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Railway Board trimmed, cadres merged for ‘smooth operation’

Five-member Board with merged IRMS officers likely to be in by next year.

Written by Avishek G Dastidar | New Delhi | Updated: December 25, 2019 5:53:22 am
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In a major move aimed at structural reform and end of “departmentalism”, the Union government on Tuesday drew the curtains on the Railway Board in its present form by merging eight Indian Railways specialised service cadres into a uniform cadre called the Indian Railway Management Service (IRMS).

The Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, decided that the present nine-member Railway Board – each member is an officer of the rank of Secretary to the Government of India — will be trimmed to a five-member agency and restructured on the lines of functions, rather than cadres.

As a result, there will be Members for Rolling Stock and Traction (engines, coaches, wagons, etc), Operations and Business Development, Finance, Infrastructure (track, signalling and telecom, etc), and a Chairman who will also be called the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The first batch will be recruited in 2021, the Cabinet decided.

There will be a Director General (Human Resources) to work under the Chairman for controlling the cadre.

The new five-member Board with merged officers, calling themselves IRMS officers, may be in place by the middle of next year.

Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said this would end “departmentalism”. Briefing the media after the Cabinet meeting, he said, “Railway Board Members would (up until now) only think of their respective departments and they would work in silos. We have decided to end that for better efficiency and growth.”

He called this “modernisation of a 164-year-old legacy”.

“The decision was unanimous; not a single Board member objected to it,” Goyal told The Indian Express after the briefing. “There will be no cadre-specific Board member any more because there will be no separate cadre.”

The government’s alternate mechanism – Committee of Secretaries, then a Group of Ministers – will oversee the nitty-gritty of the policy change. It will work out the merger of the existing services while ensuring a uniform seniority list. “It will make sure that no one loses out on seniority and promotion prospects,” Goyal said.

The Committee of Secretaries, in consultation with the Department of Personnel and Training will decide how best to merge the existing services down to the entry level. The Railways being a technical organisation, will continue to need engineers from different fields. For that, recruitment will take place based on indent – each vertical from the fields indicating how many engineers or other specialisations are required to be recruited in a particular hiring year. The move also means that as and when the current Railway Board members retire, the post may not be filled up, to prepare the ground for the next avatar of the Board.

Goyal also clarified that only a Railway officer will be Chairman Railway Board or CEO, and that there was no proposal to bring in IAS or outsiders to head Railways.

The eight Group A services that feed the current departments — Traffic, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Signalling and Telecom, Personnel, and Accounts — will cease to exist. The Railways currently recruits officers through the Civil Services exam for cadres such as Traffic, Personnel and Accounts. Engineers of various streams, on the other hand, are recruited through the UPSC’s Engineering Services Exam.

Now, a separate examination will be held by the government, possibly by UPSC, to recruit IRMS officers.

Additionally, the Cabinet also upgraded the post of General Managers to the rank of Secretary to Government of India. They are currently in the Special Secretary rank.

Goyal held a brainstorming session with the entire brass of Indian Railways on December 6 and 7 to create a consensus on issues related to structural, administrative reform in the organisation. The unification of the cadres into either one or two services was the top recommendation or takeaway of that exercise. Finally, the Railway Board decided to go with one cadre. “Once you make a cadre, the officer starts thinking from the point of view of the department,” Goyal said.

The move will end such old and illustrious services like Indian Railway Service of Engineers for Civil Engineering, Indian Railway Traffic Service, for operations and earnings, Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineers, Indian Railway Service of Electrical Engineers, among others.

From its inception in 1901, the Railway Board’s composition and nomenclature of its constituents have undergone change on several occasions. The last was over the past one year, when a Member-Signalling and Telecom and Member-Stores were added to the composition.

Before that, during the previous NDA government, Member-Mechanical was renamed Member-Rolling Stock, looking after all coaches and wagons, while Member-Electrical was renamed Member-Traction, looking after use of electric and diesel engines.

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