In his interim report presented to Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu last week, E Sreedharan — popularly known as the ‘Metro man’ — has strongly criticised the government and the Railways for keeping crucial posts in Indian Railways vacant for months. He has also questioned the process of delegating more powers to General Managers (GM) in the light of the sustained vacancy.
“It is therefore questionable whether GMs should be delegated powers with regards to commercial decisions and tenders when posts of GMs are vacant… a system of procedure to ensure no post of GM or (Railway Board) Member remains vacant at any time has to be in place before more powers are thrust on GMs,” Sreedharan said in his interim report.
According to senior Railway Board officials, the 82-year-old technocrat is trying to tell Prabhu that the move of delegating powers to the zonal railways makes little sense if top posts are kept vacant indefinitely.
Using words such as “deplorable” and “questionable” in the report, Sreedharan has gone into the present status of high-level vacancies to make a case for filling them. “Eight of the 27 top posts (including those of GMs) remain vacant. One GM would be retiring on November 30. The post of Member Electrical has been vacant for months. Two more Members will be retiring by December 31.
So 11 out of 27 posts will be vacant,” the report says. Prabhu has, in the past, said that the minister should not deal with any tender and all such powers should go to zonal railways.
The report has assessed that at present, Railway Board members are handling 14 high-level tenders, involving a combined value of Rs 17,508 crore. Citing the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, in which he was the founder Managing Director, Sreedharan has said that these tenders should be dealt with through a three-stage system.
For GMs, Sreedharan has recommended that they should stop referring high-value tenders to the ministry and use their powers to deal with them. Making a slew of observations, Sreedharan has also suggested that the ministry’s tendering and machinery procurement behemoth COMFOW (Central Organisation for Modernisation of Workshops) be phased out.
Sreedharan has also raised questions of the widespread system of nominating other serving GMs to “look after” charge of vacant GM posts in other railways, saying that “common logic” should be to let a senior most Principal Head of the Department look after the charge till the post is filled.
The process to fill up GM posts is being rebuffed by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet for months now as the Railways has failed to explain how different criteria is applied to different candidates for the same posts.
The post of Member Electrical has been kept vacant by the Railways for reasons not cited while Member Mechanical retired on November 28. Chairman of the Railway Board will retire on December 31 followed by Member Traffic in January, with no sign of processes required to replace them.