The Indian Railways is the lifeline of India. With its vast network across the length and breadth of India, it is not just a mere transporter of passengers and goods but also a social welfare organization.
Indian Railways (IR) has the 4th longest rail network in the world. It is a network of 70,000 km and runs about 21,000 trains, carrying 23 million passengers and 3 million tonnes of freight per day.
- Railways stretch their hands in conducting activities like business, sightseeing, pilgrimage along with transportation of goods.
- It is easier for long-distance travel.
- Plays a vital role in national integration.
- Railways hold a major hand in the economy of the country
- It strengthens the development of the industry and agriculture.
- Railways are the most preferred transport.
- They have the capacity to carry huge loads and bulky goods for long and short distances.
The government has set a vision of making railways a 100% safe, fast and reliable mode of transport for passengers and freight.
- Rising passenger & freight traffic
Increasing urbanization, rising incomes (both rural and urban), growing industrialization across the country along with private sector participation
- Increasing freight traffic
Growing industrialization across the country
- Dedicated freight corridor
Six high-capacity, high-speed dedicated freight corridors
- Freight Business Development Portal
One-stop cargo solution for seamless goods transportation
- Diamond Quadrilateral network of high-speed rail
Connecting major metros and growth centers of the country
Reforms in Railways
Speed and changes
While raising the maximum running speed to 160 kmph is welcome measure, accomplishing this in the timeframe given will be difficult. Nearly all trunk routes in the existing network are speed limited to 110 kmph (maximum speed); very few permit speeds of upto 120-130 kmph.
To raise it to 160 kmph, as proposed, there has to be
- track strengthening,
- elimination of curves and level crossing gates and
- strengthening of bridges.
- track fencing especially in densely populated areas.
From the timings for different trains given by the Railway Board, there is no appreciable reduction in transit time for most trains when compared with the timings of the fastest train now operating on that route. This requires a critical review.
Privatization of Railways
Acc. To Government, the “objective of the initiative was to introduce modern technology rolling stock with reduced maintenance, reduced transit time, boost job creation, provide enhanced safety, provide world-class travel experience to passengers, and also reduce the demand-supply deficit in the passenger transportation sector
- Improved Infrastructure–It will lead to better infrastructure which in turn would lead to improved amenities for travelers.
- Balancing Quality of Service with High Fares– The move would foster competition and hence lead to overall betterment in the quality of services.
- Lesser Accidents– Because private ownership is synonymous with better maintenance, supporters of privatization feel that it will reduce the number of accidents, thus resulting in safe travel and higher monetary savings in the long run.
- Coverage Limited to Lucrative Sectors –An advantage of Indian Railways being government-owned is that it provides nationwide connectivity irrespective of profit. This would not be possible with privatization since routes that are less popular will be eliminated, thus having a negative impact on connectivity. It will also render some parts of the country virtually inaccessible and omit them from the process of development.
- Fares – Given that a private enterprise runs on profit, it is but natural to assume that the easiest way of accruing profits in Indian Railways would be to hike fares, thus rendering the service out of reach for lower-income groups. This will defeat the entire purpose of the system which is meant to serve the entire population of the country irrespective of the level of income.
- Accountability – Private companies are unpredictable in their dealings and do not share their governance secrets with the world at large. In such a scenario it would be difficult to pin the accountability on a particular entity, should there be a discrepancy.
- Fixing responsibility in case of an accident – The responsibility of the private investor ends with investment in the procurement and maintenance of coaches. Train operation, safety, and dealing with everyday problems rests with the Railways. In case of an unfortunate event, how do we fix responsibility when the coaches are owned by the investor but operated by the Railways and its staff? The provision of an independent regulator to resolve the disagreement, discords, and disputes will not solve day-to-day problems of dichotomy unless the basic issue is resolved.
- In the private sector, operations are run with an eye on staff costs which can endanger safety. Also, the private investor is not bound to follow reservation regulations in employment, in turn depriving employment opportunities for those who are on the margins of society.
There should be no need for the government to take a dual role of a facilitator as well as a participant.
