The Railway Board is all set to be overhauled. Last month, the cabinet gave its nod to restructure the apex decision-making body of the Indian Railways (IR), a reformist move that could bring in nimbleness and corporate work ethics to the sarkari transport behemoth.

According to the cabinet decision, four of the eight permanent board members will be dispensed with; experts with 30 years’ experience will be brought in as independent members; and the chairman will be redesignated as the chief executive officer (CEO).

Crucially, the IR will now have just one cadre, the Indian Railway Management Service (IRMS), which could at one stroke end the long history of rivalry among the eight services, thereby unlocking stalled projects and ushering in innovation and expansion.

The target of the latest reform is apparent: the government transporter, which ferries 23 million passengers a day, must pick up speed instead of just chugging along.

Explaining the rationale behind the government’s move, Railway Board chairman Vinod Kumar Yadav told ET Magazine that the servicewise split on the board, with each member holding on to her turf, had become a major hurdle in the Railways’ expansion. “A member’s viewpoint, in the present set-up, is considered final as far as her department is concerned. The chairman only coordinates inter-departmental issues and takes some policy decisions. At times, such a division of power at the board level is detrimental to the Railways’ growth,” says Yadav, whose tenure has been extended by one year till December 31, 2020, paving the way for his becoming IR’s first CEO.


For example, no one would contest that IR should electrify its routes, discarding more and more diesel locomotives, but the railway data shows that there are still about 6,000 diesel locos as against 5,600 electric engines. It also has to be noted that the Indian Railway Service of Electrical Engineers (IRSEE) with 1,074 officers still lags behind the 1,349-officer-strong Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineers (IRSME). Hypothetically, if the board member representing mechanical engineers does not agree with a suggestion to downsize its cadre, it could stonewall IR’s larger goal of pan-India electrification.

Even the indigenously designed Train 18 project, which has so far rolled out only two semi-high speed Vande Bharat Express trains, faced inter-departmental hurdles, officials say. Former general manager of Integral Coach Factory and the man behind the project, Sudhanshu Mani, says the decision-making at the board often faces hurdles because of departmentalism. “Now, the chairman of the railway board will not just be first among the equals; he will be a true CEO at whose desk the buck will stop,” says Mani, welcoming the move.

Goodbye to compartments

So, what’s next? A group of ministers (GoM), likely to be headed by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, is expected to settle two things in the next three months — one, how to combine eight services with specialisations such as electrical, electronics, mechanical, accounting, personnel et al; and two, finalise the modality of recruiting new IRMS probationers.

Officials say the IR is weighing the possibility of recruiting both engineers and nonengineers through the Union Public Service Commission’s common civil services examination, which also selects officers for the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service, Indian Revenue Service, etc. This means the Engineering Services Examination, which selects officers for five out of eight railway services, will become redundant. IR will now provide the UPSC with its exact requirement of engineers, e.g. for electrical and mechanical. The UPSC, will, in turn, choose them from candidates having those as optional subjects.

The government, it’s learnt, may also make it mandatory to select non-engineers — e.g. for accounting, traffic and personnel — from a few disciplines such as economics and commerce, restricting the entry of recruits with optional subjects such as history, political science, sociology, among others. However, this will have to wait till the GoM takes a final call.


What will immediately come into effect is the restructuring of the board, which includes appointments of only four members — for infrastructure, operations and business development, rolling stock and finance. Also, the IR will be allowed to have independent members with 30 years of experience in the fields of industry, finance, economics and management. The formal designation of the CEO will also happen soon. The reforms have sent a large section of the 8,401 railway officers into a tizzy. They are concerned about a likely shrinking of their promotional avenues. The officers, who have refused to come on record on this, say they are waiting for the government’s final notification which will have the fine print. For now, what seems clear is that each of those 8,401 will be an IRMS officer.

There’s a silver lining. Though the government’s move to trim the Railway Board has made redundant four member posts that are equivalent to secretary of GoI, the IR will gain, thanks to these reforms. The apex-level officers will soon be 34 as against 10 now, as the government has decided to bestow the rank and pay of a GoI secretary to 27 general managers and two directors general, one of whom will be attached to the chairman for handling human resources. Former chairman of the Railway Board, SS Khurana, says the government’s recent move is an attempt to disrupt a time-tested mechanism. “The problem with the Railways is not departmentalism. It’s a well-coordinated organisation that runs some 22,000 trains 24×7. The introduction of the CEO concept will bring in authoritarianism and destroy a system that has evolved over 100 years,” he says.

But the government has made up its mind to bite the bullet. Its reforms go beyond what a 2015 panel headed by Bibek Debroy, now an adviser to the prime minister, had recommended. The Debroy panel, which had former cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar as a member, had recommended the merging of the eight services into two — the Indian Railway Technical Service (IRTechS) comprising five engineering services (IRSE, IRSSE, IRSEE, IRSME and IRSS), and the Indian Railway Logistics Service (IRLogS), comprising non-technical services (IRAS, IRPS and IRTS).

The government has now collapsed all services into one. Says Yadav: “We went by the Prakash Tandon committee’s recommendations of 1994. We were apprehensive that even if there are two services, there would be infighting. There can be some balance if eight services fight, but not when two fight. So, we decided to go for one service.”

Source link