meet me). That huge saving would have been just in one area of working. Madam, goodness is more contagious than evil. Your one corrective action would have inspired and activated the other well-meaning but dormant forces in the organization as well, resulting in further saving/earning of thousands of crores of rupees through stemming of the rot in the other departments. Then you wouldn’t have had to go to the Finance Minister with a begging bowl as has been necessitated now.
And who knows if as a chain-action, this goodness in due course would have encompassed the whole government that is today reeling under anarchy to the horror of the whole nation. But alas! When it mattered most, you also chose to be a part of and party to the rot (misguided by your advisers on Railways?), having promised so much the opposite.
The nation is disappointed in you but you are not bothered, feeling well entrenched through your knowledge that the poor voters of West Bengal, your political base, will never understand these things that how you had been leading a mammoth organization, the Indian Railways, to disaster. (Apart from Railway Samachar, India Today and CNN-IBN have also very recently reported that once profitable Railways are fast approaching bankruptcy during your short tenure). These poor voters having unflinching faith in you will probably be further befooled by the foundation laying and inaugurations by you and your lieutenants almost on daily basis in the state of West Bengal, and the populist proclamations being made by you as and when the opportunity is there. Or at least you and your cronies believe so.
You must be wondering who am I to dare to write to you in this way. I am simply invoking my power as a ‘citizen of India’ and Hon’ble Minister madam, you are answerable to citizens like me, more than to anyone else. So I believe. Please do note that I am apolitical lest you should attempt to dismiss this also as a conspiracy of the Left. Whatever Nira Radias, the media moguls, the corporate big-wigs, the top bureaucrats or the powerful ministers may think, the power of truth is the ultimate power. Unfortunately, in the land of Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi, we have forgotten it.
I know that basic problem lies with me for which none other than God is responsible. He designed my birth in this country but didn’t equip me with faculties to be able to understand the ways of this great country. He equipped me with commonsense but not commonsense enough for me to understand that commonsense was an evil and not a virtue for bureaucrats and bureaucracy in this country. He didn’t make me comprehend how leaders posing to be too concerned for the poor could knowingly allow continuous leakage of thousands and thousands of crores of public money and why they won’t take action to stop the loot and recover the looted amount that they could readily take. He didn’t make me understand how just being a Prime-Minister or a Minister could be a virtue.
My problem is that I have not yet been murdered, a distinct possibility for one exposing the powerful cartels perennially looting thousands of crores of public money. Had I been murdered, probably you would have publicly expressed condolence to my bereaved family, and ordered payment of my dues and family pension to them. You might have also awarded me posthumously. Had I been murdered, our alert media also would have taken note of the issue at least once to give them a news item for a day or two before forgetting the continuing loot as much more important issues like eating and sleeping habits of celebrities would always be beckoning them. Probably you and bureaucracy under you are just awaiting that? Since in the meantime they are carrying on the would-be murderers’ job themselves by making my life as troublesome as possible. Of course, public awards in the largest democracy of the world have to be reserved for those in proximity with the powerful ones.
What else is my problem? Continuing huge leakage of public money in Railway procurement? It is true that every Railway officer who is aware of the issue, including the Board members, knows that the facts brought out by me are that- facts – and that the amount of leakage estimated by me is an understatement rather than an overstatement. It is true that still everyone is continuing with the policies and actions that support the loot. It is also true that you, the Minister, one person ultimately responsible to plug the loot of public money, have chosen to do nothing to save thousands of crores of rupees year after year that could be utilized for the uplift of the poor for whom crocodile tears are shed day in and day out and whose votes give our leaders the power for them to use or abuse. Still the leakage is not my major concern today. If the Railway administration doesn’t feel concerned, if the people of India, their elected representatives, the known public activists and crusaders, and strangely the media at large – all have deemed avoidable and ever increasing annual loss of Rs five to ten thousand crores to be a matter of no consequence and importance, why should I lose my sleep over it? Or how my loosing sleep could help in a country of one billion plus hell bent on proving Winston Churchill a prophet for the scathing comments by him about our future leaders at the time of India gaining freedom? I do, however, feel bad as my heart does bleed for the poor and the deprived.
But madam, my victimization has to be my concern only. And so it is. That’s why this letter. You who gave slogan ‘Maa, Maati, Maanus’, decided not to pay any heed to my representations against my victimization. You forgot I was also a human-being as you were and had a family to look after. Yes, I have to pay the price for having been born in this country. But as the concerned Minister it is you who are personally responsible, more than anyone else, not only for continuing mammoth leakage and plunder of public money, but also for my victimization first through transfer and now through non payment of my outstanding dues including salary for months, my retirement dues, and monthly pension, maintaining absolute silence for above three months now since I retired voluntarily after having given due notice. Let us not forget the inevitable. Death awaits us all.
It is true that I could seek judicial redress and in all probability I shall have to do that, but has the governance deficit, now being publicly worried about by the stalwarts of the society, to reach such a level that public servants acting in public interest are starved by the government and even for basic and fundamental things one has to rush to already over-burdened courts?
Being a poet myself, I fail to understand how the artist in you could allow the torture being caused to one having acted in public interest by the boneless Railway administration. While the Prime Minister is publicly proclaiming resolve of his government to root out corruption, administration under you is openly working overtime to root out those who have been sacrificing themselves in fighting the far bigger menace of ‘institutional corruption’ from within - the real thing in contrast to mouthing of idle words. What a way to root out corruption! The joke in the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s claims stands out.
Still I hope the poet in you will start breathing again and good sense will soon prevail. You will be able to free yourself from the clutches of self-serving and rudderless bureaucracy and resurrect the true leader in you. I do hope that you for one will prove Churchill wrong. Soon, to our delight, we, the citizens of India, will see Didi overpowering and slaying the demon!
Wishing you all the best for the coming assembly elections,
(Ex-COS/Metro Railway, Kolkata
a citizen of India)