In the case of the metro railway services (Hyderabad, for example), an ideal PPP project, the concessionaire is solely responsible for daily maintenance, operation, passenger amenities, and staff issues. The State government steps in when it comes to land, power, permissions, law, and order, etc. Fare determination is in consultation with the government.
Railways or government have no role in fixing passenger fares. Full liberty is being given to the concessionaire to unilaterally fix fares for these proposed trains that are on a par with air and air-conditioned bus fares. It will be beyond the common man’s reach. Fare concessions extended to several categories of people will not be made available by the private investor. The very objective of commissioning the Railways as a public welfare transport organization is defeated.
Restructuring of the Railway Board and Unification of Railway services into a single Cadre
Initial System in Railways
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.
It has led to inter-departmental rivalry. The government wants to end inter-departmental rivalries, which it says have been hindering growth for decades. Departments were working “in silos”.
Unification has been recommended by several committees—
- Prakash Tandon(1994),
- Khanna (1998),
- Rakesh Mohan(2001),
- Sam Pitroda(2012)
- Bibek Debroy(2015).
- Bibek Debroy committee in 2015 has 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. It recommended merging of all services to create two distinct services: Technical and Logistics.
- A separate exam under the Union Public Service Commission is proposed to be instituted in 2021 to induct IRMS officers.
- The Board will now consist of five members – Chairman, who will act as a CEO, along with four members responsible for infrastructure, operations and business development, rolling stock, and finance.
- There will also be a Directorate-General – Human Resources (DG – HR) under the Chairman. The Board will also have some independent members, who will be highly distinguished professionals.
- The eight railway services will be integrated into a central service called the Indian Railway Management Service (IRMS). All employees at the management level will come into the Railways through one service — the IRMS.
The Indian Railways is organized into service departments such as traffic, civil, mechanical, electrical, signal & telecom, stores, personnel, and accounts.
- The Railways will also upgrade the 27 General Managers (GMs)working at zonal levels to secretary-level grade – highest in the government of India.
- The integration of service departments will cut the clutter in decision making and organize the working of the Railway Board and its zones along more commercial lines. This will also end departmentalism.
The lack of coordination between the maintenance and traffic staff is said to have played a role in the Khatauli rail mishap near Muzaffarnagar in August 2017.
It will streamline railway operations and provide flexibility to the way Railways deploy people. It is a step towards corporatization.
- Merging all 8,400 officers in the eight services — five technical and three non-technical — to prepare a common seniority list and a general pool of posts, especially in higher managerial ranks.
- 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.
Issues in Railways
Service Quality is not up to the mark
- Cross Subsidization issue
The working of Indian Railways is caught up between making it a self-sufficient organization and serving it as a transport system for the poor. The result being no rise in passenger fares and new trains and routes being decided on non-commercial reasons. The passenger fares usually remain static for years, burdening the Union Budget. In order to keep finances in check, freight charges have been raised in the past. But the discrepancy between freight charges and passenger fares seem to distort the Railways’ performance.
- Overburdening of the Railway infrastructure due to heavy passenger load. There laying of new tracks is at slow speed. There is little capital expenditure on the railways.
- The number of stranded projects are also high in Railways.
- Quality of food served to passengers by the Indian railways is not satisfying.
- Dirty Blankets for AC compartments
- There are rising complaints over unclean toilets and sanitation accessories provided to the passengers.
- Charges –Railways were levying a surcharge for journey on “superfast” trains when these often ran late.
- Redressal mechanism –The complaints raised by passengers on different issues are not addressed properly by the authorities.
- Freight –New operational setups in logistics like private players will improve the business.
- Smaller cargoes need to be targeted and door-to-door delivery with the cooperation of logistics companies will help.
- Dedicated freight corridors will simultaneously address both the needs of freight and passenger traffic.
- Tariffs –The passenger services should be made affordable by raising Industrial freight rates.
- There is a need for a regulator to recommend fare rises and pricing decisions.
- Food –To immediately address the issue of poor quality food, food can be made optional so passengers can bring their own food and get a discount.
- Amenities –On blankets, a pilot has been launched to raise minimum temperatures under air conditioning and stop supplying blankets.
- There are also reports that the National Institute of Fashion Technology will design light blankets which can be cleaned easily but the immediate reaction is to downgrade the product.