Indian Railways, the country’s largest commercial utility employer, wants to give 4G smartphones to all its 13.5 lakh-odd employees across India at government expense irrespective of their rank, ostensibly to increase productivity.
Each phone may be enabled with biometric Aadhaar authentication for security and integrity of access for individual of employee.
As per informal estimates of those in the know, the cost of the move — handsets are to be issued on tenure-bound contract along with connection from the mobile telephony operator — is being estimated at between Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 crore, although an official estimate is not yet available.
The Railways Ministry has approached the Finance Ministry to seek a relaxation in government rules, which prohibit issuing handsets at the expense of the state exchequer to anyone below the rank of a Joint Secretary, or anyone who is not in an independent supervisory role.
Railway Board chairman Ashwani Lohani has written to the Finance Secretary seeking clarification on government policy application on all government departments. The Finance Ministry has, in turn, sought additional details such as what Railways intends to do, sources have confirmed to The Indian Express.
The issue is being pursued at the “highest level”, sources said.
The emphasis is that the new idea will eventually increase productivity of Railways, which is not like regular policy-making ministries, officials said.
The Finance Ministry policy also says that giving phones and connections to government employees at public expense would have to be cost-neutral, which means the government department concerned should save money somewhere to afford the facility without adding to its working expenses.
This will be single-largest enterprise client for any telecom operator that bags the contract. One round of discussion has taken place with all leading telecom operators in the Railway Board about a month ago, where an OSD from the Prime Minister’s Office was also present, it is learnt.
In the 4-G device the national transporter intends to issue, there is going to be biometric authentication to secure access to various internal official platforms that will be installed on the phones, “so that chances of unauthorised access and data breach are negated”, a senior government official said.
Central to the idea is to enable trackmen with enough relevant features so that they can communicate track maintenance-related data in real time to enhance safety, sources said. Different verticals with their respective areas of service would have special app-based platforms to complement their work, they said.
Field operatives can also use official applications based on the camera feature to communicate information related to operations in real time, it is being said.
Currently around 2.5 lakh railway employees use official mobile phones, and the expense towards that is around Rs 180 crore per year.
Railways currently has a three-year contract with Airtel for Closed User Group connection, which expired this year.