Bansal pushed out of railway ministry; Kharge likely to take over

Railway Minister Pawan Kumar BansalBeleaguered railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal has finally been forced out of the UPA cabinet and prime minister Manmohan Singh is widely expected to replace him with Mallikarjun Kharage who lost out in the race to head the new government in Karnataka.

Bansal's resignation has been in the air for some days, but the government opted to do it on its own rather than under pressure from the opposition while the Parliament was in session.

Opposition demands for removal of Bansal and la minister Ashwani Kumar had paralysed Parliament, giving the government a chance to cut short its budget session by two days.

The prime minister's move comes after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said it has evidence that suspended Railway Board member Mahesh Kumar had met Pawan Kumar Bansal on 21 April and 2 May, possibly regarding the change of posting as member (electrical) of the Railway Board.

CBI arrested Bansal's nephew Vijay Singla along with Mahesh Kumar and three other middlemen for allegedly trying to fix the deal.

The agency arrested Mahesh Kumar allegedly for carrying Rs90 lakh in cash to be paid as bribe for a plum posting in the Railway Board. Mahesh Kumar, member (staff) of the Railway Board, was also in touch with Bansal's nephew Vijay Singla, according to investigators.

CBI, which later questioned Bansal's private secretary Rahul Bhandari, in connection with the Rs10 crore bribery scandal, also said it wanted to question the railway minister as well.

Meanwhile, the CBI has expanded the probe to include the `cash-for-job' scam involving promotions and recruitments in the Railway Protectiom Force (RPF) as well.

The CBI is reported to have told the prime minister that there was incremental evidence to link Bansal to the cash-for-jobs scam.

Things came in the open with Bansal skipping a meeting of the union cabinet last evening and Congress spokespersons maintaining that government is "seized" of the matter.

Reports, meanwhile, said Bansal has already sent in his resignation to the prime minister and Mallikarjun Kharge, a senior Congress leader from Karnataka, is likely to get the railways portfolio.

The cabinet reshuffle is likely to take place next week.