In a move that could be a game-changer, a new Indian Railways General Management Service may come into being very soon in order to keep a check on the virus of departmentalism which has been its bane for over two decades. Encouraged by vendors’ lobby, this virus saw one of the most sordid dramas being played out for occupying one of the top slots in the Railway Board a couple of years ago.
Of all the government departments, the Indian Railways is perhaps the most professionally run. However, with eight distinct groups of professionals, each one tending to consider itself calling unique and the most vial cog in the scheme of things, overall objectivity tends to get lost.
This malaise is not unique to the Railways, it is evident in almost all walks of life. Marketing hotshots versus production wizards, smart CAs versus guys armed with MBAs from prestigious institutions, IAS versus IPS, the list is endless.
Unfortunately, in the case of the Railways, its ministers over the last two decades, ably aided by their private secretaries chosen from the ‘babu’ tribe, have made capital out of this weakness, blatantly resorting to a policy of divide and rule, and getting various departments to compete for favours, resulting in overall objective of providing rail transport at the lowest possible unit cost getting lost.
Like any line and staff organisation, the Railways has key slots at various levels for people from all departments with good managerial capabilities to occupy. There are no less than 67 posts of additional divisional railway managers, 70 posts of divisional railway managers and 25 posts of general managers or equivalent rank, at various levels of the Railway hierarchy.
Constituting less than 2% of the 10,000-officer workforce, they are akin to field commanders responsible for converting policies into action on the ground, and are filled up by suitable and eligible officers from the eight organised Group ‘A’ services.
The Bibek Debroy committee found that as long as the officers are positioned against such general posts, they are driven by larger organisational goals rather than narrow departmental interests, but once they go back to their parent cadre, they soon revert to their departmental loyalties.
Realising the importance of these key posts, the Debroy committee has made perhaps one of the most significant proposals to create an institutional mechanism whereby selected officers once positioned against general management posts will continue to perform that role for their residual careers.
Inducted as early as at 14 years, when they are due for their first selection grade, they could be given a second opportunity at 18 years of service. However, once selected, they would continue to further their career as managers at various levels, developing necessary expertise, in particular for handling interdepartmental rivalries.
However, the task of such a selection is not going to be easy and the Debroy committee has suggested extensive consultation with the Department of Personnel & Training and the Union Public Services Commission which already have a say in such selections being made by the Railway Board.
The Debroy committee has suggested the antediluvian railway accounting system to be revamped on the lines of commercial accounting, enabling cost and viability of various projects and services such as running a passenger or a freight train to be more precisely worked out. Though this exercise has been in the works for quite some time, the committee hopes to provide a time-frame for its completion.
The Railways has been in the business of Make-in-India for over six decades now, with the setting up of the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works at Mihijam in West Bengal in 1950, followed by a string of six more such facilities, manufacturing diesel locomotives, coaches, wheel sets, loco components, etc, in the process saving the nation around Rs 20,000 crore in foreign exchange annually.
The Debroy committee proposes to build on this unique strength to enter the export market by the creation of the Indian Railways Manufacturing Corporation, with the seven manufacturing facilities as its subsidiaries, hopefully freeing it from governmental control to function and compete internationally on commercial lines.
Undoubtedly, these three recommendations of great significance alone can prove to be game-changers for the over 160-year-old economic lifeline of the nation, lifting it out of the financial mess by its own bootstraps.
The author is former member, Railway Board