Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ministers 3, staff 178, Rlys off track

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - 06:00 IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
Railways vote on account today; ministry shows no thrift in hiring personnel.
  • Mallikarjun Kharge with a copy of the interim budget 2014-15 on Tuesday ARIJIT SEN DNA
His ministry is staring at a massive revenue shortfall, but that has not stopped railway minister Mallikarjun Kharge from employing more than four times the number of people he is entitled to. Kharge, who is rarely seen in office at the Rail Bhavan, has 27 people in his secretariat — 22 more than the five he is allowed to have. The ministry shells out a whopping Rs13.7 lakh per month on these 22 staffers apart from providing them with perks.
Kharge’s ministers of state, Kotla Jayasurya Prakash Reddy and Adheer Ranjan Chowdhury, have emulated him by having seven and eight additional staffers respectively. This means the three ministers have 178 staffers — additional staff of 138 people (see box).
The number of staffers in their offices far exceeds the figure specified in government rules, according to documents accessed by dna. Also, to create vacancies, the ministers need prior sanction from the PM, who heads the department of personnel and training (DoPT). In this case, sources said, the DoPT was kept in the dark.
In addition to turning a blind eye to such rules, Kharge has also appointed former railway board chairman Vivek Sahai as his advisor. This, despite having a full railway board headed by a chairman and six members at his disposal for policy decisions. Sahai charges a consolidated fee of Rs57,333 per month, according to documents available with dna. Additionally, he has been allotted an office in Rail Bhawan, a private secretary, a peon, a vehicle and an official residence.
Any minister holding charge of a single ministry or a single independent department is entitled to a private secretary (PS), an additional PS, an assistant PS, first personal assistant (PA) and second PA, states the DoPT office memorandum of January 14, 1994. However, Kharge’s secretariat has 22 extra posts on which the ministry spends Rs13.7 lakh every month. This excludes the amount spent on perks such as official vehicles, six railway passes and telephone reimbursements as well as overtime.
Kharge and his Congress colleagues Reddy and Chowdhury have also allowed themselves the luxury of taking more staffers from Group C (clerical staff) and Group D (multi-tasking staff) than the sanctioned number. Kharge uses 60 staffers in all - 38 from Group C and 22 from Group D - although he is allowed to use only nine – four and five each from the two groups, sources said.
According to rules, the two ministers of state can employ nine staffers – five from Group C and four from Group D. But Chowdhury has 35 (26 from Group C and nine from Group D) and Reddy, son of former Andhra Pradesh CM Vijaybhaskara Reddy, has 33 (20 Group C and 13 Group D).
The railway ministry’s public relations department did not respond to dna’s mails.
On an average, a Group C official gets Rs35,000 as salary every month whereas it is Rs20,000 for a Group D staffer. They are also entitled to perks such as passes for rail travel and overtime. The additional expenditure incurred on them comes to Rs30,70,000 per month, excluding the overtime paid.
Senior officials said the huge deployment has had a big impact on the already-understaffed ministry. “The same ministers have given categorical instructions not to create fresh posts. But they are taking away railway employees from existing branches. For example, J Srinivas, who works as executive director with Kharge (additional post outside sanctioned strength), was picked up from a field post. So was Mahesh K Garg, who was executive director with Reddy. As a result, the real work at different branches suffers,” said a senior ministry official.
The impact the official is referring to is also reflected in the fact that 35 rooms in Rail Bhavan are occupied by the unsanctioned staff. This has led to a shortage of rooms for the ministry work to be carried out. In fact, the ministry has hired space near Pragati Maidan to accommodate regular branches of the ministry, according to sources. The Rail Bhavan has 200 rooms in all.
Despite hiking passenger fares and freight rates by 20-35 per cent in the last one-and-a-half year, the railway ministry is staring at a huge revenue shortfall. It is Rs10,000 crore short of the revenue target for the period between April and December. Its operating ratio of zones, which is the difference between revenue earned and expenses incurred, is negative in most of the zones.
According to documents with dna, the operating ratio of 12 out of the 17 zones is between 110 and 180. A ratio of 110, for instance, means that the railways spent Rs110 to earned a revenue of Rs100.

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