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No new posts, remove re-engaged staff — austerity measures by Railways to soften Covid blow

A letter by Railways Financial Commissioner to all general managers, says traffic earnings of Railways until end of May 2020 have already dropped by 58%.

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New Delhi: A freeze on creation of new posts, removal of retired and re-engaged staff, shifting outsourced activities to CSR funds, moving ceremonial functions to digital platforms, and an immediate review and possible closure of uneconomic branch lines — these are among a slew of sweeping new austerity measures the Indian Railways is looking to undertake.

The move comes as the Railways’ revenues dipped significantly due to Covid-19 and the subsequent nationwide lockdown, which was enforced on 25 March.

In a letter dated 19 June addressed to all general managers, the Railways Financial Commissioner said, “As you are aware, Railways has been mandated by the government to meet all of their revenue expenses including pension from own receipts. The Covid-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown is, however, likely to adversely impact the budgeted earnings target of the current year.”

The letter, accessed by ThePrint, said as a “measure of extreme caution, spending limits of OWE (Ordinary Working Expenses), DRF (Depreciation Reserve Fund), DF (Development Fund) and RRSK (Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh) have already been imposed, which may strictly be followed”.

“Additionally there is a need to explore new areas of expenditure controls and enhancement of earnings,” it said.

The traffic earnings of the Railways until end of May 2020 have already dropped by 58 per cent, it added.

The letter also proposed a slew of overarching austerity measures as part of its action plan for controlling expenditure by reducing staff cost, reviewing contracts, reduction in energy consumption and cutting cost in administrative and other areas.

While the lockdown has been eased considerably now, the Railways’ normal operations haven’t resumed yet.

Also read: Railways sees upward growth in freight earnings for 10 days of June

Staff curtailment

For staff costs, the Railways directive suggested an immediate review of re-engaged staff and curtailing it to the bare minimum, freeze on new post creation, review of posts created in the last two years and an examination of whether those can be surrendered in case they are still vacant.

It also called for focus on multitasking by the existing manpower, among other measures.

Last week, ThePrint had reported that thousands of retired Indian Railways employees who were re-engaged in 2019 are set to lose their jobs as the transporter looks to cut its expenses.

On contracts and maintenance

In the contracts subhead, the Railways’ letter suggested that a critical review and curtailment of all outsourcing activity must take place, and an attempt may be made to shift some of the activities like on-board health services, station cleaning, linen management to corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds.

Further, it said Annual Maintenance Contracts should be reduced to bare minimum, already-sanctioned machinery and plants with unsatisfactory procurement progress should be stopped, an immediate review of outsourcing of non-core activities by the Railway Protection Force like colony security, crowd management, etc, and zonal works should be curtailed.

The Railways also said there should be strict monitoring of fuel savings on account of change in traction, audit of major load centres, reduced diesel consumption, and rationalisation of Railway Container Depots for total fuel management, among other measures.

Also read: A train of afterthoughts: How Indian Railways itself became the story in a lockdown

No ‘big affairs’

Labelling the annual general manager inspections a “big affair’ in the letter, the Railways Financial Commissioner said, “Annual inspections should be a silent and low key affair with minimum number of staff required”.

E-office, e-dak, video conferencing etc. should be used extensively to curtail expenditure on manual activities, and expenses on stationery articles, cartridges should be cut by at least 50 per cent. For correspondence, secure email should be used instead of physical letters.

“Expenditure on official vehicles to be reduced to minimum required. DRMs may conduct may conduct a zero based review of expenditure on vehicles i.e. MUVs, Trucks, Official vehicles etc. and send a report to GMs,” it said. The GMs have, in turn, been asked to send a report to the Railway Board.

It added that expenditure like entertainment, publicity, travel and meetings should be curtailed.

Also read: Railways terminates contract with Chinese company but ‘not due to LAC conflict’


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