Insights into Editorial: What Railways restructure means
Cabinet has approved the merger of its eight services into one: The Indian Railway Management Service (IRMS).
The decision to merge the services is to ensure that officers put railways first instead of their service which had become the case under the present system.
This is in line with the recommendations of numerous committees, notably Rakesh Mohan (2001) and the Bibek Debroy panel (2015).
The reforms as suggested by various committees from time to time including Prakash Tandon Committee (1994) have been largely adopted.
Importance of Indian Railways:
Indian Railways (IR) has the fourth-largest rail network in the world, behind only the US, China and Russia.
It is a network of 70,000km, spanning 29 states, three Union territories and 8,500 stations.
It runs about 21,000 trains, two-thirds of which are passenger trains, carrying 23 million passengers and 3 million tonnes of freight per day.
This translates into 1.2 trillion passenger-kilometres travelled a year in India by 8 billion passengers. Using a metric of fatalities per billion journeys, rail is among the safest forms of travel.
Measured by distance instead of journeys, air travel is safest, with rail and water travel reasonably safe.
Existing system till now:
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.
Railway restructuring could be a game changer:
- Restructuring of the Railways has been on the agenda for decades. It is an unusual admission that hitherto decision-making in the Railways was incoherent and irrational and this coming after he has been the minister for over two years.
- Coming to the basic objective of the policy decision of ending “departmentalism” prima facie, this sounds well intended.
- However, departmentalism is just a word and means nothing for the rail users, or for the national economy.
- The stated aim is to end “departmentalism”: unification of services will “expedite decision making”, “create a coherent vision” and “promote rational decision-making”.
- Reportedly, a comprehensive plan for execution of the decision would be worked out by a committee of secretaries, and perhaps a group of ministers.
- Every large organisation is bound to have many departments. Even after the merging of cadres, departments will continue to exist, they would continue to quarrel, and it is the minister’s job to settle these disputes. He cannot remain a bystander, passing judgements.
- The minister should also understand that the problem is not departments but the composition of the same, and their role in the Railway organisation. This should be seen from the perspective of the national economy rather than as an issue pertaining to the Railways in isolation.
The key ingredients of present reform template were the following:
(1) Allow private entry, including in running of private trains;
(2) Change the composition of the Railway Board;
(3) Decentralise decision-making to zones/divisions and even further below;
(4) Separate the core functions of running trains from non-core functions like schools and medical services;
(5) Set up a regulator;
(6) Unify various railway services;
(7) Transit to commercial accounting and
(8) Unite the Railway Budget with the Union Budget.
Some concerns are:
The current demand is for two distinct services instead of one a civil service, 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.
There are allegations lower down the ranks that seniors in the Ministry did not put up resistance to the move. The morale of officers is said to be affected.
Amid all this, one concern among the higher-ups is that the actual job of safely running trains 24/7 must not get neglected.
If the restructuring is done with such national priorities in mind it can be a game changer, not only for the Indian Railways, but for India as a nation. Or else, it may only create a bigger mess than it imagines it is solving.
To facilitate faster movement of passenger trains, Indian Railways is upgrading two major branches of the Golden Quadrilateral; Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Kolkata to 160 kmph speed potential.
According to the national transporter, the infrastructure upgradation will take 2-3 years and once the projects are complete, passengers will be able to commute between Delhi and Mumbai in 10 hours and Delhi and Kolkata in 12 hours.
This upgrade is also aimed at making the network more lucrative for private players to run trains on.