Pub admin 1, Public Admin 2, Uncategorized

Explained: What Railways restructure means

Why is it important? For GS Paper 2 (Contribution of Civil service), GS paper 4 (Morale of Civil servants) and Public Administration Paper 1 and Paper 2

Why in news?

The Cabinet recently approved trimming of the Railway Board, the powerful body that governs the Indian Railways. From nine, the Board will now have only five Members.

The Cabinet also decided to merge all central service cadres of Railways officers into a single Indian Railways Management Service (IRMS).

What is the present system like?

The Indian Railways is governed by a pool of officers, among whom engineers are recruited after the Indian Engineering Service Examination, and civil servants through the Civil Services Examination.

The civil servants are in the Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS), Indian Railway Accounts Service (IRAS) and Indian Railway Personnel Service (IRPS).

The engineers are in five technical service cadres —
Indian Railway Service of Engineers (IRSE),
Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineers (IRSME),
Indian Railway Service of Electrical Engineers (IRSEE),
Indian Railway Service of Signal Engineers (IRSSE) and
the Indian Railway Stores Service (IRSS).

Why was the reform needed?

The government wants to end inter-departmental rivalries.

Several committees including the Bibek Debroy committee in 2015 have noted that “departmentalism” is a major problem in the system. The Debroy report recommended merging of all services to create two distinct services: Technical and Logistics.

A separate exam under the Union Public Service Commission is proposed to be instituted in 2021 to induct IRMS officers.

Why are officers opposed to the move?

Those protesting the government’s decision say that the merger is unscientific and against established norms, because it proposes to merge two fundamentally dissimilar entities, with multiple disparities.

First, the civil servants come from all walks of life after clearing the Civil Services Examination. The engineers usually sit for the Engineering Services Examination right after getting an engineering degree. Various studies have noted that engineers join the Railways around the age of 22-23, while the civil servants join when they are around 26, barring exceptions. The age difference starts to pinch at the later stages of their careers, when higher-grade posts are fewer. There are more engineers than civil servants.

What will change with the restructure?

In inter-departmental seniority — a complex process to fix, which has led to court cases in the past — problems arise when different services compete for posts that are open to all — like those of Divisional Railway Managers (DRMs), GMs, and subsequently, the Chairman Railway Board.

The civil servants are saying that if all present cadres are merged and even higher departmental posts become open to all, engineers, being in larger numbers and of a certain age profile, may end up occupying most posts, if not all.

Another aspect is the suitability of jobs. The move, many say, emerges from the “simplistic” belief that while non-technical specialists cannot do technical jobs, technocrats can do both. The counter-argument is that civil servants in government, by virtue of the screening process and subsequent training, possess acumen and skills that go beyond academic specialisation.

How did the Railways get here?

Departmental posts are ring-fenced; promotions happen within each department from officers of that service. The problem starts when, within a department, there are too many officers eligible for a few posts. A department needs a constant supply of posts in higher grades to keep promoting its seniors so that the juniors can keep getting timely promotions.

In the Railways, this has happened either organically when the government restructured the cadres and created new posts at intervals of several years, or through the execution of projects.

Across the Railways, the internal attempt by each department has always been to get a bigger share of resources to spend on projects, although the limited funds are meant for all. Until recently, for execution of each project, departments could create “temporary” posts, called “work-charged” posts, funded through money from the particular project. Departments would seek more projects since the byproduct was more work-charged posts — and that meant more promotional avenues for the department’s officers. The departments grew, promotional prospects expanded, even if Railways did not. The “temporary” posts were almost never surrendered, and were “regularised” over time. This was most prevalent in the technical departments and, to an extent, in the Accounts department as well, officials say.

In the cadre-restructuring exercise, overseen by the Cabinet and the Cabinet Secretary, work-charged posts have been banned. But a majority of the “temporary” posts were absorbed in regular cadres.

In 2015, the government merged the verticals (not cadres) of Electrical and Mechanical on “functional lines” to make the Rolling Stock and the Traction departments. Electrical was made in charge of locomotives, and Mechanical of coaches, wagons, AC — even though the Railways are an electrical system. So Mechanical verticals working in one field started reporting to an Electrical boss and vice versa, with many of them losing influence on their domain subjects.

What happens next?

The current demand is for two distinct services instead of one — a civil services, and one that encompasses all engineering specialisations. The logic is that functionally, departments will continue to exist through various technical and non-technical specialisations, so merging them will not end departmentalism per se.

The protests are gathering momentum. Some of the recently graduated civil services batches plan to write to the Department of Personnel and Training seeking a permanent transfer to a non-Railway service.

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