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Induct Professionalism into the Railways by Disbanding the Board

Disbanding the corrupt and inefficient railway board should be first step towards reforming the Indian railways.

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India
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The Bibek Debroy Committee (BDC) is the 23rd committee formed since independence to reform the railways. Will it help turn the sector around?

To know the answer you must understand why the earlier 22 committees did not have any substantial effect and failed to diagnose where the problems were. Unfortunately the BDC has also not been able gauge the situation effectively. It has been shown only what the strongly entrenched Railway Board (RB) wanted them to see.

The BDC failed to realise that nowhere in the world there exists an organisation where all the members of the board are also employees of the organisation, as our practice entails.

Blocking all reforms, the railway bureaucracy has sent 22 committee reports for a toss, and it is child’s play for them to trash the BDC recommendations to the storage attics of Rail Bhavan. The bureaucracy has high stakes in protecting, promotion, posting, and covering up corruption and inefficiency. Frequent accidents, poor operating ratio, fund crunch do not deter them because it suits them to keep railways this way, without any accountability.

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Ignored Recommendations

Let us look at the status of recommendations of earlier committees. The Board could nonchalantly say that out of 106 recommendations, of the Anil Kakodkar committee (2012) on safety, 70 were discussed and 36 are yet to be discussed, including the major recommendation, the creation of the Railway Safety Authority. Among the accepted recommendations of Rakesh Mohan Committee, 16 out of 34 are yet to be implemented in full.

The accounting is non-transparent, complicated, and unprofessional. The BDC wants a monitoring committee to implement the account reforms within two years. If the status quo persists, even after two years, there will be no monitoring committee. The list of ignored recommendations is endless. Bibek Debroy has come closer to the truth. In an article in the Times of India dated 4th August, 2015, he says only those who have something to hide will block accounting reforms.

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Inefficiency

Sadananda Gowda’s Railway Budget of 2014 said that out of 676 projects in 30 years, only 327 were completed. After spending the original estimate Rs 1,57,883 crore, now RB needs Rs 1,82,000 crore to complete the rest.

Only one out of 99 new lines sanctioned in the last ten years has been completed. This is the performance of our RB! If they are accountable to the Parliament, how did inefficiency go unmonitored?

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Disbanding the corrupt and inefficient railway board should be first step towards reforming the Indian railways.
(Photo: Reuters)

Corruption

Its excessive staff cost (more than 50% of its expenditure for over 13 lakh regular employees), its inefficiency and its corruption are the causes behind making it a sinking ship.

A member of the board, and several top officials are under CBI enquiry. A Times of India report dated March 13, 2014 mentions two enquiries by the CBI on the Railway Board and one on the “Mini Ratna” RailTel in giving mobile phones to employees. A multi-crore scam on weighbridges is under enquiry (22nd April, Indian Express). In Tiruchirappalli Division a Rs 300 crore freight scam is being investigated by the CBI (June 11th, The Hindu).

The Bansal episode has brought to light, the extent of corruption at all levels. The Member, Staff had to pull out a whopping Rs10 crore to become the Member-Electrical – but not without the hope that he could recover ten times more. He retained the post of General Manager, Western Railway since it is too lucrative to give up.

Every bribe-giver to the GM should have collected much more from the ranks below. The CAG report of Feb.12,2014 provides us with a long list. A news item on 4th August, 2015 confirms all that is said above. The Central Vigilance Commission has said that there is an 82% increase in corruption cases in 2014 and most of them were from the Railways.

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Disbanding the corrupt and inefficient railway board should be first step towards reforming the Indian railways.
(Photo: Reuters)

Freedom From Accountability

The RB enjoys unlimited freedom from accountability. The Final Report – 1.12 – raises two questions to show lack of accountability. “Why do two thirds of locomotives develop problems within six months of periodic overhaul? Why do two thirds of goods trains leave late because the locomotives are not available? “ No answers. Count the number of people held responsible and punished for the accidents that have taken place. No Railway head rolls, no matter how many coaches roll. The BDC, again has been sadly silent on these things.

In the Peruman train tragedy, the Bangalore-Kanyakumari Island Express derailed on the Peruman bridge, near Kollam, Kerala, and fell into the lake, killing 105 people on July 8, 1988. While an eye witness reported a drizzle, the meteorology department did not report even a strong wind. But our RB closed the matter spinning a theory that there was a tornado which toppled the train. The whole of India was shocked.

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Unprofessional

Is RB professional in its functioning? In 4.40, the BDC talks about, “rigorous qualifying examinations to ensure high level of competence and professionalism.”

The Master Circular 37 says when no one has obtained the minimum pass mark among the SC/ST category, the best among the failed must be promoted. In other categories even a man who gets 60 may not get promoted because there are people who have scored above him.

But among the SC/ST, workers who get 7,11,13, and 14, the worker who gets 14 must be promoted.

Corporates have around 30-40 people at their CEO’s office, the Railway Board has 1073 officers besides clerks and peons to serve them ( Page 69 of interim report).

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Drastic measures are required to save our Railways:

1) Introduce competent personnel in the Railway Board. This board will ensure PPP, disinvestment and riddance of the family lumber. Let the present members be HoDs.

2) Sell lock, stock and barrel, all the hospitals, schools and Railway quarters (no takers now) and the land. Rs 8.56 lakh crores are needed to modernise in the next five years including Rs 1.27 lakh crores for safety (Page 169) and nearly Rs 4.91 lakh crores are needed to execute the already sanctioned pending projects (Page 136) .

3) FDI will not come to an employee-centric government organisation. Zones must be corporatised and disinvested. Railway PSUs must also be disinvested.

4) Accounting reforms recommended decades ago must be done within six months. A team of chartered accountants must work 16 hours a day.

5) Seventh Pay Commission should be implemented only after these are fully implemented no matter how long it takes.

6) Government must have the courage to fight the RB and upset the corrupt system. A glaring omission is the absence of the word “corruption” anywhere in the interim and final reports.

If you think this is too tall an order, then you will have to live with, rat-infested dirty coaches, frequent fatal accidents, unpunctual travel, poor passenger amenities, second class toilets with no mugs, locked latrines in platforms, increased fares, hidden fares, passengers on roofs, a fattening bureaucracy, widespread corruption with all posts openly for sale, cost escalation and delay in every project and a Railways that will fast slide into bankruptcy.

Dear commuters, the choice is yours.

(The writer is a freelance journalist and a railway commentator.)

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