Being an Indian Railwayman – Part I

June 10, 2012

I have completed 25 years as Railwayman  an Indian government servant. It was on Nov 11 1986, I joined Railways. The last 25 years has given me immense work satisfaction. I am really fortunate to be working in Railway Hospital, Perambur. Unlike most other government offices, my hospital is highly professional. There is great deal of professional independence, spirit of innovation. People don’t step on others toe. Of course like most other government offices, there is decline here also. But still we are better.

Railway is a really complex monster. No one can understand the system in less than 2 years and that too only when you work inside,I bet on that. It is complex because it has everything  railway coach manufacturing, civil engg, communication, electrification, security and health care. We are one of biggest health care providers in the world. The medical department of railways provides health care to nearly 70 lakh people a fact not recognized by outside world.

Commonly people think government service is uninteresting, not rewarding, lazy and whatever other negative things they can think about. No, it is not. Indeed it is a challenge, highly rewarding – not in monetary terms -but in job satisfaction.

There are problems in the system, but the system moves on. It is slow, but moves on. It has short comings but it moves on. It is shaky but will never fall. It is dull but will never fail. Best thing about the system is no individual can bring it down overnight, in the same vein no individual can improve it overnight.

As an insider I have observed that there are subgroups of employees – not based on specialty – but on the attitude, innovation, dedication etc. Among railway employees there are two main classifications – field and administration.  Common public mostly come in contact with field staff like station masters, ticket collectors. Rarely they need to interact with administrative staff. The sub-group I am talking about is waste workers(WW), average workers(AW) and excellent workers(EW). In my opinion the ratio of WW:AW:EW is 60:30:10 among administration and 40:40:20 among field staff. Well it is just an observation, not a scientifically studied one.

Since the WW is very high, everybody thinks so badly about government employees. However please do understand the small percent of excellent workers make good.  You won’t believe it looking from outside. A simple case I can point out is my doctors , nurses and pharmacists. A doctor can easily manage over 100 out-patients a day apart from regular IP cases or Pharmacist clearing 200 prescriptions a day is not uncommon. I can see the difference, whenever there is a rush is any private organisations – say in school during admission, or shopkeeper during rush hour and so many other places. The 10% and 20% EW of ours can beat any private sector guy – why guy, a gang even- easily and wins hands down.

Indeed it is the EW which keeps the railways going, the reason why Indian Railway can carry a daily load equivalent to population of Australia. They are terribly innovative, have sharp trouble shooting skill, adept in management – both men and machine.

The constraints are many mainly imposed by WW – inefficiency, lack of team spirit, laziness, union pressures, political pressure ….. an infinite list. So it is challenge, every day, every hour and indeed every minute. As they say when going gets tough, tough gets going. These constraints are what makes job satisfactory. I don’t see anything interesting when the atmosphere is conducive. – You order something and the thing is done- what is the challenge here? Anybody can work in such places. But government is full of challenge, even small thing needs a push.

Criticizing government servants is favorite pass time among Indians and railways being biggest employer – more than 14 lakhs – takes a big hit. Yes, I agree- every body has the right and we being public servant should take it in the right sense. But what is remedy to the ills? If you watch English Language Media it looks like RTI and implementation will solve all the problem. They are discussing about a Right, but their thinking is wrong. A simple fact – a train running from New Delhi and reaching Chennai involves 3000 human beings – yes whopping 3000 – will show the enormity of the problem.

Britishers have left a system which is stable but terribly backward looking, dominated by McCaulaian Clerks. Here procedure is more important than product. Everything should be fine on paper – not necessary to be so in field or actual usage. If you read any government proposal – be it a 6th plan or 7th plan or budget or anything else, no one can find fault – they are all paper tigers. But actual implementation leaves lot to be desired.

Today what is required is not RTI, but administrative reforms, a good recruitment policy based on merit. In government ,administrative reforms is the crying need. Let me show this by an example. In railways gazetted officers are eligible for briefcase for carrying official papers etc. There are certain conditions like

Amount : Rs.1500 for Group B, Rs.3000 for a Group A and so on

Eligibility: Once in every 2 years.

Upto this everything is fine  paper tiger. Nobody can find fault with it. Now comes the crux of issue – the procedure. Here it is

a) Officer applies – says that he/she is in such and such grade, and he finds it difficult to carry papers without a brief case, when he last received a briefcase etc.

b) This application is forward to Head of Department by his immediate boss through his immediate boss and so on.

c) The HOD approves. Just to remind you this position is sufficiently high – an average salary of more than 1.25 lakhs per month apart from lot of other perks. He/she spends time in approving a routine purchase of Rs.1500/-.

d)Once approval has been received, an indent -i.e. purchase request is sent to purchase department.

e) Purchase department will verify the claims. If the officer had already received a briefcase, old one should be surrendered. That should be sent to scrap disposal dept who will issue a certificate.

f) The purchase department will have firms who have been shortlisted for this purpose. They prepare a cheque for the stated amount in favour of the firm and hand it over to the officer.

g) The officer concerned visits the firm and selects the model he/she needs. Hands over the cheque and obtains the bill.

h)The bill should be handed over to the purchase department for verification.

Whopping number of steps – a minimum 3 months process. Apart from time consider the cost of the system. At least 10 persons handle this. So the manpower cost itself will come to Rs.1500/.

Now look at the alternative system. You know every officer is eligible once in two years. Simply pay an amount Rs.1500/.3000 in his salary every 2nd year and ask him to get whatever he wants.

How simple it is, isn’t. Well that is why I say what we need is Administrative reform first and not RTI. In the absence of good administrative procedures RTI doesn’t help. There are thousands of such unnecessary procedures delaying the work.

Today the obsession with RTI has deflected focus form actual functioning .

I feel  Shri.Kejriwal and Ms.Kiran Bedi are doing great disservice to the nation by painting whole civil service black – thereby driving honest and efficient youngsters away from civil service. I request honest and efficient young Indians to consider government service if you want to see a better India. The ideal model would be Shri E.Sreedharan .