In the surge forward towards modernization organizations especially large ones must take periodical studies into what the future needs. The need is more important because effecting changes in huge systems takes a great deal of time, in addition archaic methods have inertia which resist going into new channels.
The Railway system has been very tardy in attaining any kind of modern outlook in its staff structure at the senior levels. It is apparent that decades of operation in a particular way have built up rigid form of management, which in its wake has brought few answers to meet challenges.
To outline a few shortcomings as examples would throw some archaic ideas over board. Inter departmental rivalry heads the list. The scramble for the top posts between the civil engineering, mechanical, electrical engineering and the operating departments outshines the long drawn out cold war between the major powers both in duration and intensity. This is most marked in Accident Inquiries, Deputation Nominations, Planning Investments, and Maintenance Budgets to say nothing of Housing Allotments. Lack of vigilance checks at the grass roots level and subjective annual confidential reports add to the lack of momentum.
As is common knowledge the Railway Board at the apex with its top secretaries to Government control zonal General Managers who in turn control their constituent Divisions. It has been often noticed that a GM or Divisional Railway Manager quite openly protects, nurtures and is indulgent towards anything concerning his parent department. With this in vie, cases have occurred where internal inquiry reports have been radically changed before onward transmission. Heads of Departments have been known to threaten penal action against any one accepting responsibility for any mishap. Most of these aspects can be traced to the long association with one branch of activity.
Planning is an activity which the grass roots formations are excluded from. Mere comprehensive coverage of further use of computers, inattention to capital expenditure or its more economic usage, removal of obsolescence in a determined manner, inadequate provision for research all got to make up the witch’s brew of somnambulence.
The Railway officer has always been worried about the influx of ex-cadre personnel into their ranks especially the most rapacious of the branches of the Government viz. the I.A.S. as also the I.P.S. mandarins. Better known as the "I Agree Sir" and the "I Prostrate Sir" cadres, their contribution to the downward slide of public sector activities in practically every state is not unknown. The Railway is run by specialist branches and whatever the internal activities specialist knowledge is inescapable. In fact such expertise was utilized by many public sectors before their own cadres were formed, e.g. B.H.E.L., Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals, M.A.M.C.Durgapur and others. It is not the overall view that it is vital in a transport setup but a close knowledge of the sinews.
Having said this it is relevant to move on the solutions that may be considered. The first is the method of indication of the cadre.
The time-honored method has been the Central Services Examination with lateral induction of Defence Personnel and a few other training schools. This system has not built up a sufficiently homogeneous group who would think in a manner that is unified.
It is here that the Defense Services system needs emulation. The first four years of a railway inductee should be spent in a Railway university as is said to be the practice in France and China. Part of the expenditure could be met by the ministry, if not the whole amount. Setting up the university, which would give suitable training in all branches of Railway activities, would not cost more than Rs.200 Crores. the equivalent of 200 Kms of unigauge conversion; but much more suited to the needs and more productive.
The cohesion of officers from the same institution in all the disciplines of the system would go a long way in developing the needed commitment, which is lacking now. The products from the existing Institutions are very often persons who have paid huge sums of money to get seats and have often paid for their further scholastic progress. The aim of such persons in general is to look over the wall at others of their own university in other fields.
To make a point, it is very clear that graduate from one of the Management Institutes tries to overhaul only another of his peers from the same institution. Most of the entrants to the Railway services today are from diverse areas who are looked over by a Top Railway Official for about 20 minutes at an interview before being enlisted. The suggestion here is to have a Railway University which trains people after selection for a period of four to four and a; half years in all aspects of Railway Engineering an other disciplines. This followed by a two-year probation would give a well-suited person the opportunity to serve the system with a signed bond for at least three more years. The Railway University should give the necessary Degree certificates, which can be recognized all over.
The safeguards needed are mainly to have a proper selection of people who have spent one year in a science or engineering degree college, by intensive tests, the training should permit candidates to be denied railway service unless they come within the guaranteed rank in the batch. As has been seen in the past schools of standing produce men who make their mark within or without the system that trained them. The important aspects to be thought of are why should the Government take on this expenditure when many colleges in the country train the persons who are selected eventually?
