In a major move to reform the 150-year-old railway board of the Indian Railways, the union Cabinet on Tuesday approved to restructure the apex body of the Indian Railways by trimming its strength to half, and unifying its eight railways services into a central service called the Indian Railway Management Service.

As per the new structure, the Chairman shall be the cadre controlling officer responsible for Human resources (HR) with assistance from a Director General level officer. Three apex level posts shall be surrendered from Railway Board, and all the remaining posts of the Railway Board shall be open to all officers regardless of the service to which they belonged.

To be clear, the ministry of railways clarified that the existing railway board members will continue in their posts till the end of their tenure.

How does the railways board currently function?

The Railway Board is the apex body of the Indian Railways which reports to the Parliament via the ministry of railways. It will now consist of four members and chairperson. At present, the railway board includes eight members; member (rolling stock), member (traction), member (traffic), member (engineering), member (staff), member (material management), members (signal & telecom) and financial commissioner.

How will the new board function?

Indian railways will now have only a five member railway board; who will act as “Chief Executive Officer (CEO)” along with four members responsible for Infrastructure, Operations & Business Development, Rolling Stock and Finance respectively.

What is the significance of this move?

The slew of reforms announced for the national transporter announced by the cabinet are aimed at ending departmentalisation of the mammoth organization that employees nearly 1.3 million people, second only to the strength of the Armed Forces.

Unlike Railway systems the world over, which have been corporatized, the Indian Railways is managed by the government directly. It is organised into various departments such as traffic, civil, mechanical, electrical, signal & telecom, stores, personnel, and accounts among others. These departments are vertically separated from top to bottom and are headed by a Secretary level officer (Member) in the Railway Board. This organization of the department runs deep down to the grassroot level of the Railways. Unification of services is aimed at ending this ‘departmentalism’, promote smooth working of Railways, expedite decision making, create a coherent vision for organisation and promote rational decision making.

The unification of services had earlier been mooted by various committees for reforming Railways including – the Prakash Tandon Committee (1994), Rakesh Mohan Committee (2001), Sam Pitroda Committee (2012) and Bibek Debroy Committee (2015).

How many services did the railways have that have been merged?

There are eight services that are being merged into one service; Indian Railway Traffic Service(IRTS), Indian Railway Accounts Service(IRAS), Indian Railway Personel Service(IRPS), Indian Railway Service of Engineers(IRSE), Indian Railway Stores Service(IRSS), Indian Railway Service of Electrical Engineers(IRSEE), Indian Railway Service of Signal Engineers(IRSSE), and Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineer(IRSME).

How it will be unified?

The modalities and unification of the services will be worked out by the Ministry of Railways in consultation with Department of Personnel and Training, with the approval of an alternate mechanism to be appointed by the Cabinet in order to ensure fairness and transparency. The process is scheduled to be completed within a year.

What is the vision going forward?

The India Railways has an ambitious programme to modernise and provide higher safety standards of safety, speed and services to the passengers with a proposed investment of Rs. 50 lakh crore over the next 12 years. This requires speed and scale, and a unified, agile organisation to work single-mindedly on this task and capable of responding to challenges.