Railways must bear the burden of growth in ‘Amrit Kaal’, HR restructuring is key | So Good News
Indian Railways is going through a major upheaval. In recent years, major structural changes have changed the methods and scope of operations in the railway. The bureaucracy’s archaic and colonial mindset has also made a drastic shift. This may be due to the recognition by successive governments that the same old system cannot sustain the engine for long. Examples are structural changes in the introduction of innovation and technology to the national carrier.
In the 2022-23 budget, the railway ministry decided to deploy 400 Vande Bharat trains over the next three years. To fulfill this task, Integral Coach Factory Perambur, Chennai has recently rolled out 75 Vande Bharat trains. Upgradation of railway tracks, automation of signaling systems, deployment of anti-collision devices such as Raksha Kavach, End of Train Telemetry (EOTT), doubling and tripling of railway lines, broad gauge electrification and replacement of Integral Coach Factory (ICF) buses with Linke Hofmann Busch ( LHB) buses have led to an increase in the maximum speed of a few trains to 160 km/h. Although the average speed of passenger and freight trains remains around 55 km/h and 25 km/h, respectively.
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The HR reform
The most important reform in the Indian Railways is the overhaul of human resources at the top level, as well as the establishment of a new Indian Railway Management Service (IRMS).
The reconstitution of the Railway Board has made the body lean and thin with only five members based on operational needs — Operations and Business Development; Infrastructure; Finance; and rolling stock; together with the managing director and chairman of the board. Now, officers appointed to fill the post of General Managers to head the 18 zones of Indian Railways must be part of IRMS. The recruitment of IRMS cadre will be done via Civil Services Examination conducted by UPSC. The broad idea is to have a unified service like the Indian Administrative Service, whose officers in the role of District Magistrates and Secretaries are in overall charge of the departments. They are assisted by various and sometimes specialized staff and officers from land revenue, engineering, public health departments etc. The earlier cadres like Indian Railway Service of Engineers (IRSE), Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineers (IRSME), Indian Railway Service of Electrical Engineers ( IRSEE), Indian Railway Service of Signals Engineers (IRSSE), Indian Railway Store Service (IRSS) which saw recruitment through Engineering Services Examination; and Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS), Indian Railway Account Service (IRAS) and Indian Railway Personnel Service (IRPS) recruited through civil services examinations will see no more direct induction. This is a logical conclusion to attract the best audience in Indian Railways for their leadership roles. It is this talent that will form the future leadership of this century and a half old organization.
The subsidy requirement in the FY23 budget was proposed to be around Rs 4.78 lakh crore, of which around 47 per cent i.e. Rs 2.25 lakh crore will be spent on capital expenditure. PRS analysis shows that between FY18 and FY23, the CAGR growth in expenditure on Indian Railways is expected to remain around 5.9 percent. By this calculation, the estimated budget in FY 2047-48, when India will celebrate its centenary of independence, will be around Rs 20.04 lakh crore. At present, capital expenditure on the railways is mainly carried out by engineers in concurrence with administrative heads such as Divisional Railway Managers (DRMs), General Managers (GMs) and the Railway Board. The Civil Engineering Department, headed by IRSE, spends about 60 percent of the total capital budget of the railway. The year 2047 will be the time when IRMS recruited through civil service examination will occupy the key positions. But since railways will remain one of the capital-intensive, technology-driven organizations, it will be relevant for these officers to have an edge in engineering knowledge. Of course, the railways will train them in various fields such as locomotive engineering and repair, track maintenance, signaling systems and so on, but there will also be a need for a good supervisory cadre with specialized engineering degrees.
Currently Indian Railway is recruiting supervisory cadres in engineering through Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) for the post of Senior Sectional Engineers. These cadres are the backbone of all engineering departments and look after the day-to-day maintenance activities. They are usually recruited at Group C level and are often retired as Group B employees. They also form a large part of locomotive workshops, coach depots, wagon workshops and yards, headed by the directly recruited officers from the engineering departments. Since the recruitment through Engineering Services has already stopped, there will be a need to have officers with solid skills to head these verticals.
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The skill intake
Recently, the government amended the Central Universities Act to upgrade the National Rail and Transport Institute (NRTI) to Gati Shakti University (under the Ministry of Railways) as one of the central universities. Currently, this institute offers various undergraduate courses like BBA, B.Sc and B.Tech in Transport Technology, Railway System and Communication among others and post graduate courses like MBA and M.Sc. The institute is at a nascent stage and the results have not been close to IITs and NITs which attract high paying private sector jobs. This is mainly because there are hardly any recruiters for these specialized courses in the market and the availability of a better selection of graduates at other premium institutes also dampens their prospects. The best way forward would be to use Gati Shakti University to produce world class supervisory personnel who would assist IRMS officers in their engineering work. The University shall continue to offer other programs on railway, road and other pillars of Gati Shakti along with these courses.
Candidates interested in a career as an engineer with the Indian Railways can be selected through a competitive entrance examination and trained for three years at Gati Shakti University in disciplines such as railway civil engineering, signal and communication engineering, and mechanical and electrical engineering. Once trained, they can be included in the system at Group B or C level, based on merit and requirements and after passing some form of induction test. They would form the second line of supervision and may later be in charge of locomotive workshops, coach yards and depots as Group A officers at the level of Junior Administrative Grade (JAG).
An efficient and capable system is required to drive the growth engine of Indian Railways, if it has to remain the nation’s lifeline for centuries to come. Despite the high growth occurring in roads and waterways, the role of railways is irreplaceable. The progress by the government on the High-Speed Rail Corporation to run bullet trains, dedicated freight corridors and net zero carbon by 2030 shows that the Ministry of Railways believes in business that is sustainable, viable and affordable. The National Rail Plan Vision 2030, along with other planning exercises, should further emphasize human restructuring because at the end of the day, railwaymen will have a significant role in this Amrit Kaal as India moves towards its centenary of independence.
Abhishek Tiwari is an IRTS officer in Indian Railways. He tweets @geogian_abhi. The views are personal.