We are now looking at investment and long term returns. A young man selected before his is 20 years old is given an intimate look into what this calling is to be, is trained for it at the complete expense of the government or partly so, brought into the fold which has trained him which would hopefully be cheaper than elsewhere; and is given a horizon to reach during the next four decades of his life.
Would this not build a loyalty to the system which cannot be got easily by any other way? This is an extension of what has been experienced by the one similar scheme the Railways and the Defence services have. To reap the reward of loyalty and dedication are laudable goals, which should never be, lost sight of in an organized service in a country on the move. The acceptance of this scheme would bring in its wake the finer details of the execution. The courses would produce Railway Engineers with adequate coverage of the technology involved therein.
Similarly it is felt that the same concept could be used for the disciplines of Transportation, Commercial, Financial and Personnel cadres which exist now. A training in a combined package for personnel into these branches should be undertaken at the university, again with the award of suitable degrees, periods of probation and bonds for specified periods. Thus the Railways would train and mould two groups of people for its own use, one in Technical and the other for the commercial areas. Logically this would require a change in the structure of the Railway Cadres.
At present we have separate branches for Electrical, Civil, Mechanical and Signal Engineering. These should be changed to a traction department concerned with technical operation, another would be the workshop and material management division and the third should be a construction division which later would be the preserve of civil engineering. The other divisions would be the Business Division: comprising of transportation, Commercial and Financial branches under one head. The last area to be inducted is the Personnel and Welfare division comprising of Human Resources, Medical Scrutiny and Vigilance. The Planning and Computer Divisions should be placed under the direct control of the Zonal Manager. The appendix `A’ gives the overall restructuring.
The restructured zonal railway would probably get less friction between them, as many specialties would come under one cadre. There is of course the major change that can be considered and that is of privatization. Power distribution, works constructions, workshops and catering in the commercial branch would first attract attention in this regard as they are in the forefront of what the private sector is familiar with. This if done would give the Railways more focus on the main business of running trains perhaps in a more economic manner.
No change can be more important than to give a real administrative experience to railway managers as early as possible. This could be done by having Deputy Divisional Managers on the Divisions with departments under them, similar to Additional General Manager at the zonal level. Managers of the system could see real management problems at a; much earlier stage than otherwise viz. after about 10 years service instead of the present 20 years when they are posted as Additional Divisional Railway Managers. The strength of any change can only be effective when real power to act independently is delegated to various executives. This especially of importance to the Additional General Managers and the various Divisional Managers. In the same line of thinking comes the ambit of control of each of the top executives in the railway board.
The present and the restructured railway board as considered more streamlined are indicated in appendix`B’.
The suggestions have not included the Divisional Organisations which have the primary job of customer interaction. But based on the zonal concept due modifications can be effected. The bottom line of these changes would be to give a multi-directional thrust to functions for persons of 10-12 years service and not later, when their minds are less flexible a more broadened outlook would reduce more flagrant wastage as has happened in the past e.g. non-conversion of nearly l lakh units of MG wagons to Broad gauge abilities (designs exist) on the heels of the `UNIGAUGE’ projects; developing our own larger horsepower electric and diesel locos instead of import. Quicker change to microwave communication besides many other unviable steps.
Details of Railway engineering courses exist; changes of cadre to include the present incumbent in the new structure as needed exist; specialized focus on all technical and managerial studies are available. Hence a change to a more dynamic management structure, albeit in steps need not be balked at.
The time to act is now if the role of the key player in the nation's economy is to be matched with countries needs in the future. The suggestions have inherent in them the building up of a more unified way of thinking which would in the long run avoid wasteful expenditure as had happened in the past. The suggestions also touch on the need to give more scope to managerial talent shorn of its departmental bias by exposing younger persons to it at an earlier age.
No reorganization any where can be effective without the political will which has so far been quite absent in this large system which is and which will be a key player in the economics growth in the present and in the future.
The time to act is now if the role of the key player in the nation's economy is to be matched with the country’s needs in the future. The suggestions have inherent in them the building up of a more unified way of thinking which would in the long run avoid wasteful expenditure as had happened in the past. The suggestions also touch on the need to give more scope to managerial talent shorn of its departmental bias by exposing younger persons to it at an earlier age.
No reorganization any where can be effective without the political will; which has so far been quite absent in this large system which is and which will be a key player in he economy’s growth both in the present and future.
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