73 Years Ago, First Interim Railway Budget Dealt With Employee Issues, Capacity Expansion, Board Rejig

Read Part 1: This Day 73 Years Ago, Independent India’s First Interim Railway Budget Was Presented by John Mathai

Part II

Given the serious challenges posed by Partition to put Indian Railways (IR) back on track, John Mathai, while presenting his first railway budget envisaged a three-year horizon for things to settle down.

The reason was simple: IR had ordered additional rolling stock from both domestic and international suppliers for its present and future requirements. This however wasn’t expected to be delivered prior to 1948.

On its part, IR had already started expanding the capacity of its marshalling yards and railway lines; improving the work atmosphere in workshops and with it the output; besides deputing a senior railway official to the USA for studying the latest developments in rail transportation.

Labour Unrest & Employee Relations

The next most important issue that Mathai had to handle was employees-both labour and superior staff.

Labour unrest on IR had been simmering since May 1946 with IR’s trade union All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF), demanding better pay and better working conditions.

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The threat of a General Railway Strike was averted after a temporary settlement was reached in June 1946 giving ad hoc relief. This settlement resulted in the appointment of a pay commission which was given the mandate to resolve labour-related issues.

Under this backdrop, Mathai had already started discussions with the AIRF soon after taking over as the Minister of Transport and Railways just after independence. He understood the trust deficit between the labour and IR very well and was anxious that sporadic incidents of flash strikes and go-slow tactics could occur given that the atmosphere prevailing in those days just after partition wasn’t very positive and encouraging.

Indian Employees to Replace European ‘Superior Staff’

Finding Indian staff fit to serve at higher echelons of the railway bureaucracy was Mathai’s biggest pain point when he took over. He referred to this as ‘Indianisation of Superior Staff’.

Non-Indians had not been recruited by IR since 1943.

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Neither did IR have any plans to recruit more people post-August 1947 other than technical staff, who were hard to come by as such positions mandated suitable experience and training.

Though the Government of India had announced that there won’t be discrimination against non-Indian employees of IR (especially Europeans), the scenario changed upside immediately after independence.

There were 338 European officers in Railway Services as on August 15, 1947. Of this, 166 of them opted to leave the country in one way or the other as follows: 98 opted to go to Pakistan,49 of them retired and the remaining 19 had already announced their intention to leave.

With nearly half of the positions held by Europeans falling vacant, replacements had to be identified. It was also imperative to identify a pool of officers and train them so that they were equipped to take up senior positions in the hierarchy.

This was a work in progress for IR as such employees with senior-level experience could not be found instantly. Moreover, Mathai was also expecting additional vacancies at the middle and senior levels in case more Europeans left.

Policy Shift

Consequently, the then Government made an important policy decision regarding replacements for European officers leaving India.

Mathai proposed that any future vacancy created by the exit of an European would be filled up preferably by an Indian of proven ability irrespective of seniority.

The then Government decided such a move was in the national interest even if this meant overlooking the personal interest /career prospect of a non-Indian officer who had opted to stay back in India post independence.

This was because the Government did not have any choice as it could not hold back any non-Indian officer who had chosen to leave.

Railway Board re-jigged

This policy was first implemented in the Railway Board. Just before independence, the Railway Board had five members- four Europeans and one Indian.

After independence, the Board was reconstituted. Now there were six members- five Indians and one European. The sixth was a temporary Member entrusted with the responsibility of dealing with refugee related work.

End of Part II

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About the Author: Raghavendra Rao

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