In final report, Bibek Debroy panel goes slow on Railway unbundling

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on June 12, 2015

Bibek Debroy

Worker union rejects report, to protest on June 30

The final report of the Bibek Debroy-headed panel on reforms in the Indian Railways has diluted its earlier stance on unbundling, but has pitched for putting in place a regulator at the earliest.

However, the union at India’s biggest employer junked the report, saying workers would protest on June 30 against any move to privatise the organisation.

According to the final report submitted to the Railway Ministry on Friday, unbundling of the Railways can be taken up at a later stage, after five years, instead of starting to work towards that aim now, as suggested in the interim-report.

“A major change (in the final report) has been the realisation that the stage is not right for the Railways to start unbundling,” said a source in the know.

In another shift, while the interim report suggested that rail safety be moved to the regulator, the final report says the Committee of Railway Safety should continue to be under the Civil Aviation Ministry, as is the case now, instead of being made a subset of the regulator.

The final report has also moved the idea of having a regulator up on the priority list, adding that it should be set up through the legislative route, not executive. “Setting up a regulator will take up three years legislatively,” it said.

One should wait to see what the Railway Regulatory Authority of India achieves before setting up Indian Railway Infrastructure Corporation, it said.

HR issues

On human resources, the committee had a discussion on whether there should be a single cadre or two cadres — engineering and non-engineering. At present, the Railways has multiple services, such as traffic, civil engineering, electrical engineering, accounts, stores, personnel, among others.

“It is easier for an engineering graduate to learn non-engineering than for a non-engineering graduate to learn engineering. So, it would be fair to have two streams rather than a single stream. The committee was more inclined to the idea of having two services, but it has left it to the Railways to take a call on the issue,” said a source, requesting anonymity.

However, some Railway officials favour the idea of a single railway administrative service.

The Debroy report also suggested that the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation should be autonomous and separate from the Railways, adding that access rights should be equal for the Railways and private operators.

It also said that there is a case for a special purpose vehicle of railways’ manufacturing units, with independent directors. “Some dilution of equity through initial public offers is possible,” the report stated.

Other proposals in the report include accounting reforms in two years, revising the dividend policy in one year, ensuring funding of public service obligation after accounting reforms are completed in about three-four years.

It also calls for Railways to focus on freight and e-commerce for resource mobilisation.

Though the report says it does not recommend privatisation, the railways’ largest union — the All India Railwaymen’s Federation — says it is an eyewash. Its General Secretary Shiva Gopal Mishra said he has called for a protest against any privatisation, among other demands, on June 30.

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Published on June 12, 2015
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