“Z” for Zones and Divisions

“Z” for Zones.

 

The evil that men do lives after them .The good is oft interred with their bones”

 

said Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar”

 

Sardar Patel integrated the hundreds of princely states into the Union of India. No sooner he passed away than the process of disintegration started. The disintegration was justified as being an expression of the people’s aspirations. The process started with the breaking up of Madras state and was accelerated with the formation of linguistic states. Language is not an integrating factor as evidenced by the break up of Uttar Pradesh,Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. The agitation for a separate Telengana state started almost sixty years ago,when Hyderabad State was parceled out amongst Andhra Pradesh,Maharashtra and karnataka,reached a crescendo in 1973,simmered for the next thirty odd years and has now broken out with renewed vigour. Demands for a separate Nag-Vidharbha state and Gorkhaland have intensified.

 

The integration of dozens of railways,including private and state owned railways was achieved smoothly and the Indian Railways came to be consolidated into six zones,based purely on operational necessities and administrative control. This was no mean achievement,considering that Partition had dismembered the railway network without considering the impact on train operations. As a result of partition,the entire North East was cut off and the much longer route via the “chicken neck” at Siliguri had to be used. The officers and staff of the State Owned railways had to be absorbed in the new zones. The partition left huge gaps in certain categories of staff which had to be filled quickly. Most of Muslim firemen of the East Indian Railway which in its heyday stretched from Kolkata to Saharanpur opted to go to East Pakistan,paralysing train operations during the summer of 1948.

 

The six zones were Central,Eastern,Northern,North Eastern,Southern and Western Railways.With the nationalisation of the huge Bengal Nagpur Railway and its amalgamation with the East Indian Railway,

the nascent Eastern Railway stretched from Saharanpur to Vishakhapatnam and from Kolkata to Nagpur. It was too unwieldy an arrangement. Besides,the BNR system was a heavily freight oriented railway and its traffic was expected to increase exponentially with the setting up of the new steel plants at Bhilai,Raurkela and Durgapur,the expansion of the steel plants in Jamshedpur and Burnpur and the rise of heavy industry in the Eastern Region.

 

Shri K.C.Bakhle,then Chief Commissioner (now called Chairman Railway Board)of Indian Railways,told the Union Minister for Railways that the BNR should be formed into a separate zone. The MR disagreed. Bakhle resigned in protest. Subsequently,Bakhle’s stand was vindicated and the BNR had to be made a separate zone.Soon thereafter,the strategically important lines in the North East had to be separated from the North Eastern zone and formed into the North Frontier Railway. The NERly was a Metre Gauge Railway which extended all the way from Dibrugarh to Achnera,with its headquarters at Gorakhpur,and had become too unwieldy.

 

The next railway to be formed was the South Central Railway in 1966,with headquarters at Secunderabad.At that time the Southern Railway had eight divisions,namely,Madras(Chennai),Olavakkot,Tiruchy,Madurai,Hubli,Mysore,Guntakal and Vijaywada.Its control extended up to Pune in the West and Waltair in the East. With the growth of traffic,this Railway had also become too big to be managed from Chennai.hence a new railway was established,taking away Sholapur and Secunderabad divisions from Central Railway and Hubli and Vijayawada divisions from the Southern Railway.

Linguistic state politics raised its ugly head with the staff of Sholapur division going on strike in 1972 against its inclusion in SCRly..That politicians of both Maharashtra and Andhra obviously had a hand in fanning this agitation,considering that it took nearly six years for matters to come to a head.At the same time,the politicians of Andhra Pradesh agitated for the inclusion of Guntakal Division in South Central Railway.Incredible as it may seem now,the news of the strike was censored.for a few months no train ran in Sholapur division,and all the Chennai-Mumbai trains were diverted through Nagpur.The Railway administration gave in to the agitators’ demand. Sholapur Division went back to Central Railway and Guntakal Division came to South Central Railway. Even though the re writing of SCRly’s boundaries was politically motivated,it suited the railways’ operational and administrative interests.

 

For the next thirty years,no new zones were formed,though the railways were considering setting up a new zone at Jaipur by consolidating the Metre Gauge portions of the Western and Northern Railways,namely,Ajmer,Jodhpur ,Jaipur and Bikaner divisions,and another zone at Singrauli,taking lines from Eastern Central and Northern Railways. It appears that when these proposals were put up to the Ministry,Ram Vilas Paswan,then Union minister seized on this opportunity and declared that the new zones were being set up at Hajipur(Obviously!) and Jaipur. This started the trend to form new railway zones along state boundary lines with absolutely no regard to operational necessities or administrative efficiency. The new East Central Railway took away the profit making Dhanbad division of Eastern Railway. After all the sycophants had to show that the Minister’s Railway was making huge profits.

 

To please the Prime Minister,who happened to be from Karnataka,a new zone called South Western Railway was set up at Bangalore. Unfortunately,Shri Nitish Kumar,Ram Vilas Paswan’s successor also jumped on the bandwagon and announced new zones to please the NDA allies in the NDA coalition. New zones were announced for Bhubaneswar,Jabalpur and Allahabad. All hell broke loose and railway property worth over five hundred million rupees was destroyed before the newly formed state of Chattisgarh got its own railway at Bilaspur. Further agitations took place and the South Western Railway was shifted to from Bangalore to Hubli.

 

Thus,in one fell swoop,the Indian Railway system was carved up into political fiefdoms,pandering to divisive interests. Everybody boarded the gravy train except the Gazetted officers under the banner of the Federation of Railway Officers Associations. Surprisingly,there was some resistance from the AIRF (all India Railway men’s Federation).The office bearers of the FROA were victimised by sudden transfers.The MR just could not stomach the fact that these new zones will increase the staff costs with no commensurate benefits.He told the Officers, “Why are you opposing the formation of the new railways?Don’t you see that I have increased your chances of promotion to higher grades?The number of General Managers Posts has almost doubled.”

