New Delhi: The Ministry of Railways’ announcement last month that the eight Indian Railways (IR) civil services will be merged into a single entity, a Group ‘A’ central service called Indian Railways Management Service (IRMS), has drawn criticism and resistance across the IR divisions. Officers have alleged a “lack of clarity” on the IRMS, and raised apprehensions that the merger will reduce “intake” into the railways by half, “restrict promotions” of existing cadres, and change the eligibility criteria for aspirants with engineering background.
However, senior members of the Railway Board said the move would end the “turf war” among the various departments and create a “leaner and meaner” organisation.
“The Indian Railways is committed to the welfare of the nation, the organisation, as well as the students who aspire to make a career in the railways. The IRMS is a step towards realising these goals,” V.K. Tripathi, chairman and CEO of the Railway Board, told ThePrint.
The ministry made the announcement of the merger after two years of deliberations, debates and hundreds of rounds of meetings. Entry to the IRMS will be through a common exam conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). A notification to the effect was issued on 9 February, two years after the Union Cabinet cleared the IR reforms proposal, which aims to improve efficiency and cut red tape in the public sector behemoth.
The Railway Board chairman as well as Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw have been holding meetings with the rail officers’ associations and federations in a bid to address and allay their concerns — primarily, the merger of technical and non-technical exams into one (IRMS), and secondly, the effect on recruitment intake. The current notification does not mention a retrospective effect on the existing positions of officers.
The Indian Railways has over the decades been governed by a common pool of officers. Among these, the engineers were recruited through the engineering service exams, and the civil servants, who were part of general administration, through the civil services examination under UPSC. Prior to 1950, the IR had only three services — civil engineering, mechanical and traffic, while the others were added later.
Recruitment for the eight railway services, technical and non-technical, was so far done through two examinations, the civil services exam and the engineering service exam, in place of which the common IRMS exam will now be held. Rail engineers are crying foul as they think the technical services cadre may suffer in the new arrangement.
Senior rail officers said that merger of the cadres would “dilute” the managerial specialisation that civil service officers have, and the number of seats for aspirants would reduce under IRMS.
According to them, the railways till now used to employ at least 300 officers across eight services, but under the IRMS exam, recruitment would be reduced by 50 per cent.
However, senior officials in the Railway Board argued that the number of recruitments has been doubled. Earlier, the IR used to absorb 75 candidates for the civil services (non-technical) under the UPSC exam, but now it has made space for 150 through IRMS, they said.
The IR used to absorb around 200 more candidates via the engineering exams for applicants with technical background, but that won’t take place anymore.
On jobs for engineers, a senior official of the Railway Board said: “The general engineering services examination will still be there, and candidates can be absorbed into several other streams including Central Public Works Department.”
But, he added, to be a part of the IR, applicants would necessarily have to appear for the IRMS. “Depending on their specialisations, candidates would get positions and departments in the organisation,” he said.
The rail officers’ associations also raised concerns about what would happen to their seniority, grades and promotions, once the services are merged.
“This is a very complex structure. We do not even know if it is a reform or just a whimsical decision to bring down expenses by half, because rail recruitment would go down by 50 per cent at least,” a senior member of Federation of Railway Officers’ Association (FROA) said.
“The existing officers have earned a certain grade or seniority in their respective departments, but when they would be brought under one department, their seniority would be diluted,” the member added.
He gave an example, saying “an officer of Grade A can be eligible for the position of Divisional Railway Manager and, currently, in his department there can be around five such officers with similar seniority level. If the services are merged, the particular officer would find himself among 35 such officers”.
“There are many grey areas and the ministry has not come up with any clarification on them,” the FROA member added.
Meanwhile, Samir Kumar, secretary general of the governing council of FROA, told ThePrint: “The recent notification does not say anything about what would happen to the existing structure. It only speaks about the examinations, and 150 vacancies. There are no broader guidelines on the existing services and the existing officers. The entire exercise lacks clarity.”
The rail officers’ associations specifically talked about the engineers, who used to be recruited through the engineering exams.
The Railway Board, however, dismissed the concerns as “needless”. “We can prove with data that applicants coming from the engineering streams have always topped the recruitment exams, and with higher percentage,” said a second senior official of the Board.
According to official data from the Board, accessed by ThePrint, between 2014 and 2019, engineering graduates dominated the non-technical services with 63 per cent recruitment.
In 2021, among 102 trainees who attended the foundation course, 70 per cent were engineers, and in 2022, 67 per cent of the total recruits in the non-technical streams were engineers.
“With this data, anybody can see that the engineers dominate both technical and non-technical streams in the IR. So there should not be any concern, especially after their worries were addressed by the rail minister and chairman in repeated discussions,” the official added.
Railway Board officials further attributed the two-year delay in the IR merger move to discussions with stakeholders and the Covid pandemic.
“It has already been two years since the Union Cabinet’s clearance was taken. There should not be more delay in implementing the IRMS. We have to accelerate the process. But there is a lobby, funded and supported by outside elements, which wants to create chaos. We will not allow them to succeed. The railways need to be administered well, while this group is only confusing our officers, applicants and the people,” the second Board official alleged.
Why the merger?
The point behind the merger of rail services is to bring a “more effective administration”.
“A decision on this was taken two years ago (December 2019) after meetings with rail officers. Former railway minister Piyush Goyal had held the talks and the officers agreed and voted for this. It is a progressive reform towards making the IR more effective in administration and management,” a third senior official from the Railway Board said.
“Most importantly, the move is expected to end the turf war among departments. The officers will get rid of numerous issues related to departmental silos which became a menace in managing such a vast organisation,” the official explained, adding that “the ministry and Railway Board have thought it through and the reform would not affect any officer or their promotion prospects adversely”.
The rail ministry’s current notification does not mention any retrospective effect on the existing positions of cadres.
“We do not know how it would be taken forward, but as of now, only the examinations have been merged, not the positions. The new recruits would function like IRMS officers and would be appointed in the respective departments according to their specialisations or merit,” said a fourth senior officer from the Board.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)