On December 2, the Ministry of Railways announced that from 2023 onwards, recruitment to the Indian Railways Management Service (IRMS) will be done through a specially designed examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). This will be a major departure from the current system of recruitment, which does not have a unique examination for IRMS.
Like the Civil Services Exam (CSE), the new IRMS exam will be two-tiered — a preliminary screening examination and a main written examination and interview. It will be used to recruit officers to Group A services of the Indian Railways.
According to the press brief from the Indian Railways, for the preliminary screening of candidates, they will need to appear for the Civil Services (Prelim) exam. This will be followed by a specific IRMS (Main) examination which will consist of four papers of conventional essay-type questions.
Part 1 (Qualifying papers) will comprise two separate essay-type papers for 300 marks each. One will be a test on any Indian language included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution (at present, 22 languages). The other will be an English language test.
Part 2 (Papers to be counted for merit) will comprise two optional papers for 250 marks each. The candidate is supposed to choose any one optional subject. The list of subjects available are:
Part 3 will be a personality test. This will be for 100 marks.
According to the Railway Ministry’s press brief, the syllabi for the aforementioned qualifying and optional papers will be the same as that for the CSE.
Group A IRMS officers can serve in any of the 10 different organised railway services, divided into three separate cadres: technical services, administrative and accounts services, and medical services. Currently, recruitment for these three is done through three of the major examinations conducted by the UPSC:
Under the new system, the first two cadres will be recruited through the IRMS examination, with a common recruitment process.
While it remains to be seen how the quality of recruits changes, the IRMS exam is going to have an immediate impact on how candidates prepare for recruitment to the railways, and what kind of candidates can join the railway services.
First, according to the PIB press release, the eligibility for IRMS candidates will be different from the CSE: the minimum educational qualifications include a degree in engineering, commerce, or chartered accountancy. This means that the IRMS will no longer have officers with a background in social sciences or the pure sciences.
While previously, recruits to the technical cadres had similar qualification requirements, this was not the case for those entering through the CSE where any graduate degree would qualify an individual to apply for the services. The IRMS exam is likely to benefit students with an engineering or commerce background, who plan to appear for the CSE. Now they will have another avenue open exclusively to them.
Second, in the earlier system, the Railway Services was one of many services that the entrance examinations would recruit for. Candidates’ ranks and preferences would go into determining the service they would be chosen for, with the IRMS competing against all the other civil or engineering services to staff its own cadre. This will change. Under the new system, with a dedicated IRMS exam, only candidates who are interested in working for the railway services may apply.
Third, the Civil Services (Prelim) examination will be relevant for both technical and administrative recruits. Specifically for candidates with a background in engineering, this would change their preparation. While earlier, the Engineering Services had a specific preliminary examination that required only a basic grasp of General Studies to pass, the new system will make them appear for the Civil Services (Prelim) exam which needs wider knowledge and understanding of General Studies.
Thus, while for the administrative cadre the new system will require greater technical knowledge, the reverse will also be true — those from technical backgrounds will be expected to have greater general knowledge. The Indian Forest Service already has a similar system of recruitment as the one proposed for the IRMS.
There has been some talk of streamlining the railway recruitment process since around 2017. Over the last three years, in the course of discussions on the modalities of a proposed IRMSE, there has been no recruitment to the Group A category of railway services. As the new system begins in 2023, the Ministry announced that 150 officers would be recruited through the CSE this year.
One possible reason to shift to the IRMSE is that for both technical and administrative posts in the railways, there is significant need for technical knowledge. Given that train systems are technologically complex, more technical expertise for all officers will theoretically help improve the IRMS, especially as the Indian Railways undertakes a host of technological improvements to modernise itself. Also, the joint prelims will hopefully account for the candidates’ general knowledge and aptitude.
Another reason can be to eliminate existing acrimony between technical and administrative cadres that can be troublesome for the IRMS. According to sources, due to the different backgrounds and forms of recruitment, technical and administrative officers sometimes bicker over issues such as promotions. The IRMS exam will create a merged pipeline for recruits.