 

The setting up of new zones and new divisions has led to diffusion of accountability. Let me illustrate:the coach attendant in Tamil Nadu Express noticed that some unauthorised people had entered the reserved compartments when the train was on its way from New Delhi to Chennai. When the train stopped at Agra,the coach attendant pushed these people out. After the train left Agra,the very same persons entered via the interconnecting vestibule from the adjoining coach. The coach attendant sought the help of the TTE who just ignored him. He then sought the assistance of the RPF(Railway Protection Force)constables. Instead of ejecting the unauthorised travellers,the RPF beat up the coach attendant and left him senseless. The train had ,in its 414 km journey,passed through three railways (Northern ,North Central and West Central and three divisions,Delhi,Agra and Jhansi. The TTE s ,coach attendant and RPF were from North Central,Southern and Northern Railways.

 

How can the travelling public expect any service from the railway staff?

 

Today,the proliferation of zones and divisions has affected the morale of the officers.The new zones are regarded as punishment postings. The infrastructure in terms of schooling,recreation and medical facilities is lacking at the new zonal and divisional headquarters. The day is not far off when the states will demand that officers belonging to that state should be posted at the new zones.

 

Sadly,no Union Minister is immune to the temptation of creating new zones and new divisions.A new division has already been announced for Gulbarga,and a new division is likely to come at Mangalore. There is also a demand was a West Coast Railway headquartered at Kochi.

 

When will the politicians,and the bureaucrats who pander to their whims,realise that the Indian Railways is run by the Central Government and not by the State Governments?Certainly, “small is ugly” for railways.

 

I have in the last twenty five posts delved into my experience and suggested solutions to the problems facing the railways. Like a doctor,I have suggested medicines for the diseases afflicting the railways.

 

The Indian Railways,by creating new zones and divisions,have shown suicidal tendencies which cannot be cured by any ordinary medicine.

 

 

 

 

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“Y” for Yes,Minister

“Y” for Yes Minister.

 

Over the years,the Union Ministers for Railways have treated their portfolio as their fiefdom. The railway officials pander to their every whim and fancy. I do not blame the ministers. After all,an open door will tempt even a saint. I would go so far as to say that I am amazed at their moderation.

It has become very fashionable to blame the ministers for all the ills of the railways. There are problems galore facing the railways,but by and large,the officers have seldom addressed these issues. No long term solutions are sought. Even the routine housekeeping such as documentation and upkeep of records is neglected. Surely,no minister has told the officials to stop performing these routine tasks.

 

The whole picture was depicted succinctly by Shri Nitish Kumar,one of the best Union Ministers that the railway ministry has ever had. I am attempting an idiomatic translation of what he told me.

 

“Your job is secure. You were selected by the UPSC forty years ago. You have never had to face an election. You have not had to go to your constituents every five years. Look at me!Like Lal Bahadur Shastri,I resigned after a serious railway accident. Has any railway man except perhaps a lowly placed official lost his job as a result of a railway accident? You officials make a mess of things and I have to face the Parliament and take the blame.”

 

How true!

 

Once upon a time we had a Chief Commissioner (now called Chairman Railway Board)who quit because he did not see eye to eye with the minister regarding formation of new railway zones. We also had a CRB who was sacked by the Minister for not doing his bidding-namely,converting the Mysore-Bangalore section from Metre gauge to BG.A General Manager lost his job because he did not introduce a new train to the minister’s home town. He must have said, “Mr General Manager,if you cannot get this done,I will find someone else who can!”

 

But today,it is the railway officials themselves,who tell the minister , “ Sir,promote me out of turn and I shall get your job done.”

 

So why blame the politicians?

 

As far as the competence of the ministers is concerned,we have had a mixed bag. We have had paragons of probity like Lal Bahadur Shastri,who accepted moral responsibility for accidents which were caused more by acts of God than by human failure. We had Ram Subhag Singh who refused to halt the Punjab Mail at a wayside station in his home state,because such a halt was not commercially viable. We had Prof. Madhu Dandavate,a model of simple living and high thinking. The Indian Railways owes him a debt of gratitude for introducing computerised reservation. We had Maharaj Ji Madhav Rao Scindia,who gave a fillip to R&D and left his indelible imprint on every aspect of railway working,from catering to introduction of Shatabdi Expresses. We had Nitish Kumar who set the Railway Recruitment Boards free from the clutches of politicians.

 

On the other hand,we had a minister who wanted railway officials to prostrate themselves before him and interfered with the recruitment and posting of staff. We had a minister who was only interested in making money for himself. We had ministers who were only interested in the upliftment of the community to which they belonged. With the exceptions of Prof.Madhu Dandavate and Shri Nitish Kumar to some extent,every Minister has tried to nurse his constituency.

 

Just as one cannot choose one’s parents,one cannot choose one’s minister. Fortunately,the railways are less vulnerable to political interference than other departments. No politician interfered with my work till I was posted as the DRM(Divisional Railway Manager) Bhavnagar. I had completed nearly thirty five years with the railways. I was able to soft pedal the issue till the Union Minister quit citing health reasons. When I was working as the Chief Mechanical Engineer,South Eastern Railway,Kolkata,the Union Minister of State for the Railways wanted the transfer of some trouble makers cancelled. I had already turned down a similar request made by the Honourable MP.I was threatened with a) Transfer)Privilege Motion in Parliament c) Denial of promotion,which I was expecting shortly.Fortunately for me,the Member Mechanical and Member Staff interceded on my behalf and the minister backed off.

 

Readers may believe it or not,but neither Shri Nitish Kumar nor Lalu Prasad ever interfered with my work as General Manager Southern Railway. I did have a disagreement with the former about priorities for gauge conversion,but I carried out his orders,which all said and done,were perfectly legal regular.

 

We live in a democracy. As executives,we are bound to implement the policies of the Government. Our aim should be to find areas where the well being of the railways is congruent with political aspirations.

 

The Railway Ministry is too servile.The higher officials have only earned the contempt of their political masters.What do they stand to lose if they stand up for what is right?Their jobs?Then so be it!One can retire with a well earned pension.

 

“X” for X-Rays

“X” for X Rays.

 

The Indian Railways have a very comprehensive system of Health Care for the employees and their families. Under the RELHS( Retired Employees Liberalised Health Scheme) retired employees are also covered,provided they have opted for the scheme and paid the requisite fees. Thus the Medical Department meets the needs of nearly ten million people,or one percent of India’s population.

