On September 1, Jaya Verma Sinha took over as the Chairperson and CEO of the Railway Board, thereby scripting history. She became the first woman Indian Railway Traffic Service officer to head the Board in 166 years. She succeeds Anil Kumar Lahoti, whose tenure ends on August 31.

Sinha was Member (Operations and Business Development), Railway Board, before her elevation as Chairperson. “She is known to be an officer par excellence. Thorough in her presentations, clear to the point communication and a good listener. One important feature in her meetings is that she allows everyone to speak, does not cut short people, and is open to discussions and deliberations,” says an officer who has worked with Sinha. 

According to officials, a major feather in Sinha’s cap was the last two years of her tenure, which included her term as Additional Member, Traffic Transportation, Railway Board, when the Indian Railways registered an all-time high growth of over 20 per cent in the freight segment and broke the annual 1.5 billion tonnes mark in freight handling.

She was in the limelight for the way in which she handled media interactions and interactions across Ministries during the Balasore accident. Sinha was the first Railway official to come out with a comprehensive statement and detailing of the accident, apart from explaining the complex signalling system after the accident. Similarly, she had also taken up such meetings with other Ministries, explaining the cause and preventive actions taken post the accident. 

Life and career

An alumnus of Allahabad University, Sinha joined the Indian Railway Traffic Service in 1988 and worked in Northern Railway, SE Railway and Eastern Railway. In her career of over 35 years with the Indian Railways, she has worked on diverse verticals spanning operations, commercial, IT and vigilance.  She was also the first woman to be appointed as the Principal Chief Operations Manager of South Eastern Railway, breaking the glass ceiling for other women to follow such as Utpalparna Hazarika  in  North Frontier Railway  and Neenu Ittyerah in Southern Railway. 

She also worked as the Divisional Railway Manager, Eastern Railway, Sealdah Division. Sinha, who has a deep interest in photography, had also worked as Railway Advisor in the High Commission of India, Dhaka, Bangladesh, for four years. The Maitree Express from Kolkata to Dhaka was inaugurated during her tenure in Bangladesh and it was also one of the high-points during her stint in the neighbouring country. 

The Chairperson’s role

Sinha’s tenure as Chairperson will be till December 31, 2024. However, her retirement is due on October 1. And, according to the notification of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, she will be “re-appointed the same day till her tenure as Railway Board Chairperson, gets over”. The Railway Board has had several women as financial commissioners, but she’s the first to get the coveted top post. Will it pave the way for more women to be Chairperson?