The how & why of Railway Board posts

NatMahesh Kumar, arrested in Mumbai, is member (staff) in board. File

Appointments to the Railway Board, the highest governing body of Indian Railways, has always been an involved process and sometimes a hazy one, having often seen a senior being superseded. In 2003, for example, Northern Railway general manager R K Singh took over as Railway Board chairman superseding the board's other six members, among whom member (mechanical) S Dasarathi was the most senior.

Some posts in the seven-member board are seen as potentially more rewarding than others. Member (staff) Mahesh Kumar, arrested on charges of bribery, was allegedly eyeing the post of member (electrical). The member (staff) is appointed from any of the various cadres in the railway services, while the member (electrical) comes from the Indian Railway Service of Electrical Engineers or the IRS of Signalling Engineers, to which Kumar belongs.

Besides the member (staff), the chairman is from any of the cadres. The other five appointments are from specific cadres (see box).

The selection

Eligibility criteria do exist: the candidate should have been a general manager of a zonal railway for at least one year, and should have at least two years of service left.

The board, along with the railways minister, proposes a list of four or five to the appointments committee of the cabinet. These are in order of preference or eligibility. The committee vets the proposal and sends it to the Prime Minister's Office for final approval.

A board member enjoys the rank of an ex officio secretary to the Government of India, and the chairman enjoys that of a cabinet secretary.

Each of the six verticals headed by a member handles a separate function. A member has the powers to oversee contract conditions, expenditure, procurement and staff appointment within his or her vertical.

The conflict

The traffic directorate, manned by Indian Railway Traffic Service officers, a cadre allied to the civil services and headed by the member (traffic), is unique in one respect. It is responsible for core operations in running trains, freight loading and passenger management, yet it does not have a say in the procurement or development of the infrastructure it uses to carry out these functions. The tools it needs are built, procured or maintained by directorates headed by members from the engineering cadres.

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