In his first major move towards internal reforms of the Railways, minister Suresh Prabhu on Thursday formally gave away all his powers to decide on tenders. He empowered zonal railways and Railway Board members to take such calls from now on.
The move is aimed at speeding up the procurement process and bringing in more transparency. In an order issued late in the evening, the ministry made it clear that from now, tenders valuing up to Rs 500 crore, will be accepted at the level of Additional Members of Railway Board.
For tenders with values more than Rs 500 crore, Additional Members will form the Tender Committee for evaluation, while the Board Member concerned will be the tender accepting authority.
The Railway Minister and his office will thus, not have any role in any tender of Indian Railways any more. The approval of the President was received in this regard. This comes barely weeks after former Delhi Metro MD E Sreedharan suggested such a system in his report to Prabhu. The new system simplifies the process of evaluating tenders without losing the checks and balances.
According to official data, at present Railway Board members are handling 14 high-level tenders, involving a combined value of a whopping Rs 17,508 crore.
For the high-value tenders already lying at the minister’s office, the Members are to now decide on them taking into account the comments and observations of the ministers already recorded in the files.
This effectively frees the minister and his staff of the task of deciding on each heavy duty tender file. In effect, it also insulates the political dispensation from any controversy arising out of procurement process in the future.
The internal order comes a day after the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet filled up eight vacant posts of zonal railway General Managers and Board Members. In his report to the minister, Sreedharan had criticised the government for keeping so many top-level posts vacant. He had argued that the process of delegating these powers to Board Members and GMs made little sense when most of such crucial posts were lying vacant.
“It is therefore questionable whether GMs should be delegated powers with regards to commercial decisions and tenders when posts of GMs are vacant,” Sreedharan had observed in his report.
Prabhu, it is learnt, played a crucial role in convincing the ACC and the PMO towards making the appointments by December 31 after months of impasse.