CHENNAI (Metro Rail News): Against the backdrop of a vigilance probe into the manufacture of the country’s first indigenously manufactured train set, Train 18, at Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai, the Railway Board has decided to import 60 train sets (960 coaches) from global manufacturers at more than double the cost required to manufacture Train-18 by ICF, sources said.
A senior railway official said, at a conservative estimate, including 10-year maintenance cost, the total allocation would be between Rs 20,000 crore and Rs 35,000 crore, officials said.
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“Train 18 was manufactured at Rs 100 crore. Nobody was willing to bid for Train 20 at even Rs 200 crore. So, the minimum cost for the imported train sets will be Rs 250 crore”.
Board officials are of the view that production units like ICF should not be involved in the procurement of train sets as they aren’t mandated to do so. Officials also cited the irregularities in the Train 20 tender, which the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP) objected to.
The move to import train sets comes after top railway officials involved in the Train 18 manufacture at ICF including former general manager Sudhanshu Mani have been questioned in a vigilance case pertaining to Train 18 and Train 20.
This has also put brakes on manufacture, despite the first two rakes running non-stop on the Delhi-Varanasi and Delhi-Katra routes. The board is of the opinion that its engineering arm and public sector unit RITES would be the procurement agency for the acquisition of 60 train sets, sources said.
Train 18 is India’s first indigenously manufactured locomotive-less train with high-end features while Train 20 was a project to procure better train sets from foreign manufacturers, which did not take off.
Another senior railway official told that the procurement would also not be according to rules. Rule 704 of the Indian Railway Stores Code, which deals with purchases, states that coaches can only be procured by the Railway Board itself and not any other agency.
“This would make procurement by RITES an irregularity,” said the official. The code is subordinate legislation that is presented in Parliament but is not voted upon. Incidentally, the same code was cited by the Railway Board’s vigilance wing to question the Train 20 tender floated by ICF when Mani was the general manager.
Mani, former chief mechanical engineer of ICF LC Trivedi and former chief accounts officer have been asked to fill in a questionnaire by the vigilance wing on how they ‘approved the tender for purchase of train sets when as per the store’s code only the Railway Board was authorized to do it’.
When contacted, a senior official in the board accepted there was ‘a horrible controversy’ around the train set issue and that it had opened a Pandora’s box. “ICF has not been able to manufacture the third rake due to the vigilance case and other issues,” the official said, requesting anonymity. However, the official said he did not want to clarify on the issue of import of train-sets.
A few officials who have worked at ICF said this ‘crippling’ situation of ICF and other production units has become a tool to justify imports. “Had ICF been allowed to go ahead with the manufacture of the same design of Train 18 at least six more trains would have been turned out by now,” one official said. The situation may have a disastrous effect on the development of indigenous technology.