The newly minted Indian Railways Management service can break down the silos that plague the Railways. But this will not be without its challenges
Today, there is an alphabet soup of services in Indian Railways (IR)—IRPS (Indian Railway Personnel Service), IRTS (Indian Railway Traffic Service), IRSS (Indian Railway Stores Service), IRSME (Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineers), IRSEE (Indian Railway Service of Electrical Engineers), IRSSE (Indian Railway Service of Signal Engineers), IRSE (Indian Railway Service of Engineers) and IRAS (Indian Railway Accounts Service). There are eight Group A services. Five—IRSME, IRSEE, IRSSE, IRSS and IRSE—are so-called technical services, recruited through an engineering service examination conducted by UPSC. Three—IRPS, IRTS and IRAS—are non-technical, recruited through the civil service examination conducted by UPSC. As of today, there are 8,401 officers, not evenly distributed across the eight services. Specifically, respective numbers are IRSE (1,958), IRSME (1,349), IRTS (1,099), IRSEE (1,074), IRSSE (971), IRAS (822), IRSS (650) and IRPS (478). Departmentalism and functioning in silos are not caused by this alphabet soup of eight services alone, but multiple services certainly contributes. Unification has been recommended by several committees—Prakash Tandon (1994), Khanna (1998), Rakesh Mohan (2001), Sam Pitroda (2012) and Bibek Debroy (2015). Prakash Tandon Committee recommended a single service. A Gupta-Narain Committee (1994), set up to examine feasibility of implementing this single service idea, questioned whether this could be done.
The Debroy Committee found reservations of Gupta-Narain Committee were unwarranted. The Debroy Committee recommended two distinct services, technical versus non-technical, if there were two separate modes of entry, resulting in a non-homogeneous group of officers. But, in a presentation before the Debroy Committee, FROA (Federation of Railway Officers’ Associations) presented a case for a single service and entry examination, and suggested a method that could be used. “Railway Board will place indent on UPSC specifying the number of recruits needed for each discipline such as Civil/Mech/ Elec/S&T Engineers or simple graduates in any subject… After selection of pre-decided numbers from each specialisation/general subjects, they will be merged into a single IRLS (Indian Railway Service) by UPSC itself through a pre-decided formula of inter-se seniority”. This is akin to what happens with Indian Foreign Service, and there can be a new examination conducted by UPSC. An Indian Railway Management Service (IRMS) has now been announced (IRLS of the quote becomes IRMS), breaking down departmentalism and silos. For new entrants, IRMS constitutes no great problem. The details will be worked out between IR, UPSC and DOPT. But that suggestion by FROA, incorporated into Debroy Committee’s Report, suggests one way of doing this. Nor is there any great issue with vertical mobility of IRMS. To cite one method, there can be a bifurcation mid-career, say in the 14th year of service. Irrespective of educational background, officers can opt for a general management cadre and aspire to be members of the board, even CRB. With an engineering background, officers can aspire to become GMs. With parity between GMs and members, this becomes a conscious career choice. In any event, the further up the ladder one moves, the more the importance of functional specialisation vis-a-vis management skills declines.
The knottier problem is that of retrospectively integrating those 8,401 officers into IRMS. Note that, with decentralisation, Railway Board has been pruned, and if vertical mobility is interpreted as a position in Rail Bhawan, that opportunity is limited, irrespective of whether IRMS is constituted or not. Since posts have historically been reserved for specific services, vertical mobility has been uneven across those eight services. For instance, consider promotion to Higher Administrative Grade (HAG). IRTS, IRAS and IRPS have moved up the most (1987 batch promoted), while IRSME, IRSEE and IRSS have relatively lagged (1985 batch promoted). Posts becoming ex-cadre (no longer reserved for specific services) increases a sense of insecurity, especially because the average entrant through the present civil service examination is older than the average entrant through the present engineering service examination. Reservation for specific services is inherently inefficient. Therefore, despite retrospective integration being a knotty issue, making posts ex-cadre should be welcomed. Debroy Committee suggested two methods for retrospective integration. Let me quote one of these. “This methodology involves interpolation of officers of various services in a combined list, arranged in proportion to total strength of each service. The service with the largest number of officers will form the base. At the top of the combined list, toppers of all services will be placed in order of their date of birth—those born earlier being assigned higher seniority. Thereafter, officers of various services will be interpolated in between the officers of the base service in the ratio of the number of officers in that service vis-à-vis the number of officers in the base service”.
This sounds complicated and yes, it is a complicated exercise, irrespective of which method is used. We will have to wait to see what method is evolved by the Group of Secretaries, IR, DOPT and UPSC. There is a phenomenon one can’t get away from and this has nothing to do with engineers performing a core function in IR. Engineers qualify for civil service examinations at an average age lower than that of other aspirants. This may be one reason why there is such a high percentage of engineers within something like IAS (even MBA programmes). There will be a high percentage of engineers in IRMS too, though there will be an “indent” for those with non-engineering backgrounds. But, because engineers will be younger, they will be promoted faster, irrespective of the method used.
The author is Chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the PM
Views are personal