 

The Indian Railways Year Book gives the following statistics for the Year 2010-2011

 

Resources available:

 

No. of hospitals 125

No. of total indoor beds 13963

No. of health units/polyclinics 587

No. of lock up dispensaries 92

No. of private hospitals recognized for medical treatment 150

 

Performance during 2010-11:

Total Out patient cases attended 25730614

Total indoor cases admitted 490297

No. of major surgeries performed, 49044

Bed occupancy ratio (BOR) 62.92

Average length of stay (ALS)(in days) 6.61

Percentage of man days lost on account of sickness 0.72

Percentage of man days lost on account of sick/Private Medical Certificate/Hurt on Duty 1.60

 

No. of new candidates examined for fitness 31807

No. of employees who underwent periodical medical examination. 140354

No. of medical boards constituted 2934

No. of food samples collected under Prevention of Food Adulteration

(PFA) Act 6335

No. of water samples examined:

For residual chlorine 849351

For bacteriological test 65905

No. of sick passengers attended to by Railway doctors 32095

 

The doctors form the biggest group of Group A gazetted officers and outnumber the engineers.

 

It has often been suggested that Health care is not a core activity and the railways should curtail the medical department. I beg to differ. The doctors and paramedical staff,in general, are rendering yeoman service under difficult circumstances ,often posted to insalubrious locations. However,the attrition rate is very high and at any given time a number of railway doctors are facing disciplinary action for absconding from duty. Hospitals routinely face shortage of drugs. The private consultants are paid a pittance. Costly equipment often remains under repair,forcing patients to seek treatment in private hospitals. Treatment at the private hospitals,is no doubt free if referred to by the railway authorities,but the cost of transport can be high.

 

What are the long term solutions?

1.The Railways should set up their own medical college and attached hospital on the lines of the AFMC(Armed Forces Medical College).The doctors who qualify should sign a bond to serve the railways for five years.

 

2.A comprehensive career plan should be drawn up which will allow the doctors to gain all round experience.

 

3.A great deal of the doctors’ time is wasted in performing administrative duties. There should be a separate cadre of officers qualified in hospital administration under the HRD department .These administrators should ensure that the infrastructure and medical equipment are kept in good working order and medicines and other supplied are purchased in time.

 

4.The railway employees are subject to various occupational hazards peculiar to their nature of work. The medical college at #1 should undertake research in these diseases.

 

5.In the long run,the department can be formed into a Corporation and become a part of the health care industry.

 

6.The Indian Railways should give up the idea of doctors travelling in the trains. In case of any emergency,the first aid should be rendered by the guard and the train stopped out of course to detrain the passenger and take him to the nearest hospital.

 

7.Telemedicine should be introduced extensively.

 

 

“W” for Water Supply

“W” for water supply.

Dr C.V.Raman described water as the “elixir of life” Supply of water to the railway colonies,stations,offices,workshops and running trains is a permanent problem,which is becoming more acute day by day,despite the fact that the major demand namely,that for steam locomotives,is now almost nil.

I have chosen the title “water supply” to illustrate the lack of planning,foresight and speedy execution of projects and poor operation and maintenance of existing infrastructure. What applies to water supply applies equally to other areas of railway operation and maintenance.

The railways established their workshops,colonies and locomotive sheds close to sources of water. The steam locomotives needed huge amounts of water not only for driving them,but for maintenance,as the boilers had to be washed out periodically. The steam locomotives also required water at roadside stations as the capacity of the tender (water tank) was limited. Water was also required for running the workshops,which in early days were powered by steam engines. The huge railway colonies were mostly in the rural areas where there was no municipal water supply. The offices and railway stations were also in areas where there was no municipal water supply. Water was also required for washing passenger coaches and filling up the lavatory tanks.

Over the years,the demand for locomotives came down while demand for coach watering and washing has increased sharply. However this increased demand cannot be offset by the decrease in demand for locomotives. This is because the coach maintenance depots were,and still are located in the cities and depend on municipal water supply. These cities are bursting at the seams and there is a general shortage of water. Taking Southern Railway as an example,the coach maintenance depots are concentrated at Chennai ,with smaller depots at Thirivananthapuram,Tiruchy,Coimbatore and Nagercoil.The old steam locomotive sheds were at Erode,Arakkonam,Shoranur,Villupuram ,Kollam and Madurai.

It is not that the stations which had steam locomotive depots are overflowing with water!As long as traffic movement depended on steam locomotives,the watering facilities were maintained properly. Every railway had contingency plans for water shortage. These plans used to be reviewed in winter and the available resources husbanded carefully. These plans have been abandoned. Even at stations which are located on the banks of perennial rivers-Bhusaval on the Tapti river,for instance-upstream irrigation projects and downstream industrial requirements have restricted water supply to the railways. The railways,on their part,are not able to assert their riparian rights over the corrupt state administration.

Nowhere is railway’s abject surrender to events is more evident than at railway stations.Late Maharaj Ji Madhav Rao Scindia,the Union Minister for Railways,had stipulated that drinking water taps should be provided at the rate of one set of taps for every two coach lengths on every platform. Every railway complied with this “Shahi Firman”(Royal Decree).Where are these taps now?Even when taps were there,how many of them had drinking water?Many years ago,a woman died on Patna station platform due to dehydration. Even now,the pathetic sight of passengers scrambling around a drinking water tap has not moved the callous railway administration to action.

I have the following suggestions for managing water supply both from the supply as well as the demand sides.

1. Water audit should be carried out every year at all railway establishments.
2.New trains must be maintained at places where the water supply is adequate and not dependent on the municipality. No demand for starting new trains from the bigger cities/metros should be entertained unless the water supply both for maintenance and lavatory tanks is assured by the local government.

3.All short distance(up to six hours journey) day trains must have drinking water bottle stands. The bottles will be provided at the starting station and replenished at the terminus for the return journey. In long distance trains,coin operated vending machines will be fitted. In Rajdhani and Shatabdi Expresses,water purifiers will be fitted in every coach.

4.The drinking water stands at all wayside stations will be activated ten minutes before the arrival of the train and shut off fives minutes after the departure. The coach watering pipes will be opened five minutes before the arrival of the train and shut off immediately after departure.

