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As the Narendra Modi government nears the halfway point of its five-year term, administrative reforms continue to be a priority. This follows the belief that without transparent administration, its vision of good governance won’t percolate down. After dismantling the transfer-posting raj in Delhi in 2015 and changing the rules for empanelment in 2016-to select the best officers for top postings in Delhi-the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has now embarked upon a comprehensive inter-department service reform, beginning with the Indian Railways.
The reform has been seen as necessary to uproot the culture of nepotism that has taken a firm hold, especially in the selection and posting of divisional railway managers (DRMs), zonal general managers (GMs) and members of the Railway Board. These are three of the most important posts in the railway administration. For many years, it has been alleged that these processes are open to manipulation by the Union minister for railways (MoR) and the chairman of the Railway Board (CRB), allowing political bosses to pick and choose favourites, sidestepping both seniority and merit in appointments.
That Indian Railways has 68 divisions and 17 zones and seven Railway Board members and a total of eight services has led to a jostling for key postings. The hefty Rs 1.21 lakh crore annual capital budget for the Railways-which, on an average, translates to around Rs 1,750 crore per division and Rs 6,500 crore per zone-as well as the power and pelf associated with the post of DRM, are widely acknowledged to be the culprits for the breeding and prospering of this culture of ‘selective postings’. The CRB’s choice of DRM is equivalent in seniority to a chief mechanical, electrical or traction engineer in a zonal railway-all joint-secretary level posts in the Government of India. Add to this the intense competition: of the 700 DRM- or joint secretary-level posts in the Railways, only 68 officials become DRMs, contributing to the scramble and string-pulling.
According to the old rules, only officers who had already served as DRMs could be considered for the post of GM. The situation became further complicated by the fact that there were two kinds of GMs-‘Open Line’ and ‘Non-Open Line’. Of the total strength-27 GMs-17 had to be ‘Open Line’, or considered able to run a railway zone. The remaining 10 GMs were accommodated in ‘non-zonal’ side of the railways, such as railway factories. Finally, only Open Line GMs are considered for Railway Board membership.
This system, as well as the power wielded by those at the top, has ensured that those with political clout were often promoted to the posts of zonal GMs and then to members of the Railway Board. This eliminated the chances of many capable and deserving officials. For example, K.K. Saxena, a railways officer with outstanding appraisal reports, was declared unfit to be posted as zonal GM in 2009. Two years after that, a similarly deserving DRM, Radheyshyam, was denied the post of zonal GM, and posted as GM of the Chittaranjan Locomotive Factory instead. This paved the way for V.K. Gupta to become a member of the Board, despite Radheyshyam’s seniority in the organisation.
To begin with, the government has done away with this system, allowing non-Open Line GMs to become Board members. It has also fixed quotas for DRMs and GMs from all eight railway services, based on seniority and appraisal reports. The numbers have been fixed on the basis of the service’s importance in railway operations. For example, officers from engineering services are often found to be more qualified for main railway operations than those from accounts, personnel and stores. Under the new system, the greatest number of DRM posts have been assigned to mechanical and traffic services – 14 apiece – while electrical has been allocated 10, Signals 6, Accounts 4 and Stores 4.
The selection process has also been overhauled: earlier, the decision was taken by the CRB alone. Now, there is a four-member panel, including the CRB and the Secretary of the Union department of personnel. Moreover, three new posts have been created at the Board level, with the rank of director-general (DG). These posts will ensure that services that were under-represented on the Railway Board now have a voice. The CRB, A.K. Mittal, who played a key role in formulating the new rules, says that “the aim is to create an atmosphere of justice, comradeship, ownership and transparency, in all the eight services”.
Mittal, on the directions of railways minister Suresh Prabhu, has already carried out a game-changing reform. The duo mooted memoranda of understanding (MoUs) between the Board and its GMs, under which the latter will have to meet mutually decided annual targets. How GMs measure up will affect their performance evaluations. The targets are linked to operational performance, loading of goods, passenger earnings, safety, punctuality, project execution and capital expenditure. The targets vary from zone to zone, are based on local conditions and set in mutual consultations with the GMs, who have also been directed to employ similar performance-based MoUs with the 68 DRMs below them. The DRMs will, in turn, do the same with their divisional officers. “We are committed to bringing transparency and efficiency in railway administration,” says Prabhu.
Along with the railways, the PMO has also carried out a small reform in the Indian Police Service, again in the interest of improving fairness and transparency. There are 15 director-general level IPS posts at the Centre, of which only 11 are of secretary level. So far, the Union ministry of home affairs had total discretion on who got the apex posting and who did not. This led to frequent injustice: for example, IPS officers Meera Borwankar and Aruna Bahuguna, currently posted at the Centre, were not among the 11, though their juniors were. The PMO has now directed that the 11 apex-level DG posts will be filled only on the basis of seniority.
“The PM is committed to ushering in transparency and fairness at all levels of Indian bureaucracy. It is part of his core vision of ushering in a policy-driven administration. But it’s a long process and will take time,” says a senior official in the PMO.