The Railway Board has decided to offer serving officers the choice to not opt into a new unified cadre after a major reorganisation plan triggered widespread unease among much of Indian Railways’ officers who see the initiative as unfair since it would merge eight distinct services — these are currently divided on the basis of domain expertise — into the central service (Indian Railway Management Service).
Indian Railways has around 8,400 group A service serving officers. In January, civil services officers from 13 railway zones submitted written memorandums to the Railway Board Chairman and the Prime Minister’s office alleging the decision was “unilateral” and will negatively impact the safety of train operations, while also affecting the careers of 2,500 civil services officers.
In a note prepared by the Railway Board , the apex body has said the final decision in the matter will be taken after consultation with all the officers and if “need be by providing the default option to existing officers continuing in their existing services till they gain confidence to voluntarily opt for the unified service.”
The Union cabinet in December 2019 approved the restructuring by trimming the Railway Board’s strength to half (from 8 to 4) and unifying its eight railways services into a central service in a bid to reform the 150-year-old Railway Board of the Indian Railways.
“Legally we cannot end the tenure of any officer coming from any service that he is a part of. We are hoping that all the modalities are sorted out soon and whoever wants to opt will do so voluntarily. For example if 10% officers say we will not come into the new service and we prefer to stay in our service then we will have to keep them as we will have no option; till they don’t retire we cannot move them. We have given one year to finalize this process,” Railway Board chairman VK Yadav said.
Yadav said the majority of the cadre belonging to the engineering service was in favor of the move while those in civil services have expressed their reservations.
There are eight services that are being merged into one service; Indian Railway Traffic Service(IRTS), Indian Railway Accounts Service(IRAS), Indian Railway Personel Service(IRPS), Indian Railway Service of Engineers(IRSE), Indian Railway Stores Service(IRSS), Indian Railway Service of Electrical Engineers(IRSEE), Indian Railway Service of Signal Engineers(IRSSE), and Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineer(IRSME). Of these Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS), the Indian Railway Accounts Service (IRAS) and the Indian Railway Personnel Service (IRPS) are civil services.
The union cabinet’s decision to create a Railway Board with a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) along with four members responsible for Infrastructure, Operations & Business Development, Rolling Stock and Finance respectively will also be finalized by March, Yadav said.
Railway employees had raised issues over the unification of the services alleging merging of technical and non-technical services is unfair adding that domain expertise is quintessential to the working of the railways.
“The government is also aware that a section of the officers, especially those belonging to the civil services have made representations against the service reform proposal. Time and again, their concerns have been addressed and their fears assuaged by Chairman, Railway Board,” the Railway Board note added.
In a written reply to a Parliament question on February 7, union railways minister Piyush Goyal said a majority of officers support the formation of the Indian Railway Management Service (IRMS). “However, officers of Indian Railway Traffic Service, Indian Railway Personnel Service and Indian Railway Accounts Service have submitted their suggestions, which will be kept in view while finalizing the modalities of IRMS,” he said.
The modalities of the unification of the services will be worked out by the ministry of railways in consultation with DoPT, with the approval of an alternative mechanism to be appointed by the Cabinet within a year.
The centre has also formed a committee of secretaries headed by the cabinet secretary for implementing the exercise of restructuring the board; this committee includes the Chairman, Railway Board, the Dopt secretary and the secretary of the department of expenditure. This committee will assist the group of ministers constituted by the government for formalizing the restructured Railway Board. The GOM will be formed after the recommendations of the committee, Yadav said.
“The government is also fully aware that the last task namely, integration of the existing eight services along with the integration of the promotion from group B to group A is by its nature a very difficult challenge. That is why the government has not taken any decision yet but has remitted the decision on the matter to a GOM,” the note said.
The move of merging all major services of the Indian Railways was also criticised by members of the opposition. In a letter written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MP and a member of the Standing Committee of Railways Manoj Kumar Jha said that a decision to merge the eight railways services is against the principles of natural justice and could affect safety.
“The Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS), the Indian Railway Accounts Service (IRAS) and the Indian Railway Personnel Service (IRPS) do not hold any physical assets and are, by virtue of being civil services, neutral and impartial. Merger of these services with cadres holding physical assets will erode the checks and balances of this mammoth organisation,” he wrote.
The proposed reforms are aimed at ending the division of the mammoth organisation into different departments. The Indian Railways employs nearly 1.3 million people and its trains carry 2.3 million passengers every day. The government said the move was aimed at ending a legacy marked by inefficiency in work, infighting over control of assets and resources, and delay in decision-making.
“They need to be clear about the details on how the system will work with two cadres; the unified cadre and the existing cadre as this will further complicate things. A white paper should be released by railways on how they plan on making the modalities work,” said former Railway Board chairman S S Khurana.