The Daily Star got a long, animated response from Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan on why the ministry overlooked the recommendations of its own probe report on 21 officials.
He spoke to Tuhin Shubhra Adhikary at his Rail Bhaban office on February 3.
TDS: The probe report was submitted to the ministry on November 5 last year. No action was taken against the officials found involved in the irregularities. Why?
Nurul Islam Sujan: Yes, no action was taken. We are observing the situation. We have given immediate orders to keep train operations running. Everything was vulnerable [during the pandemic]. In that case, they [the probe committee] are saying that some corruption, irregularities took place.
Irregularities have taken place, for sure. We have sent it [the probe report] to the DG [director general of Bangladesh Railway] for his opinion. We will see once we get the DG's opinion.
TDS: In the meantime, one of these officials got a promotion and the process for another's is ongoing.
Nurul Islam Sujan: The allegations labelled against them are not considerable. We have evaluated these [allegations], they are not considerable. An allegation does not mean an offence.
TDS: But the probe committee recommended taking action against them.
Nurul Islam Sujan: Yes, recommendations were made to us for taking action. We will see the recommendations and the ground reality too. We will give our decision. We have sought papers from the DG. We will take the final decision after getting it.
We had to do many things on an emergency basis. We were asked to ready the Railway General Hospital [as a dedicated Covid-19 hospital] and we did so, spending Tk 70-80 lakh… We continued rail operations.
When the number of infections rose, we were asked to supply PPE [personal protective equipment] and masks. Such materials vanished from the market. A Tk 10 mask might have been bought at Tk 20. Should we consider this? Per piece mask is now [selling] at Tk 0.40.
We have to consider the situation. We were given directives to buy those immediately. So, some cheap issues were raised before us -- on why we didn't take action against them. We understand this…. They [the probe committee] have given recommendations but they might not be aware of the situation.
For example, the ADG (RS) [additional director general/rolling stock] was not involved in procurement. He has just given approval. It may constitute an offence if I give an order or approval to something that is beyond my jurisdiction. But how can this constitute an offence if I give approval to something that my subordinate can?"
TDS: But they have called tenders in small lots and procured some materials even before tenders were floated.
Nurul Islam Sujan: Sometimes, you have to do it before the tender. You have to accomplish the work. If guests come to your home, you buy something for them and later make the payment.
TDS: But is this happening during every tender process?
Nurul Islam Sujan: It happens in many cases. It happens during an emergency. I have to install the screw fast if a train remains idle because of it. The law is for people to prevent corruption. But you have to consider both the facts and the circumstances.
TDS: The probe committee recommended barring these officials from the procurement process.
Nurul Islam Sujan: This is very a cheap thing they recommended, in taking action against these 21. Then, my railway will stop operating. Everything will get shut down. Who will take responsibility? If train operations shut down due to the lack of an engine, who will take the responsibility? Will you?
You will then report that this is a failed ministry.