5.Suppliers of aerated soft drinks and bottled water will be required to put up drinking water stands where purified water will be supplied free of charge in the travellers’ own containers.(The free drinking water supply arrangements made by the Southern Railway were sabotaged by the vendors of aerated water).Coin operated vending machines will be provided by the manufacturers of aerated water/bottled water.

6.All the railway establishments will have rain water harvesting arrangements and effluent treatment plants. The re cycled water will be used for non potable purposes.

7.All the agreements with the irrigation departments for water sharing will be reviewed and audited to ensure that the railway’s share is being received.

8.All the water supply pipelines will be checked for leakage and old pipes replaced. At most of the railway colonies,the sewerage is dilapidated. Even the pipeline schematics are not available. These will have to be re traced using modern methods. At many stations,connections have been taken from the rising mains. These must be cut off.

9.Customers as well as railway employees will have to be educated and sensitised against misuse of water. Persons misusing water at railway stations should be prosecuted. Ritualistic bathing by travellers (e.g pilgrims going to Sabarimala)at railway platforms should be prohibited and offenders prosecuted.

“U” for Unions

“U” for Unions.

Though trade unions have existed in pre independence days,their ascendancy is a post independence phenomenon. Though flash strikes used to occur every now and then,particularly in the workshops,there was no all India strike. The strength of the trade unions or associations lay in their capacity to disrupt traffic. Indeed,the LRSA (Locomotive Running Staff Association)had even resorted to sabotage when their demands were not met in SIR(South Indian Railway).

Political parties have always had an eye on the million and half railway employees as a constituency.
The NFIR(National Federation Of Indian Railwaymen) and its constituents are affiliated to the INTUC(Indian National Trade Union Congress).The AIRF(All Indian Railwaymens’ Federation) and its constituents started with affiliation to the Socialist parties,but at present it is not directly allied to any political parties. These Unions were recognised by the Railway Administration as part of the PNM(Permanent Negotiating Machinery).The PNM at various Zonal Railways is a unique process of collective bargaining.At the apex level there is a JCM(Joint Consultative Machinery)

The AILRSA(All India Locomotive Running Staff Association),though professing to be apolitical,is supported by the communist parties.It is not recognised by the administration as part of the PNM. Besides,there are caste based associations such as the AIOBCA(All India Other Backward Communities Association),AISCSTA(All India Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Association),Trade based associations such as the Guards Council,Station Masters Association,DEAR(Diploma Engineers Association)TEAR(Technical Employees Association) and many such groups in the fringes.

Gazetted Officers are not allowed to join trade unions. They have two associations ,the FROA(Federation of Railway Officers Association) and AIPROF( All India Promotee Railway Officers Federation)

The BMS(Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh) is the trade union wing of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party).The NDA Government tried its best to foist this organisation on the PNM,but the Railway Ministry’s direction to the General Managers of the Zonal Railways was challenged by the AIRF affiliated unions and was struck down by the honourable Supreme Court of India.This landmark judgment has ,at long last,put the process of recognition on a firm footing. Now referendums are held every five years and only unions securing more than thirty percent of the votes are recognised.

The AIRF affiliated Unions got 45.02% of the valid votes cast and the NFIR affiliates got 38.85 % of the valid votes in the last election. The voter turnout was only 72.84%.In total numbers,AIRF received 455375 votes and NFIR got 392951 votes.

I was witness to two all India Railway Strikes. A strike was called in September 1968.I was under training in Bangalore. The train services were normal. I was told that the employees of the Mysore Workshop had downed tools. In 1974,there was a general strike which was brutally suppressed. The strike was called by the AIRF to press for bonus my humble opinion,this demand was not valid then and is not valid now. The rhetoric of George Fernandez,who led the strike was , “workers who bake bread get bonus,workers who make automobiles get bonus,workers who build ships and aeroplanes get bonus,why not workers who build railway passenger coaches?He went on to say,while addressing the employees of the ICF(Integral Coach Factory), “workers of BEML(Bharat Earthmovers Limited) and Jessops,both owned by the government and manufacturing passenger coaches are getting bonus! How? Simply by charging the Indian Railways more than what ICF is paid!” This appeared to be irrefutable logic. No one wanted to point out that the productivity of the workers in BEML and Jessops was higher.
Although the strike was put down and the employees came back to work without getting their demand for bonus fulfilled,the strike was precursor to the Emergency,and the fall of the Congress Government.The Janata Government granted bonus to all the employees except the Gazetted officers and employees earning more than a threshold salary. Subsequent governments,including Congress led Governments,continued to pay bonus even in the years that railways did not earn a profit and the payment of dividend was deferred!The railway employees earn more than two months salary as “productivity linked bonus”.

The Honourable High Court of Madras,while striking down Railway Board’s directive to recognise the BMS(Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh)reasoned that indiscriminate recognition of Unions would cast a heavy burden on the exchequer by way of man days lost,travel and daily allowances for attending meetings,provision of office space and other facilities. The recognised Unions keep opening new branches,even though the number of employees has reduced. Every division and every zonal railway holds PNM meetings. These meetings have become rituals because none of the items brought up by the Unions is negotiable. The agenda consists of so-and-so employee not receiving increments, non reimbursement of medical expenses,poor maintenance of quarters,non supply of uniforms etc. It is the bounden duty of the administration to ensure timely payment of salaries and other benefits and arranging for proper working conditions. What is there to negotiate?
Another hardy perennial is the alleged misbehaviour of officers and senior supervisors. One will see any number of posters and graffiti against officers. Any officer or supervisor who enforces discipline like punctual attendance is fair game.
Recently,the AIRF has conducted a strike ballot and they have announced that 96% of the railway employees are in favour of a strike. The main demands are scrapping of the new pension scheme and employment of railway men’s wards in the railways. On the face of it,both the demands are not tenable. The old pension scheme was introduced in the late 1950’s. Before that the Railways had a contributory provident fund scheme. In fact,most of the gazetted staff preferred to remain in the SRPF(State Railway Provident Fund)scheme and did not opt for pension. The new pension scheme was introduced after the Sixth Pay Commission and is applicable to all Central Government Employees. It is not known whether other Central Government employees are against the new pension scheme. The railways already employ railway men’s wards on compassionate grounds. Railwaymen’s children are not deprived in the manner that Dalits have been deprived in the past.Hence a special quota for them is not tenable.

