Friday, September 20, 2013

Railway ruckus: PMO rejects nominations for the vacant eight GM rank posts

In a snub to the railway ministry over its "state of affairs", the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) has returned its file containing nominations for the vacant eight General Manager rank posts in the state-owned enterprise.

The development comes at a time when the ministry is already facing embarrassment due to mudslinging over who will get the Chairman Railway Board (CRB) post.

The PMO's refusal to endorse the railway ministry's choice of candidates is with a "valid reason", said top Board sources. "More than the actual candidates' names being sent to the PMO, representations opposing the ministry's choice of candidates reach there, raising questions over the choices," a source said.

Last year, the PMO had asked the ministry to "first settle the issue internally" and then propose the names for all top slots in the railways, said a ministry official. "But this hardly has any effect on the ministry and no damage control was done."

This year, too, when the representations outnumbered the actual names, the PMO said, "First clear the mess internally and then approach." Consequently, the fate of at least eight prospective GM rank officials is hanging fire. And in what could be a cumulative effect, some GMs aspiring to reach the Board as members are sulking for being "forced to serve in their current postings".

The GM posts, which are crucial to railways' daily operations on the ground, have been lying vacant for over four months now. Six out of these posts are the crucial zonal assignments in Western, Central, South East Central, South-Eastern, East Coast and South Central railway zones, while the two are in production units - Integral Coach Factory in Chennai and Chittaranjan Locomotive Works in West Bengal.

It is learnt that there were at least 28 candidates on the panel of GMs for this year. Out of this, eight names were finalised and were reportedly sent to the PMO for final approval. Among them were Navin Tandon for South East Central Railway, P. K. Shrivastava for South Central Railway, Hemant Kumar for Western Railway, Rajiv Bishnoi for East Coast Railway and P. K. Agarwal for Integral Coach Factory. While Radhey Shyam is proposed to be shifted to South East Railway, B. P. Khare may be asked to continue in Central Railway. The railway has also nominated a woman officer, R. Ravikumar, for a GM post, but the file was sent bank asking the ministry to "solve the rifts and come clear on names without any opposition".

But that seems unlikely as "the way ad hocism prevails in the ministry, there is no visible signs of the issue getting resolved early," says a senior officer. "The confusion over CRB status is just an indicator of how things are within the Board....While in normal correspondence, the ministry has gradually started calling Arunendra Kumar as the CRB even as he is Member (Mechanical), currently holding additional charge of the Board's top seat."

Faced with a situation where on one side you have four probable candidates still in the fray for the top post as Kumar carries on since June 30, the race to CRB seat has only got ugly with the prospective candidates trying to implicate each other in vigilance cases to scuttle their chances.

Member (Electrical) Kul Bhushan, who was a strong contender in the CRB race till his name cropped up in CBI's probe and subsequent enquiry report, may get in the reckoning again as there is a possibility of him getting a clean chit in the case, sources said.

Ad hocism mars ambitious projects

An inside view of modern coach Anubhuti at a railway centre in Delhi.
Ad hocism in railway functioning has marred the implementation of several ambitious projects of the UPA government.

The Congress had promised faster completion of projects when it took over the control of the railway ministry and appointed three ministers after nearly a gap of 17 years. The promise, however, has remain unfulfilled as the state ministers of railways are busy catering to the political demands of their constituencies and the rail minister, Mallikarjun Kharge, is more interested in constituting committees than actually taking decisions on major projects.

This lack of decision-making at the top has delayed several key projects. "Everyone is waiting for a clearance from his superior. Files are rusting and ad hocism seem to have become the way of administrative functioning within the ministry," said a senior officer in the board.

A list of 250 pending projects has been awaiting a final nod. The slow pace of functioning has driven away many private players who might have been interested in supporting the railways initiatives had things been on track in the ministry.

"Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's favourite Bullet Train project has been put on hold as Kharge is focusing all his attention on "running the current trains without mishaps and tragedies".

The PMO has time and again directed the rail ministry to expedite works on big ticket projects like the dedicated freight corridors, Mumbai elevated corridor, high speed trains, locomotives, rail coach factories, and not to miss, the world-class stations.

There is no clear word on the status of these big projects and the delays have only resulted in cost overruns. Investments in rail projects could have guaranteed the Indian Railways an investment kitty of at least Rs.1.3 lakh crore to Rs.1.5 lakh crore from public-private partnerships.

The railways is still looking for at least Rs.1.6 lakh crore to complete its 193 key projects, apart from the 250 projects which have not yet taken off. "Where is the money or the right men to execute the projects on ground?'' asked a senior railway official.

He cited the case of general manager, Northeast Frontier Railway, R.S. Virdhi, currently locked in a battle with his cadre senior Arunendra Kumar for the chairman, railway board, post. "If he is (Virdhi) in New Delhi pursuing his fight for the CRB position, who will execute the projects announced for northeast region in the last three budgets?'' asked the officer.

Added another senior officer: "No one knows at what stage is the Anubhuti, the state-of-theart rail journey experience project, which was announced during Pawan Kumar Bansal's tenure as railway minister."

With Bansal exiting the Rail Bhawan, Anubhuti also vanished from priority list.

Many trains announced in the last budget are yet to be flagged off. Vacancies in the production units like rail coach factories and locomotives are affecting production targets, claim top railway sources.

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