Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sreedharan panel report raises concerns over impact of ‘vigilance activism’
Calling for wider delegation of powers to general managers (GMs) and even to officials below that level, an interim report of a committee headed by E Sreedharan said the Railway Board does not trust the business instincts and capabilities of its GMs.

Recently, the Board issued a notification allowing GMs to take decisions on tenders up to ₹500 crore. But it has not allowed them to further delegate power, nor has it stated that the current circular supersedes the earlier ones on the issue, Railway officials told Business Line. The Sreedharan report also notes that it will take about three months to change all the rules and regulations for devolution of powers.  
“The present system in vogue drastically curtails the powers of GMs to discharge their duties efficiently and effectively. There exists a 21-page-long list of areas where GMs are debarred and not authorised to take any decision, or where they cannot sanction any expenditure or cannot deal with certain subject areas,” the committee has said in its report.
Further delegation
Further, the report points out that the system of delegation of powers below GMs is ad-hoc, opaque, complicated and varies from zone to zone.
“A closer look and analysis of powers delegated to GMs establishes that it is negative, prescriptive and restrictive. The way powers are arranged today, the Railway Board does not trust business instincts and capability of its general managers, the highest authority in the field,” it said.
In the Railways, the present regime of taking commercial decisions and floating and finalisation of tenders and all types of contracts is overly centralised, time consuming, opaque and is in crying need of reforms, the report added.
While the one-man committee has submitted its interim recommendations, it is still meeting Railway officials for working out a final report. There are many practical issues that GMs face, say officials. For instance, they cannot route funds to a project nearing completion without taking the board’s approval.
Playing it safe
While calling for devolution of powers, the Sreedharan report also pointed out that a few GMs had expressed concern over the present environment prevailing in the Railways due to ‘vigilance activism’.
“Even small acts of slips and genuine errors are treated as acts of corruption and vigilance cases registered against officers. This prevents honest officers from taking prompt and bold decisions,” the report noted.
“Many senior officers, who are due for promotion, especially to levels of general managers or members of the board, avoid signing papers or taking decisions just to be safe. This leads to a sort of paralysis at the management level, which causes avoidable delays and, eventually, damage to the system,” it added.
(This article was published on January 14, 2015)

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