The Indian Railways are owned and operated by the Central Government. Every railway employee is a government employee. The relation between the Gazetted Officer and the non gazetted employee is not that of a “Master” and a “Servant”.The Gazetted Officer does not have any power to increase or decrease the pay and perks of the employees. In such a situation,why should there be any trade unions at all?The production units(CLW,ICF,DLW,DMW,RCF,RWF)do not recognise any trade unions.

What is the way forward?
1.There should be only one recognised union in every railway,namely the union which polls the highest number of votes.
2.The so called PREM(Participation of Railway Employees in Management) should be abolished.This body has become yet another forum for ventilating grievances.
3.There should be no negotiation or structured meetings with unrecognised unions or associations.
4.The FROA and IRPROF should be recognised and brought under the ambit of the PNM.
5.The railway employees credit banks should be wound up,since the railway administration no longer has a say in their affairs.These banks should be asked to vacate railway premises.
6.All recognised Unions and Associations should be asked to publish their audited accounts and annual reports.They should also be brought under the ambit of the RTI Act,since they enjoy facilities provided by the Government.

“T”for Training

“T” for Training.

The three elements of training are to

1.Impart Knowledge.
2.Develop Skills and
3.Inculcate Attitude.

The relative proportions of the three elements would be different depending on the level of the hierarchy as well as the function. Those performing routine tasks like issuing tickets at the booking window or machining components in the workshop will require more of knowledge and skill,whereas those dealing with the customers or having to take decisions of strategic importance will need to develop the right attitude.

The Indian Railways have a comprehensive system of training to meet all needs. At the highest level,there is the NAIR(National Academy of Indian Railways)situated at Alvarado in the State of Gujarat. This was earlier known as the Railway Staff College and was established post independence.
Specialised training centres have been established in various places to train the officers in various disciplines. The oldest is the Technical School in Jamalpur,(now known as the Indian Railways Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering)set up in 1888.Other Centralised Training Institutes (CTIs) were set up after independence. These are the IRICEN at Pune (Maharashtra)for Civil Engineering,IREEN at Nasik for Electrical Engineering and IRISET at Secunderabad for Signal and Telecommunication Engineering. The latest are the institutes at Lucknow and Secunderabad for training officers of the IRTS(Indian Railways Traffic Service)and IRAS(Indian Railways Accounts Service)

In addition to these CTIs there are ZTCs(Zonal Training Centres).

Though by and large these training centres have been able to meet the requirements of the railways,there are permanent problems which need to be resolved.

1.The period of training for officers is two years. During this period,they are paid full salary and allowances and enjoy all the perquisites such as paid leave,medical and travel facilities,but do no productive work. The period of training needs to be cut down and the training made more intensive and job oriented. They should be asked to perform the same duties as the people whom they are going to supervise.

2.While the present system of posting officers from the field to the training institute should continue,such officers also need to be trained in teaching. Training of Trainers is very important.

3.At present the officers posted to vigilance branch do not receive any training from the CVC.(Chief Vigilance Commissioner).This anomaly needs to be set right.

4.The non teaching staff posted to the training institute should have an avenue for advancement in their respective departments. Librarians,for instance should be appointed from the existing cadre,but they should be trained in and hold a diploma in library science.

5.Officers and senior supervisors should be instructed in social sciences,ethics,corporate governance and corporate social responsibility.

“S” for Security

“S” for Security

Nearly thirty years ago,a Union Minster for Railways raised the slogan,
“SAFETY,SECURITY and PUNCTUALITY”

In my post on “Q” for quality,I have already dealt with the subject of sloganeering.
In the very first post,”A” for Accidents I have shown what an empty slogan “SAFETY” has been. In “P” for Punctuality,I have illustrated what an empty slogan “PUNCTUALITY” is.
In this post,let me demonstrate what an empty slogan “SECURITY” is.

There is no doubt that the law and order situation has deteriorated over the years,and the situation is getting worse day by day. New dimensions such as terrorism sponsored by state players across the border and resurgence of communist terrorism have been added in the last two decades.

“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”.The Indian Railways well knowing that the poor law and order situation is not of their making,still rush in with solutions to this permanent problem. Maintaining law and order is primarily the function of the state government. Despite this,the Railways are trying to find their own way out by increasing the RPF(Railway Protection Force) and giving them more responsibilities without commensurate powers..

When I joined the Railways over fifty years ago,heinous crimes such as armed robbery were unheard of on the railways. Even the notorious dacoits of the Chambal ravines never attacked trains,though the latter were “sitting ducks”.Theft of luggage was rare. Passengers could get down from the train,go to the dining room on the station platform and enjoy their meal,leaving their belongings unattended in the compartments. Harassment of females , attacks by local commuters on passengers travelling in reserved compartments,drugging of passengers and acts of terrorism such as arson,sabotage and blowing up trains never took place. The traveller was sure of reaching the destination safely and with his belongings intact.

Apart from the general breakdown of law and order,there is also the psyche of the Indian public to be considered. The Railways are the most visible symbol of the Government. During the British rule,attacking the railways was considered as an act of patriotism. No doubt patriots like Chandrasekhar “Azad” deserve to be admired for their struggle against a foreign power,but we forget that such freedom fighters had to pay with their lives. Empty slogans like “Bharatiya Rail Aap Ki Sampathi Hai” (The Indian Railways is your wealth)do not cut any ice with the agitators. For them any act against the railways is a patriotic duty.

What is the railway administration doing about the rising lawlessness? Put more RPF on the job!
Before independence,and well into the 1960’s,the railways were policed by the state governments. Crimes in railway stations and trains were dealt with by the GRP(Government Railway Police).The railway administration has no control over the GRP. It is something like asking for police protection on payment. The Railways partly foots the bill for the GRP. Most officers of the IPS(Indian Police Service)and all the inspectors and constables consider it infra dig to be posted to the GRP. There have been exceptions,of course-Shir Brigida IPS who retired as DGP Katakana apprehended a gang of wagon looters in Bangalore.-but these exceptions prove the rule.

The RPF(Railway Protection Force) were initially conceived of as a “Watch-and-Ward” organisation,and as the name indicates,their duty was only to protect railway property. It was not their job to maintain law and order. They derived their power from the RPUP Act(Railway Property -Unlawful Possession of -Act).This act,though draconian in that the onus of proving innocence was with the accused. This act did nothing to bring down pilferage of goods from railway premises or from running trains because the accused were tried by the existing courts and the law was not deterrent enough..The railways raised a special armed force called the RPSF(Railway Protection Special Force)which did nothing to bring down theft of goods. It only resulted in a trigger happy rakshak (constable) shooting down an unarmed agitator in the ICF(Integral Coach Factory).thereby permanently embittering industrial relations in this unit.

Civilians like to receive a salute from men in uniform. Their ego gets a boost. Hence the proliferation of the RPF. Since the high ranking railway officials do not get any special security,they like to be surrounded by armed RPF personnel. A few years ago,the General Manager,Western Railway’s office was vandalised by some agitators. The GM ordered that RPF should man the gates and not allow anyone to enter without identification. This arrangement did not last even one day!the officers’ egos were bruised when a rakshak asked them for identification.

The Union Ministers ,Ram Vilas Paswan and Nitish Kumar also helped to expand the RPF.They not only expanded the RPF but started taking their help for maintaining law and order and assisting in ticket
checking duties,patrolling of railway stations and assisting in anti terrorist activities like disposal of bombs. There is no doubt that the RPF have performed very well in these areas,but as they lack the powers which are vested in the state police,they are unable to perform such duties more effectively. The RPF,Southern Railway,cracked a gang of interstate robbers who used to drug the travellers and relieve them of their valuables. Though the culprits were jailed,they could be charged only with theft and received light sentences. They are,no doubt,free and back to their old games.

The only Director General,RPF who resisted the unbridled expansion of the RPF and tried to prevent formation of their Union was Shri Karthikeyan,IPS and Shri K.Balakesari,Member Staff,but they were overruled by Nitish Kumar.

What is the permanent solution?Can one wish away the RPF and hand over security to the state police ?I have pondered over this. Abolishing the RPF would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I suggest the following.

1.The RPF should be relieved of their watch and ward duties. Such functions should be performed by private security agencies.

2.The gaps(no pun intended) in the infrastructure should be filled. Railway stations,yards,workshops,maintenance depots and other premises should be provided with stout stone walls and barbed wire fencing. Railway lines running through urban areas should also be provided with walls.

3.The Cr PC will have to be modified,making crimes on railway stations and trains a federal offence and the RPF given full powers of investigation,arrest and prosecution. The offences will be tried by fast track courts.Just as theft of railway property is dealt with on a different footing than other thefts,crimes on trains or in railway stations will have to be put on a different footing.

4.The RPF will be given more “teeth” like improved mobility and weapons. They should appear to be here,there and everywhere.

5.The vast technological resources of the railways should be fully utilised to tackle crime by building up databases,video recording of complaints,using rfid for tracking consignments and CCTV/GPS for surveillance,training of sniffer dogs and acquiring expertise in forensics and bomb disposal.

6.Railway employees should be trained to be more security minded.they should not take security checks as an intrusion into their privacy.

7.The goodwill and co operation of the railway travellers has to be earned through a sustained campaign and empty slogans like “SECURITY”should be abandoned.At the same time,attempts to disrupt railway traffic should be ruthlessly foiled.

I

“R” for Recruitment

“R” for Recruitment

 

AIRF(All India Railwaymen’s Federation) ,recognised union of the Indian Railways,is holding a secret ballot to decide whether the railway employees should go on strike to press for their demands. One of the demands is that there should be a quota of jobs earmarked for railwaymen’s wards.

 

While I shall discuss the validity of this demand in a later post,the fact that such a demand has come up only shows the Indian Railways lack of purpose and inability to continuously evolve and improve policies and procedures for recruitment.

 

The Indian Railways still follow a system of “gazetted Officers” and “Non Gazetted Staff” something akin to the Officers-and-enlisted-men policy in the armed forces and police. This system is considered by some to be elitist and an anachronism in the modern age of egalitarianism,but in my opinion it is essential to maintain a certain respectful distance between the “leaders” and “followers”.

 

Gazetted officers are recruited by the UPSC(Union Public Service Commission).The officers for the technical departments such as Civil,Mechanical,Electrical and Signalling and Telecommunications departments are recruited through the Engineering Services Examination. The Railways also have a scheme of recruiting officer apprentices(called Special Class Apprentices)to the Mechanical Engineering Department.These apprentices selected by the UPSC. At the end of four years’ training at the IRIMEE(Indian Railways Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering),they are appointed as officers in the IRSME(Indian Railways Service Of Mechanical Engineers)Officers for the non technical departments are recruited through the Civil Services Examination conducted by the UPSC.

 

Over the years,it has been found that the number of candidates from premier institutions such as IITs opting for the railways has come down. This was not the case fifty years ago. My batch had gold and silver medalists from Roorkee and Delhi College of Engineering. On the other hand,the Special Class Railway Apprentice scheme still attracts the best talent. My batch of 23 had as many as seven candidates who left IIT midway to join the railways and slog it for four more years before they were appointed as officers.

 

Officers of the non technical departments viz IRTS(Indian Railways Traffic Service),IRAS(Indian Railways Accounts Service) and IRPS( Indian Railways Personnel Service) are recruited through the Civil Services Examination,which is common to IAS(Indian Administrative Service),IFS(Indian Foreign Service),IRS(Indian Revenue Service),IPS(Indian Police Service) etc. Candidates who appear for this examination are required to list their preferences. The most preferred services are IAS,IFS,IPS and IRS.

 

My interaction with newly recruited railway officers reveals that none of them had given IRTS/IRPS/IRAS as their first preference. For such officers,the railways is just another job. Very few of them get on their first attempt. Many of them suffer from an inferiority complex and insecurity,which translates into belligerence and trying to lord it over the technical departments.

