NEW DELHI: The Bibek Debroy-headed panel set up to suggest ways to restructure railways has recommended drastic reforms such as allowing private players to run passenger as well as freight trains, producing coaches, wagons and locomotives and switching over to commercial accounting of railway functions.

The high-powered panel has also asked the national transporter to withdraw from welfare services such as running schools and hospitals and managing Railway Protection Force (RPF).

The committee suggested setting up of a government SPV (with a possibility of disinvesting in the future) to own railway infrastructure, and delink it from the railways. It suggested an Indian Railway Manufacturing Company to replace all existing production units and another holding company for railway stations.

It also suggested setting up a regulator – with statutory backing and independent of the railway ministry as well as the railway board – for fixing tariff, determining cost of service, managing track access, setting technical standards among other things, after private players were allowed to run freight and passenger trains. The panel said it could be called the Railway Regulator Authority of India (RRAI).
The panel said the rail ministry should only determine policy and not indulge in day-to-day operations of the railways. The ministry should set policy for open access and the framework for the Railway Infrastructure Company, determine the policy for raising resources for social cost obligations, extending the railway network and offering on-budget and targeted subsidies to poor passengers who need them.

It also talked of one ministry of transport in the future.

The panel favoured detaching Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation from railways which was brought under it during the tenure of Mamata Banerjee as rail minister.

“The core function of Indian Railways should be the business of running trains,” the panel said, suggesting pruning of group C and D staff as it found a shortage of personnel in the core, skilled operations of running trains.

The panel urged delinking of RPF from the railways, and handing over railway schools to Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan and pruning of railway medical services.

The panel suggested that for empowering zonal railways and making them autonomous, railway board should have no role to play in their day to day functioning while policy was determined by the rail ministry.

It said railway board must become like a corporate board for railways. The chairman should be like a CEO. He/she should not be the first among equals and should, therefore, have the power of final decision-making and veto (in case of divided view). The composition of the board should have member (traction and rolling stock), member (passenger and freight business), member (HR and stores), member (finance and PPP), member (infrastructure) and two outside, independent experts.

An individual should be appointed as chairman or member only if he/she possesses at least three years of service left. This clause should also apply to appointment as general manager.

Noting that the present railway board was saddled with excess manpower with a strength of 1,107 officers, the panel said it was not convinced about the need for a separate Railway Board Secretariat Services (RBSS) or the Railway Board Clerical Services (RBCS) and recommended that these be merged with the Central Secretarial Services.

In the revamped board, below the members, the committee recommended no more than a three-level hierarchy (additional members/advisors, SAG officers and SG/JAG officers).

The interim report said, “This committee will use the word liberalization and not the terms privatization and deregulation, as both of these two terms are apt to be misunderstood.”

It clarified that the committee did not recommend privatization of railways, except in very specific non-core segments.

Source: Times of India