The Union Cabinet on Tuesday approved an organisational restructuring of the Indian Railways, unifying eight services into one and making the Railway Board leaner in an attempt to overhaul and rightsize the 150-year-old state transport mammoth that operates 22,000 trains every day.
The national transporter, which has struggled with colonial-era infrastructure and rising debt in its passenger and freight systems, was due for rationalisation, with the government setting up several committees to chart a road map.
On Tuesday, the Union Cabinet cleared the proposal for a single cadre named the Indian Railway Management Service that will replace the current eight Group A services. The new service will be created in consultation with the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) to facilitate hiring in the next recruitment year.
The government said the Railway Board, which is the apex body of the Indian Railways, and reports to Parliament, will no longer be organised on departmental lines. The board will be headed by the chairman, who will be the chief executive officer, with four members (for infrastructure, operations and business development, rolling stock, and finance) and some independent members.
At present, it has eight members for rolling stock, traction, traffic, engineering, staff, material management, signal and telecom, and to act as a financial commissioner.
Railway minister Piyush Goyal said the transformational reform will ensure efficient functioning. “Unification of services will end departmentalism and promote smooth working of railways, expedite decision-making, create a coherent vision for organisation and promote rational decision-making,” he said.
The Indian Railways recorded its worst operating ratio in a decade, according to a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General tabled in Parliament on December 3. It also noted that the national transporter’s revenue surplus has decreased by more than 66% from Rs 4,913 crore in 2016-17 to Rs 1,665.61 crore in 2017-18.
In October, the Indian Railways decided to trim the staff strength of its board from 200 to about 150 by transferring about five director-level officials and above to zonal railways in a long-pending move to enhance efficiency.
The proposed reforms are aimed at ending the division of the mammoth organisation into different departments. The Indian Railways employs nearly 1.3 million people and its trains carry 2.3 million passengers every day.
“We will now have only a five-member railway board; with a chairperson who will act as chief executive officer, along with four members responsible for infrastructure, operations and business development, rolling stock and finance, respectively,” railway minister Goyal said.
The government said the move was aimed at ending a legacy marked by inefficiency in work, infighting over control of assets and resources, and delay in decision-making.
Under the proposed new structure of the Railway Board, the chairman shall be the cadre-controlling officer responsible for human resources (HR) with assistance from a director general-level level officer. All the remaining posts under the new structure will be open to all officers, regardless of the service to which they belonged under the current structure.
The railway ministry said the existing Railway Board members will continue in their posts until the end of their tenure.
The eight services that are being merged are: traffic, accounts, personnel, engineering, stores, electrical engineering, signal engineering and mechanical engineering.
The modalities of the unification of the services will be worked out by the ministry of railways in consultation with DoPT, with the approval of an alternative mechanism to be appointed by the Cabinet in order to ensure fairness and transparency. The process will be completed within a year, Goyal said.
“We will have an alternate mechanism where a committee of secretaries and group of ministers will work to finalise the exact term by which we will ensure that the seniority of all 8,400 management level employees is kept in mind,” Goyal said.
“The good news is we will upgrade 27 general managers working at zonal level and across all production units of the Indian Railways. All of them will be given the apex grade of secretary level,” he added.
The Union Cabinet’s decision will enable all general manager-level officers to be at par with Railway Board members in seniority. The ministry of railways has sought to increase the role of the Railway Board in policy-making while giving operational autonomy to general managers and divisional railway managers (DRM).
The unification of services had earlier been proposed by various committees that studied ways of reforming the Indian Railways including the Prakash Tandon Committee (1994), Rakesh Mohan Committee (2001), Sam Pitroda Committee (2012) the and Bibek Debroy Committee (2015).
The committee headed by economist Debroy had in 2015 recommended the restructuring of the apex body after the railway ministry constituted the eight-member panel in September 2014.
“As pointed out by many previous committees over the years, the Indian Railways organisation has grown into an overly centralised and hierarchical organisation. The feeling of departmentalism adversely affects the working culture in the IR [Indian Railways] and has resulted in actions and decisions based on narrow departmental goals instead of on organisational objectives or benefits,” the committee had said in its report.
“Railways has an ambitious programme to modernise and provide the highest standards of safety, speed and services to the passengers with a proposed investment of Rs. 50 lakh crore over the next 12 years. This requires speed and scale, and a unified, agile organisation to work single-mindedly on this task and capable of responding to challenges,” the ministry said in a statement.
Former Railway Board chairman Vivek Sahai: “The biggest problem in railways has been governance due to intense departmentalism and time and again, this has been pointed by many committees. That way, this is a very good and a tough decision taken by the government. There are, however, other problems, presently there are eight services and there needs to be clarity on how seniority will be decided, how present officers will be absorbed into the new system as all the officers have been selected through different services. There it should be adjusted amicably. The other thing is, they have reduced the railway board to four members and that is a very good structure, however, it will be a challenge to see how they will transfer the work on the field; the work structure needs to be properly designed and there are many complexities in the working of the railways.”