 

In fact,there is a tendency amongst newly recruited railway officers of all departments to have a shot at the Civil Services Examinations. A brilliant engineer who obtained his degree in Computer Engineering and who was working for Infosys,told me that his ultimate goal is to join the IAS. “But my job in Infosys does not leave me any time for preparation.So first,I shall join the Railways in the technical department and then prepare for the IAS. As an officer I shall get paid leave even during the training period of two years.”

Every now and then one reads about IIT graduates spurning lucrative job offers to appear for the IAS.

In 1967,the Films Division made a documentary in which they interviewed the people who were born in 1947,the year of independence. One of them was very clear in his mind. “I want to join the IAS. All I have to do is to write some notes on the files,have coffee breaks,attend meetings.” I leave it to the readers to fathom what makes IAS so attractive ,and why railway officers who are paid as well as IAS officers want to join the IAS!

 

When the UPA government assumed office in 2004,the Prime Minister announced that the Government would “catch em young”,that is to say,officers for the Central Government would be recruited from undergraduates. It was felt that such officers will be more committed. In fact,officers for the defence forces are recruited by the UPSC and trained at the NDA(National Defence Academy).The same system of recruitment and training is followed in some other countries as well. The SCRA scheme was started in 1927 and the IRIMEE continues to be a centre for excellence. The officers recruited through this scheme have distinguished themselves not only in the railways but in other fields.(Dr R.K.Pachauri of TERI and Dr J.S.Chhokar of ADR are two examples)

 

The Indian Railways have a training academy,NAIR(National Academy of Indian Railways)as well as institutes for specialised training in various fields. If the railways want to attract the best talent,the NDA /SCRA scheme should be extended to all the departments.

 

Staff for the railways are recruited through the railway recruitment boards. Due to political interference,these boards had become dens of corruption. Shri Nitish Kumar,the Union Minister,in one sweep,removed all the politically appointed chairmen and appointed senior railway officials as chairmen. They were also brought under the administrative control of the General Managers of the Zonal Railways,but the Executive control was with the Railway Board. This reform by Nitish Kumar and the large scale introduction of information technology have enhanced the credibility of the railways .Due credit must also go to the Member Staff,Sri Balakesari for this achievement.

 

However, Nitish Kumar could not undo the grave mistakes of his predecessors in having opened new offices of the RRB creating the impression that the RRB is recruiting candidates on a state wise basis. The public are not aware that the railways are divided into zones and not state wise circles like the Postal department or the telephone department. Thus applicants from other states are assaulted in case they apply for jobs through the RRBs at Patna and Muzaffarpur ,Bihar. In a tit- for -tat reaction,candidates from Bihar were attacked in Assam,Chhattisgarh and Karnataka.

 

In earlier days,there was no recruitment to the Group D cadre,that is,the entry level.Labourers were engaged on a casual basis and could be hired and fired at will.The number of labourers engaged depended on the level of absenteeism. The abolition of contract labour act prohibited the engagement of labourers for regular work. The railways got around the ban by engaging labourers for seasonal work like watering the khus-khus screens in summer. There were so many allegations of corruption and litigation that the Railway Board abolished the practice of engaging casual labourers or substitutes save with the personal approval of the General Manager.

 

The way forward:

 

1.Recruitment of group A officers should be through an apprentice system.The apprentices should be recruited by the UPSC through competitive examination.The apprenticeship should be for four years,during the course of which the candidates will receive both theoretical and practical training and acquire graduate qualifications in their respective fields.On successful completion of the apprenticeship,the candidates will be appointed to working posts. There shall be no probationary period. During the apprenticeship the candidates will have to work as assistants ,e.g,clerks,accountants,assistant station masters,ticket checkers,assistant locomotive drivers,train examiners,train guards, etc. This is not only to have them gainfully employed,but to teach them the dignity of labour.

 

2.The so called Group “D” posts should be abolished. The menial work should be privatised.

 

3.The recruitment of technicians should be from Act Apprentices.(Under this act every workshop has to train a specified number of apprentices. Though,in theory,these apprentices are not guaranteed employment in the railways,in practice,they manage to get themselves appointed through Union/Political pressure).The Act Apprentices should be recruited by the RRB. During their apprenticeship they will be required to perform menial tasks also.

 

 

 

 

“Q” for Quality

Q” For Quality.

 

Quality is a permanent problem of the Indian Railways,whether it is the quality of service or governance. Every now and then some half hearted attempts are made,depending on “what is the flavour of the season”.In my service I have seen efforts to establish “quality circles “ and “system improvement groups” fail. There has been no effort to establish a system of Total Quality Management. Some of the workshops and repair depots have obtained certification under ISO,but this has not resulted in any visible improvements in quality. This is because the obtaining of the ISO certificate is treated as an end itself and not as a means to assess quality.

 

The Indian Railways are heading towards bankruptcy with shrinking share of the freight traffic,exploding wages and pensions,and increasing costs of energy and materials. Instead of increasing the productivity and efficiency the railway administration is increasing the tariff and squandering money on useless projects. The only way out of the crisis is to follow Dr Deming’s teachings.

 

Deming offered fourteen key principles to managers for transforming business effectiveness. The points were first presented in his book “out of the Crisis”.Although Deming does not use the term in his book, it is credited with launching the Total Quality Managementmovement.

Under each point I have indicated the current position of the Indian Railways

  1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive, stay in business and to provide jobs.

     

    The railway is operating in a monopoly. Jobs are being created whether they are required or not.

     

  2. Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.

     

    Indian Railways blindly follow whatever is in fashion,with no regard to local conditions. Buzz words like “Transactional Analysis” ,“Management by Objectives” “Kan Ban” are used.

     

3.Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for massive inspection by building quality into the product in the first place.

 

IR are doing just the opposite.

4.End the practice of awarding business on the basis of a price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move towards a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.

 

Contracts are awarded to the lowest tenderer with absolutely no regard to quality.

 

 

 

5.Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.

 

There is a whole directorate of efficiency in the Railway Board. What they have achieved is any body’s guess.

 

6.Institute training on the job.

 

There is no system of continuing education except for officers going on foreign jaunts with their families

 

7.Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.

