According to reports, Mahesh Kumar, a highly efficient railway officer was not satisfied with his current posting as Member (Staff) in Railway Board, the highest decision-making body in Indian Railways. He wanted a more lucrative post---Member (Electrical) whose say is crucial while rolling out private contracts amounting to thousands of crores of rupees. Kumar who is now in CBI custody allegedly agreed to pay Rs 10 crore through his associates of railway contractors to minister Pawan Kumar Bansal’s nephew. And Rs 90 lakh that was recovered by CBI is said to be a mere advance payment of the alleged bribe.
Now, let’s come to the core point. Is a secretary-level post up for sale? The answer is “no”. Yes, lobbying does take place at the highest level of bureaucracy as well. It’s also true that there are examples of less-deserving candidates cornering plum posts. Sometime, a highly efficient bureaucrat who could potentially be a trouble-maker for the establishment ends up getting a less important ministry. But mind it, once an officer is empaneled as a secretary, he or she will invariably get a secretary-level post.
Unlike what's said in some of the media commentaries post-Mahesh Kumar episode, a bribe can’t ensure a “lucrative” secretary-level post. There could be an exception, but it's not a trend as yet. Nor will a secretary-empanelled officer like to be duped by a contractor claiming that he has enough contacts to influence decisions of Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC).
Also, if a secretary-level post is sold at Rs 10 crore each, most bureaucrats would have ended up their career as an additional secretary. And a corrupt cabinet secretary would have been worth a thousand crore if you do a quick back-of-the envelop calculation of bribe amounts multiplied by number of secretary-level posts. Those who know the inside of the corridors well will tell you confidently, it does not happen this way. Yes, the ACC is not always supreme (forget the theory for a moment), as ministers particularly the heavyweight ones have a direct say, at least unofficially, who they want as their secretaries. But the scope for political influence in appointing a secretary is very limited.
For the record, the ACC is headed by the Prime Minister, and in all practical purposes, the secretary-level appointments are made by cabinet secretary in consultation with principal secretary to PM. Till now, bribery has not found its way in high-level appointments and UPSC recruitment.
So the question will arise how come then Mahesh Kumar’s alleged bid to get a key post by bribing his minister’s close relative surface at all? In all probability, this is the result of a phase of uncertainty that Indian Railways has been going through recently. During the last four year, the organization with 1.4 million employees has witnessed four ministers including sacking of one, clear political influence and interferences in bureaucratic decisions, erosion of its revenue and a possible financial crunch in near future. And under these circumstances, a shrewd officer and his few contractor friends must have discovered a jugaad, only to lead them to jail.