A railway guard waves the green flag aboard a Jaynagar Shaheed Express train at the Amritsar Junction as Indian Railways expand operations under lockdown on Monday.

According to the proposal, all ticket checking, reservation and enquiry posts from the commercial department may be merged. Railway Protection Force constables may be deployed for checking tickets at stations.

Indian Railways is mulling merging several junior and mid-level posts as part of its plans to rationalize the organisation and making it leaner, following the Union cabinet’s nod for merging its eight major cadres into a central services Indian Railway Management Service, according to officials aware of the development.

The rail ministry has drafted a proposal based on recommendations from all railway zones for merging key posts in the accounts, commercial, electrical, mechanical, engineering, medical, personnel, operating, stores, and signal & telecommunication departments, and also other miscellaneous posts.

According to the proposal, all ticket checking, reservation and enquiry posts from the commercial department may be merged. Railway Protection Force constables may be deployed for checking tickets at stations. “ A single category may be defined with a particular training schedule,” the proposal said.

According to a suggestion by two railways zones the category of guard and the Loco Pilot should be merged ; the zones also proposed a ticketing process akin to that in airlines.

In the accounts department, the zones said, “preparation of salary and passing can be done by same department… Disbursement of salary should be streamlined along the lines of pension payments which are managed by banks and except supervisory staff of personnel and accounts department, all other categories should be extinguished.”

Zones have also recommended outsourcing unskilled jobs including that of cleaners. The Union cabinet in December 2019 approved the restructuring — trimming the Railway Board’s strength to half (from 8 to 4) and unifying its eight railways services into a central service in a bid to reform the 150-year-old Railway Board of the Indian Railways.

The modalities and unification of the services will be worked out by the rail ministry in consultation with the Department of Personnel and Training. The process was scheduled to be completed within a year.

The proposals will be finalised by an eight-member committee constituted last month by the railway board for looking into re-skilling of the staff. Separately, the Centre had also formed a group of secretaries headed by the cabinet secretary for implementing the exercise of restructuring the board; this committee includes the Chairman, Railway Board, the DOPT secretary and the secretary of the department of expenditure. This committee will assist the group of ministers constituted by the government for formalizing the restructured railway board. The GOM will be formed after the recommendations of the committee, officials said.

Spokespersons for the ministry of railways did not respond to HT’s queries.

“The plan is to streamline the organisation; 1.3 million employees is too manpower intensive and becomes under productive too hence it is broadly to reduce manpower,” a railway official said on condition of anonymity.

The national carrier may also merge the medical cadre categories into four from the current seven. Two zones said that only laboratory staff, pharmacists and nursing staff should remain while all other categories should be outsourced.

“ Broadly they have made up their mind to push through manpower rationalization. And since higher cadre merger has been done this won’t be much of a problem,” another railway official said, asking not to be named.

The proposed organizational reforms were aimed at ending the division of the mammoth organisation into different departments. The Indian Railways employs nearly 1.3 million people and its trains carried 2.3 million passengers every day before the lockdown. The government has said the move was aimed at ending a legacy marked by inefficiency in work, infighting over control of assets and resources, and delays in decision-making.

“I have always maintained that there should be two services instead of one. A single service will always create problems when you ask technical department to do non-technical work all their education and specialization in the field will go to waste,” said former railway board chairman Vivek Sahai.