 

The railways have refused to institute any organisational reforms.

 

8.Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.

 

Fear is the driving force in the Railways,whether it is fear of transfers to remote areas or fear of getting one’s annual confidential record getting spoilt.

 

9.Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, in order to foresee problems of production and usage that may be encountered with the product or service.

 

Departmentalism is the bane of Indian Railways.

 

10.Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.

 

IR do just the opposite.We have empty slogans and observe “no complaints week”

 

11. Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor.

 

Indian Railways still have incentive schemes based on piecework.


12. Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers and numerical goals. Instead substitute with leadership.

 

Originating tonnage loaded is still a “sacred cow” or “holy grail”!

 

13. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.

Indian Railways still have the scheme of “payment by results” with no relation to quality.

 

14.Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.”Massive training is required to instill the courage to break with tradition. Every activity and every job is a part of the process.”

 

Where is the question of education and self improvement when indian Railways have repulsed all efforts at reform?

 

 

 

 

 

“P” for Punctuality

“P” for Punctuality.

 

Punctuality is regarded as the hallmark of a well run railway. The public perceives punctuality as the indicator of efficiency. “He made the trains run on time” is the best compliment that a railway manager can receive. It used to be said, “You can set your clock by the Brindavan Express”

 

It is a harsh fact of life that the punctuality of Indian Railways is so bad that the travelling public have become inured to it. There is even black humour that a train arriving on time was found to be the previous day’s train. Travel agents,while drawing up itineraries,factor a large margin of delay. Apart from the loss of goodwill,late running of trains puts an avoidable burden on the infrastructure,with passengers crowding at railway stations. Late running of trains definitely affects on board services,as sufficient time is not available for cleaning and watering the coaches before the return trip. Late running of trains can even affect safety,because the time required for proper examination and repair is not available. The New Delhi – Jabalpur Qutub Express once derailed because the train had not been examined on the pit line at Jabalpur and had been dispatched from the platform itself,where a defective wheel could not be detected.

 

What are the reasons for late running of trains?.The biggest single cause is equipment failure,such as breakdown of locomotives,defects in passenger coaches,rail breakages and erratic operation of signals. I have discussed this at length under “M” for maintenance. I have also outlined the possible remedies. The late running of one train can affect the running of other trains in the rake link and the repercussions can be felt even days after the initial incident. Let me illustrate. The Karnataka Express from New Delhi to Bangalore arrives Bangalore at 1.40 pm and leaves as Bangalore -Chennai Mail the same night. It returns from Chennai the day after. In this link,even if Karnataka Express arrives late into Bangalore,there is sufficient margin for the train to leave as Bangalore Chennai mail the same night.

Compare this with the Mumbai-Howrah Mail. If it arrives late into Howrah,it misses the maintenance slot provided for it at SantraGachi,and is bound to leave late from Howrah,arrive late at Mumbai ,miss the maintenance slot and leave Mumbai late.

 

Another major reason for late running of trains is the unrealistic time tabling. In earlier times,the time table used to be made on the assumption that the train will take two minutes to accelerate to full speed and decelerate and stop in one minute. To the bare running time thus arrived at,allowances were added for speed restriction and traffic delays. Later,the GIP (Great Indian Peninsula) Railway had acquired a train scheduler,which was nothing more than a Mechanical Integrator. This device could convert the tractive effort-speed curves into acceleration and by integrating the speed curve,plot the distance vs time graph. While the acceleration could be plotted,the deceleration was simulated by superimposing an uphill gradient of 1:30.

 

The AMSLER Integrator served the railways well for nearly fifty years. It was ,however,a time consuming affair. The plotting took the same time as the actual journey. Besides,there were no “what if”

options. For every variation the time table had to be plotted all over again.

 

The advent of the digital computer made time tabling much easier. Very accurate simulations are now available. Back in 1992,when I was working in Konkan Railway,my Deputy,Shri B.Raikwar,had written out a programme in FORTRAN which gave very accurate time tables.

 

Computer simulations are only simulations. The theoretical time tables are never ratified by actual trials .This is not rocket science. I can vouch,based on my experience,that trains leaving Chennai Central and running through non stop past Arakkonam have seldom passed Arakkonam as scheduled.

Another reason for late running of the trains is the lack of reserve power in the locomotives,especially diesel locomotives. It is not realised that it takes almost twice the effort to pull an air conditioned coach as a non air conditioned one,not only because the former coach is heavier,but more so because of the resistance due to the axle-driven dynamos.

 

Believe it or not,permanent speed restrictions have increased all over the Indian Railways. So have temporary speed restrictions. The extra time required for negotiating the temporary speed restrictions have not been provided for in the time table. Only a lump sum allowance has been provided which is not commensurate with the actual time required.

 

It is not that the Indian Railways are not bothered about safety. In fact,every delay is analysed and discussed threadbare. Reams of statistics are prepared. Volumes of reports are sent to the Railway Board,where they meet the same fate as other reports-thrown into the dustbin.

 

The standard adopted by the railways to assess punctuality is “NLT” or “Not Losing Time”,that is to say,every division and every zone is held accountable only for the delay in its own jurisdiction. Thus,if a train enters a division 20 minutes late and exits twenty minutes late,it is said to be punctual. There is no incentive for making up lost time.

 

I have the following suggestions.

 

1.The NLT criterion should be abolished. The Indian Railways must not live in denial. Punctuality should be reported only in terms of right time departures and right time arrivals.

2.The time tabling should be realistic.

3.Additional platforms,stabling lines and maintenance facilities must be built.

4.The motive power should be augmented either by more powerful locomotives or additional locomotives.

5.Station halts should be carefully regulated. In my long experience,I have never found any attempts being made to cut down on the halt when the train is running late.

6.For point-to-point non stop trains,the arrival time at the destination should exclude all allowances. This will cut down the running time by at least two hours. The public time table should indicate only the earliest arrival time and scheduled arrival time. The only people who will object to a train arriving before schedule would be those who are going to receive the travellers or those (like unaccompanied children,senior citizens)who are expecting to be received. For such persons,the railways should provide designate the meeting areas.

7.Last but not the least,locomotive drivers who make up time should be given cash awards.