The iconic Indian Railways has been going through transformation since 1853. From the heritage tag to the “largest open toilet in the world”, it has endured all all kinds of adjectives. Think about travelling in a train nowadays, yes it is certainly not the worse but the passenger comfort is still missing. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken notice of that and development of railway infrastructure seems to be on the central government’s priority list. According to a report, Narendra Modi has now embarked upon a comprehensive reform of the Indian Railways. Earlier, in a significant financial sector reform, the Centre had decided to bid adieu to three British-era legacies — the 92 year-old practice of separate general and rail budgets by unifying them, ending the distinction between plan and non-plan expenditures and advancing the presentation date in Parliament from the last week of February. The decision to merge the two budgets, officials said, was mooted by Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu and endorsed by official think tank NITI Aayog — which also proposed the doing away of the distinction between plan and non-plan expenditure. The move will also save Indian Railways Rs 9,700 crore it pays as dividend to the exchequer.
The reform has been seen as necessary to uproot the culture of nepotism that has taken a firm hold, especially in the selection and posting of divisional railway managers (DRMs), zonal general managers (GMs) and members of the Railway Board. These are three of the most important posts in the railway administration. For many years, it has been alleged that these processes are open to manipulation by the Union minister for railways (MoR) and the chairman of the Railway Board (CRB), allowing political bosses to pick and choose favourites, sidestepping both seniority and merit in appointments, an India Today report said.
That Indian Railways has 68 divisions and 17 zones and seven Railway Board members and a total of eight services has led to a jostling for key postings. The hefty Rs 1.21 lakh crore annual capital budget for the Railways-which, on an average, translates to around Rs 1,750 crore per division and Rs 6,500 crore per zone-as well as the power and pelf associated with the post of DRM, are widely acknowledged to be the culprits for the breeding and prospering of this culture of ‘selective postings’. The CRB’s choice of DRM is equivalent in seniority to a chief mechanical, electrical or traction engineer in a zonal railway-all joint-secretary level posts in the Government of India. Add to this the intense competition: of the 700 DRM- or joint secretary-level posts in the Railways, only 68 officials become DRMs, contributing to the scramble and string-pulling.
According to the old rules, only officers who had already served as DRMs could be considered for the post of GM. The situation became further complicated by the fact that there were two kinds of GMs-‘Open Line’ and ‘Non-Open Line’. Of the total strength-27 GMs-17 had to be ‘Open Line’, or considered able to run a railway zone. The remaining 10 GMs were accommodated in ‘non-zonal’ side of the railways, such as railway factories. Finally, only Open Line GMs are considered for Railway Board membership, the report said.
This system, as well as the power wielded by those at the top, has ensured that those with political clout were often promoted to the posts of zonal GMs and then to members of the Railway Board. This eliminated the chances of many capable and deserving officials. For example, K.K. Saxena, a railways officer with outstanding appraisal reports, was declared unfit to be posted as zonal GM in 2009. Two years after that, a similarly deserving DRM, Radheyshyam, was denied the post of zonal GM, and posted as GM of the Chittaranjan Locomotive Factory instead. This paved the way for V.K. Gupta to become a member of the Board, despite Radheyshyam’s seniority in the organisation.
To begin with, the government has done away with this system, allowing non-Open Line GMs to become Board members. It has also fixed quotas for DRMs and GMs from all eight railway services, based on seniority and appraisal reports. The numbers have been fixed on the basis of the service’s importance in railway operations. For example, officers from engineering services are often found to be more qualified for main railway operations than those from accounts, personnel and stores. Under the new system, the greatest number of DRM posts have been assigned to mechanical and traffic services – 14 apiece – while electrical has been allocated 10, Signals 6, Accounts 4 and Stores 4.