Railway Reforms

Restructuring of the Railways Board

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Railways Board

Mains level : Read the attached story

The Cabinet recently approved trimming of the Railway Board, the powerful body that governs the Indian Railways. From nine, the Board will now have only five Members.

The move has led to protests from serving civil servants, prompting the Railway Board to reach out to them to allay their concerns.

What is the proposed restructure?

  • The Cabinet has decided to merge all central service cadres of Railways officers into a single Indian Railways Management Service (IRMS).
  • Now, any eligible officer could occupy any post, including Board Member posts, irrespective of training and specialization since they will all belong to IRMS.
  • The five members of the Board, other than a Chairman-cum-CEO, will now be the Members Infrastructure, Finance, Rolling Stock, Track, and Operations and Business Development.
  • The Board will also have independent Members, who will be industry experts with at least 30 years of experience, but in non-executive roles, only attending Board meetings.
  • A separate exam under the Union Public Service Commission is proposed to be instituted in 2021 to induct IRMS officers.

What is the present system like?

  • The Indian Railways is governed by a pool of officers, among whom engineers are recruited after the Indian Engineering Service Examination, and civil servants through the Civil Services Examination.
  • The civil servants are in the Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS), Indian Railway Accounts Service (IRAS) and Indian Railway Personnel Service (IRPS).
  • The engineers are in five technical service cadres — Indian Railway Service of Engineers (IRSE), Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineers (IRSME), Indian Railway Service of Electrical Engineers (IRSEE), Indian Railway Service of Signal Engineers (IRSSE) and the Indian Railway Stores Service (IRSS).
  • Until the 1950s, the Railways system was run by officers from just three main streams: Traffic, Civil Engineering, and Mechanical. The other streams emerged as separate services over time.

Why was the reform needed?

  • The railways departments were working “in silos” and hence the government wanted to end this inter-departmental rivalries, which was been hindering growth for decades.
  • Several committees including the Bibek Debroy committee in 2015 have noted that “departmentalism” is a major problem in the system.
  • Most committees have said merger of the services in some form would be a solution.
  • The Debroy report recommended merging of all services to create two distinct services: Technical and Logistics. But it did not say how to merge the existing officers.

Why are officers opposed to the move?

  • The questions started with a proposal to merge all 8,400 officers in the eight services — five technical and three non-technical — to prepare a common seniority list.
  • Those protesting the government’s decision say that the merger is unscientific and against established norms, because it proposes to merge two fundamentally dissimilar entities, with multiple disparities.
  • First, the civil servants come from all walks of life after clearing the Civil Services Examination.
  • The engineers usually sit for the Engineering Services Examination right after getting an engineering degree.
  • Various studies have noted that engineers join the Railways around the age of 22-23, while the civil servants join when they are around 26, barring exceptions.
  • The age difference starts to pinch at the later stages of their careers, when higher-grade posts are fewer. There are more engineers than civil servants.
  • Protesters are also saying that the merger is against the service conditions which civil servants sign up for while choosing an alternative if they cannot make it to IAS.

What will change with the restructure?

  • In inter-departmental seniority — a complex process to fix, which has led to court cases in the past — problems arise when different services compete for posts that are open to all.
  • those of Divisional Railway Managers (DRMs), GMs, and subsequently, the Chairman Railway Board. And here lies the major criticism of the move.
  • The civil servants are saying that if all present cadres are merged and even higher departmental posts become open to all, engineers, being in larger numbers and of a certain age profile, may end up occupying most posts.
  • Another aspect is the suitability of jobs. The move, many say, emerges from the “simplistic” belief that while non-technical specialists cannot do technical jobs, technocrats can do both.
  • The counter-argument is that civil servants in government, by virtue of the screening process and subsequent training, possess acumen and skills that go beyond academic specialization.

How did the Railways get here?

  • Departmental posts are ring-fenced; promotions happen within each department from officers of that service.
  • The problem starts when, within a department, there are too many officers eligible for a few posts.
  • A department needs a constant supply of posts in higher grades to keep promoting its seniors so that the juniors can keep getting timely promotions.
  • In the Railways, this has happened either organically when the government restructured the cadres and created new posts at intervals of several years, or through the execution of projects.
  • Across the Railways, the internal attempt by each department has always been to get a bigger share of resources to spend on projects, although the limited funds are meant for all.
  • The departments grew, promotional prospects expanded, even if Railways did not. The “temporary” posts were almost never surrendered, and were “regularised” over time.
  • This was most prevalent in the technical departments and, to an extent, in the Accounts department as well, officials say.

What’s next?

  • The current demand is for two distinct services instead of one — a civil services, and one that encompasses all engineering specialisations.
  • The logic is that functionally, departments will continue to exist through various technical and non-technical specialisations, so merging them will not end departmentalism per se.
  • The government has on record assured all existing officers that no one’s seniority will be hampered and promotion prospects will be protected.
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