Railways’ recent move to decentralise authority is helping it move faster

NEW DELHI: Ferozepur Divisional Railway Manager Vivek Kumar oversees 21,500 employees and a track of 1,844 km, spread across two north Indian states — Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir. As many as 440 trains carrying more than two lakh passengers a day run under his watch. The area under him earns an annual revenue of Rs 3,800 crore (2017-18). It also facilitates some sensitive business. India’s exports to Pakistan by rail — seeds, red chilli, machinery, tyres, chemicals and rubber — pass through his division.

A recent decision by the Indian Railways has placed far more decision making powers in the hands of officers like Kumar, who would previously have to await approvals from higher officers such as general managers (GMs) and members of the Railway Board. There are 27 GMs and seven members of the Railway Board, including its chairman.

The DRMs, for example, now do not require the approval of their bosses, the GMs, to issue certain types of contracts, for ex-gratia payments, to empanel private hospitals for the use of railway employees and to develop software and apps for local use. Earlier, they had to forward the relevant files to the Railway Board, the IR’s apex decision-making body, and wait for approvals.

Since the introduction of the new tendering method in October last year, our division has finalised 77 tenders under direct acceptance (without constituting a tender committee for work up to Rs 50 lakh). Tendering for smaller work is now on the fast track-Saumya Mathur, DRM, Jaipur Division

The move to delegate powers was driven by the Transformation Cell, an in-house body created in January 2017, to undertake structural reforms in the railways. Suresh Prabhu was the rail minister then. The decision to devolve powers was taken in October, by which time Piyush Goyal had taken charge as minister.

“Earlier, only the board could authorise sanctioning of a new app or software. Now, it can be done at a division. We recently developed an employee grievances solution dashboard for our division. Employees can now track their complaints online,” says Kumar, adding how delegating more powers to the division also led to quicker decision-making. This has resulted in speedy elimination of unmanned level crossings, one of IR’s major safety hazards.

The Ferozepur Division alone has 186 unmanned level crossings now, down from 278 on 1 April 2017, according to the latest available data. The Delhi division recently developed three Apps. The files concerned for these decisions did not go to the headquarters this time.

“Service contracts for cleaning of stations, for example, have been fasttracked because DRMs are now empowered to award cleaning contracts on quotation basis for up to three months. Stations will no longer remain dirty because of tender related issues,” railways minister Goyal told.

Several railway officers in Delhi, Ferozepur and Jaipur pointed out one game-changing decision — a tender committee need not be set up for works up to Rs 50 lakh. This has expedited the awarding of small contracts.

Service contracts for cleaning of stations, for example, have been fast-tracked because DRMs are now empowered to award cleaning contracts on quotation basis up to three months-Piyush Goyal, railway minister

In the Jaipur division, for example, 77 tenders were finalised under the direct acceptance route since the introduction of the devolution. “Tendering for smaller work is now on the fast track,” says Saumya Mathur, DRM of the division. The Jaipur railway station’s concourse hall recently got a major facelift and the renovation work was completed in just two months. “It happened because of enhanced tendering powers at the divisional level.”

The Jaipur railway station got a facelift and the project was completed in 2 months because of devolution of power. The Western Railways, comprising six divisions, facilitated medical reimbursements to 587 employees in just two months as the files no longer had to be sent to New Delhi. “If an issue is settled at the DRM’s level, the file would require three signatures. Earlier, the same file needed at least nine signatures—three at the level of the GM and three at the board level,” says Sudheer Kumar, principal executive director of the Transformation Cell, which is executing the delegation of power.

Favouritism will be the order of the day. Such a delegation of power will make the system non-transparent as there will be no checks and balances-Dinesh Trivedi, former Railway Minister

The change is not without its critics, however. Some argue that it amounted to diluting checks and balances and might spawn corruption.

“Of course it will (lead to corruption),” said former railway minister and Trinamool Congress leader Dinesh Trivedi. “Favouritism will be the order of the day. Such a delegation of power will make the system non-transparent, as there will be no checks and balances. Such moves will make the CVC (Central Vigilance Commission) redundant.”

For now, curtailing the authority of the Railway Bhavan bosses is eliciting a big hurrah on the ground.

Decentralisation of power to ground staff began in October 2017. Now, divisional railway managers (DRMs) have a lot more power: