Few days ago, Government issued gazetted notification on 15 February 2022 for creation of a de novo unified railway service by the name of Indian Railway Management Services (IRMS) in exercise of its powers conferred by proviso to Article 309 of Constitution thereby amalgamating all Group A railway services under one name. The decision was kept in abeyance since 2019 when Government announced its creation to abrogate multifarious Group A services in railways recruited through both Civil Services Exam and Engineering Services Exam. However, present notification provides that IRMS will be recruited through Civil Services Examination only.
For such big announcement Government did not hold any press briefing as matter is already Res ipsa loquitor in public domain for the past few years. To show the urgency of the issue Ministry has already placed indent for 150 seats to UPSC for Civil Services Examination 2022 clearing the backlog of past two years vacancies. The decision for unification was taken based on the sentiments and suggestions of all levels of officers during “Parivartan Sangosthi” held on 07th & 08th December 2019 at New Delhi. These were also suggested by all groups constituted under GMs during Parivartan Sangosthi.
The present notification is welcomed by railway fraternity in principle even though there are certain ambiguities regarding structure, functions, and designation of officers. Malady of departmentalism in railways is hurting it badly and IRMS can be treated as panacea for it. The tipping point in the tectonic move to have a unified service in place of eight other services could have been the no-holds barred battle between the mechanical and the electrical engineering wings in the manufacture and approval of the ‘Train 18’ sets by the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai. Train 18 then was a victim of fight between two engineering departments. The mechanical department presumed that the electrical would sabotage the project and did not consult it while designing the system. They got it done through an outside vendor. Both wings submitted four-page notes putting the blame on each other. It is an indicative how the railways was functioning. Anyway, it got sorted out and tenders called for with Research Designs & Standards Organisation (RDSO).
As a user of Indian Railways, one also can’t deny the evident view of departmentalism at various Indian Railway Stations. The station amenities are taken care of by various departments. The amenities like platforms, drinking water, toilets, waiting rooms, and over-bridges are the responsibility of civil engineering, Lights, lifts, escalators, fans, and water-coolers are looked after by electrical, public address systems, departure boards, and train indicator boards are the responsibility of telecom, reservation, and ticketing is with commercial (with IT thrown in) and everything on-board (including sockets, fans, and lights) is with mechanical. The tracks, platforms, places where passengers wait, toilets, and perhaps even trains that come in within the Railway Station are needed to be cleaned. Generally, one can see 17 different cleaning contracts in one single railway station. Silos, and lack of coordination are common to many organisations. But, this is compounded by separate services with separate lines of accountability, and encadred posts for vertical mobility. In layman language, there are quotas, with posts reserved for specific services. It is the right time to do away with departmentalism and hence, IRMS is one of the many steps taken by the Government to end it.
Creation of IRMS was highly pitched by several committees constituted by Government primarily Prakash Tondon Committee 1992 and Bibek Debroy Committee 2015. These committees pointed out that railway is marred by departmentalism and silo structure of working causing dissonance and sub optimal decision making. It has resulted in zero sum game of one up manship and department aggrandizement in daily working which is detrimental to the overall objectives of the organisation. And primary reason for it was laid down as multiplicity of channels of entry. Bibek Debroy Committee Report provided solution in form of IRMS through Civil Services Exam as one of the methods. It seems government has also found its answers through this manner of selection to revamp Indian Railways equipped with strategic coherence in complex logistics market scenario.
At present Indian Railways is run by Officers of 8 services recruited through Civil Services Exam and Engineering Services Exam. Amalgamation of these multifarious services under the umbrella of one service would certainly dilute the silo structure of working. Railway departments consists of both technical (engineering) and nontechnical (administrative). Government decision to take officers from Civil Services Exam shows its thrust to overhaul the entire gamut of operations. Such officers recruited through Civil Services Exam will possess the managerial capabilities to take the decision in terms of market competition and at the same time keeping pace with rising aviation and road sectors. It will also mitigate the excessive formalization in the railway setup to strengthen vox populi of nation.
It is seen majority of new officer recruits recruited through Civil Services Exam are also having engineering background and other diverse background. Onerous nature of Civil Services Exam and its extensive syllabus help them in possessing wide knowledge about prevailing market conditions, innovations, finances. So, in Government’s opinion they are better suited to hold key managerial positions like CRB, GM and DRM. Presently these key position holders are from a particular service and consequently tends to be biased and not driven by larger organisational interests. It is well laid down judicial principle that when they return to their cadre on completion of tenure causing relapse of departmental squabbling. IRMS will remain neutral in such positions as it will not hold any departmental allegiance.
It is also known fact that requirement of specialised domain competencies decreases at senior level and general management competencies increases at senior levels. In present setup officers positioned in senior positions have specialised expertise which has not delivering fruitful results in coherence with larger goals of organisation. IRMS officers who will work in different departments will be possessing better knowledge and skills set to hold key managerial positions.
Railway plays a significant role in the interests of customers under the ambit of Consumer Protection Act. Under the ambit of Act every consumer possess Right of assured, access to variety of qualitative services at competitive prices. Managerial sense of working in IRMS officers will deliver variety of railway services through competitive pricing regime. It will also result in quick redressal of grievances of passengers and freight customers of railways in an enabling digital ecosystem.
Now when the government has decided to adopt IRMS through Civil Services route, so it is most fundamental to create adequate matrix structure and working environment for success of this transformation. Gupta Narain committee was of the view that unified service is difficult in railways due to inability of UPSC to give a predetermined discipline wise mix in keeping with the educational backgrounds of each of eight disciplines when recruited through Civil services exam. Even Bibek Debroy Committee Report also says that unified service requires diverse set of skills and competencies. Now it becomes the paramount duty of Government to ensure diverse capabilities of officers recruited through IRMS. In this direction the said notification extends the duration of probation period from 1.5 years to 2 years which seems appropriate in view of extensive nature of training of new officers recruited through Civil services.
So now when the cat is finally out of the bag there will be speculations and misinformation’s about the functionality of railways. Government needs to clear all ambiguities regarding upcoming structures and conditions of service for streamlining the process of rejuvenation. In landmark judgement of Hon’ble Supreme Court in State of UP v. Ramgopal it was pronounced that any rules made under Article 309 must stand the test of reasonableness under Article 14 and Article 21 of Constitution. So, it is sine qua non for Ministry to frame rules and regulation keeping in mind well laid down judicial pronouncements to avoid onerous laches on account of judicial proceedings. We presume government is also working steadily on it to instil confidence of existing and new IRMS officers for betterment of railways in holistic manner.
Change is inevitable and dynamism is important in governance so to keep up with different problems arising at different times. Hon’ble Supreme Court in Navtej Singh Johar & Ors.v. Union of India Lord Roskill “public policy of a particular epoch must be in consonance with the current and the present needs of the society, which are sensible in the prevalent times.” Hence, introduction of IRMS selected through Civil services is one of Herculean effort curb the age-old problem of departmentalism in Indian Railways and introducing diverse and efficient workforce to work collectively towards better future of Indian Railways.