Indian railway minister resigns in bribery scandal

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Associated Press

Posted on May 10, 2013 at 1:33 PM

NEW DELHI (AP) — India's scandal-plagued minority government suffered more damage Friday as the railways minister resigned after a relative was accused of bribery and the law minister was reportedly asked to leave over a coal deal investigation.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has been wracked by controversy in recent years, including troubles surrounding the 2010 Commonwealth Games, a poorly run sale of cellphone rights and mismanaged allocation of coal fields. A splintered coalition has left the Congress party running a minority government less than a year from parliamentary elections.

"Yes, I have resigned," Railways Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal told reporters late Friday after state-run television channel Doordarshan said he handed his resignation to Singh.

The television channel said the Congress party also asked Law Minister Ashwini Kumar to resign after India's top court strongly objected to his rewriting of a draft investigation report to soften its criticism of the government regarding the coal deal.

Federal investigators are probing a deal involving the sale of coal blocks to private companies without competitive bidding.

There was no official confirmation of Kumar's resignation.

Ranjit Sinha, director of Central Bureau of Investigation, submitted an affidavit to the court earlier this week saying that the draft investigative report on the coal allocation scam was vetted by Kumar and other government officials before it was submitted to the court.

In the railway ministry case, opposition leaders allege that Bansal's relatives have enriched themselves by trading on their connections with the minister.

Federal investigators said they have arrested five people, including ministry official Mahesh Kumar, who allegedly paid 9 million rupees ($166,000) to Bansal's nephew Vijay Singla to get a plum appointment to the railway board.

Indian media reports say the money paid was part of a 100 million rupees ($1.85 million) payoff to secure for Kumar the key position with control over awarding huge contracts to private parties for signal and telecom equipment.

Singh's governing coalition splintered after he decided early this year to push through a series of economic reforms, including fuel subsidies and letting in foreign retailers. It is surviving with the support of two powerful regional groups.

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