Railways cadre unification leaves many questions unanswered

Mamuni Das New Delhi, December 26 New Delhi | Updated on December 26, 2019 Published on December 26, 2019

Representative image

There’s concern that engineering services personnel will gain an edge

Will the Union Public Service Commission’s (UPSC) Civil Services exam eventually not be used to recruit railway officers? Will Indian Railways’ (IR) engineers end up with more opportunities than its accounts, personnel and traffic service employees? How will decision-making at the organisation change once independent experts become part of its board?

In a bid to end ‘departmentalism’ in IR, the Cabinet on Tuesday agreed to reduce the number of Railway Board members to five from the existing eight, and integrate the eight IR services — including Engineering, Traffic, Mechanical and Electrical — into a ‘unified cadre’, the Indian Railways Management Service (IRMS).

The announcement has left IR officials across the ranks with more questions than answers. Many whom BusinessLine contacted said they were not yet clear on how the announcement would pan out.

Currently, IR recruits officials through UPSC’s Engineering Service exams for the electrical, mechanical and civil engineering, and the signalling departments, among others. It also recruits officials through UPSC’s Civil Services exams for traffic, accounts and personnel services, which are termed non-technical departments. Also, within engineering services, civil engineers require different skillsets from electrical engineering. The proposal for a unified cadre, therefore, has left many puzzled.

Can duties be interchanged?

“Every person in IR service is wondering whether duties can be interchanged,” said one official. Many officials who joined IR’s non-technical side, such as personnel and accounts, fear that while they cannot replace engineers, those who joined engineering services can well take their own place in senior positions.

“There are many IITians who clear UPSC Civil Services four-five years after their B Tech to join the traffic, accounts, or personnel streams of IR. But there may be younger engineers from the not-so-well known engineering institutes who would have joined IR through engineering services — through the electrical, civil, stores or mechanical streams. If this is not taken care of, then those joining from engineering services will have a clear advantage,” said an official.

“As an IR personnel officer, I will never be able to take senior positions in engineering. But engineers can take non-technical posts in my professional space. Won’t the younger lot from engineering services have a much better shot at senior posts?” asked another senior official.

Board revamp

On the Cabinet decision to downsize the board, one official noted that two member posts had been introduced as recently as last year.

Another official pointed out that the revamp of the Railway Board is not an entirely new proposal. “IR was in a similar position in the 1980s. There were four Board Members, one of whom was Chairman. Then, a Chairman Railway Board Post was created. When IR started electrification, a Member (Electrical) post was introduced,” he recalled.

Cart before the horse?

Senior IR officials felt that the implementation should have been thought through first. Also, organisational restructuring should have preceded cadre restructuring, they said.

“First, it is important to restructure IR as an organisation and then restructure the cadre,” said Subodh Jain, former Member-Engineering, Railway Board. “Cadre aspirations should be linked to the goals of the organisation. All the departmentalism is at the Board level as, at the field level, everyone abides by the DRM and GM.”

The fault-lines in the organisational structure manifested themselves in the Khatauli railway accident, where it was alleged that the maintenance department repeatedly sought a traffic block, which the traffic department did not provide. For the traffic department, this was power without responsibility at the back-end (towards maintenance), though it was fulfilling the mandate of running trains on time, added Jain.

Global example

Jain further said that globally, except for North America, and Australia to some extent, all railway entities had organisational and cadre structures similar to India’s. And when they modernised the entities, the organisation was revamped before the cadre.

In this context, consider the Train-18 (Vande Bharat Express) production issue (production was stopped over allegations of favouritism in the tendering process), which is being played out as a departmental fight. “IR could have simply said — we will take trainsets running at 200 kmph only on lease, be it from ICF or any other vendor,” said Jain.

So what should IR do? Organisationally, it should separate the infrastructure, rolling stock and train operations into separate units with well-defined interfaces, as has been implemented successfully in some European countries, said senior members of the fraternity.

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Published on December 26, 2019
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