Why was India's bullet train project chief Satish Agnihotri sacked?
The Indian Railways has terminated the services of Satish Agnihotri as the Managing Director of the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL), following corruption charges against him, NDTV reported. Agnihotri was in charge of the government's prestigious bullet train project. Now, Rajendra Prasad, NHSRCL's Director of Projects, has been handed over the charge for three months, as per officials.
Senior railway officials accused Agnihotri of abusing his official position and unlawfully diverting funds to a private company. They stated the decision to sack him was made after a Lokpal court ruling on June 2. The court instructed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe Agnihotri's alleged deal with a private company during his nine-year term as Rail Vikas Nigam Limited's (RVNL) CMD.
Agnihotri is a 1982-batch Indian Railway Service of Engineers (IRSE) officer. He joined NHSRCL in July 2021. Earlier, he was the chairman and managing director (CMD) of RVNL. With over 20 years of experience in the implementation of mega rail infrastructure projects, Agnihotri also served as the Chairman of High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (HSRC), a fully owned subsidiary of RVNL, for six years.
Last month, the Lokpal court had asked the CBI to investigate the matter under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, and submit its report within six months or before December 12, 2022. "The competent authority has approved the termination of office of Satish Agnihotri. He has been directed to be relieved with immediate effect," the Railway Board said in a letter on Thursday.
Officials also alleged Agnihotri took up a job in a private firm in violation of government rules, which prohibit retired officials from accepting commercial employment before one year of retirement without the Centre's approval. He retired as RVNL CMD in 2018 and was appointed as NHSRCL's MD in 2021 for three years with a relaxation of the age/eligibility criteria advertised for the post.
One of Agnihotri's batchmates reportedly complained against him after he was appointed to head the NHSRCL, which is in charge of developing the government's ambitious Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project. Meanwhile, Agnihotri has denied all allegations against him and said he had not favored any private company during his RVNL tenure and neither did his son work in any firm that bagged such works.