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  Opinion   Columnists  24 Aug 2022  Dilip Cherian | Railway officers now likely to face appraisal by juniors and peers

Dilip Cherian | Railway officers now likely to face appraisal by juniors and peers

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Published : Aug 25, 2022, 12:07 am IST
Updated : Aug 25, 2022, 12:07 am IST

The Railways Board has introduced a process that allows peers and juniors to evaluate their reporting officers

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The Centre’s 360-degree evaluation system for senior IAS, OPS and IFoS officers has found a new enthusiast in the Indian Railways. The Railways Board has introduced a process that allows peers and juniors to evaluate their reporting officers. The move obviously has railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw’s back, with the benign nod of approval from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

Sources have informed DKB that the Board wrote last week informing employees that it plans to create “multi-source” feedback of officers while generating their annual performance appraisal report. The feedback will be submitted anonymously and recorded in the database of the concerned official. Apparently, there shall be no way to trace back the feedback to the superior or subordinate officer who submitted it. The move will likely bring 20,000 officials under the scanner.

The move has evoked a mixed response from the rail officers, say sources. Some question the “deviation” from the 114-year-old rail administration structure at a time when the railways are undergoing a major makeover, including the creation of an eight-cadre Indian Railway Management Service under which rules for becoming a member or chairperson of the Railway Board have been changed.

However, some officials welcome the move saying it will make a positive difference in the prevailing work culture. It would also lead to some officials seeking voluntary retirement. They would, in fact, like the system to be further extended to receive feedback from non-railway persons such as contractors and vendors who are also part of the rail system. Also, while the system will be used to evaluate officials, there is no clarity on who will evaluate the Board members. That’s a loaded question that Mr Vaishnaw will have to answer!

In season of continuity, Bhalla gets third extension

It is the season of continuity. Close on the heels of the second extension for Cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba, the appointments committee of the Cabinet gave a one-year extension to Union home secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla until August next year.

This is the third time that Mr Bhalla, a 1984 batch Assam-Meghalaya cadre officer, has been given an extension. He was first appointed home secretary in August 2019 and was supposed to attain superannuation in November 2020. Interestingly, Mr Bhalla had succeeded Mr Gauba in the top post in the ministry of home affairs. Both officers have proved their administrative abilities and carried out some of the Modi Sarkar’s most important policies. Mr Bhalla oversaw the passage of key and controversial legislations in Parliament such as the Citizenship Amendment Act and the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. He also supervised the creation of the Ram Mandir Trust and played a critical role in the management of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sources have informed DKB that while the rules state that no officer shall be granted extension in service beyond the retirement age of 60 years, the Centre can give extension in service to the home, foreign and defence secretaries and director of Intelligence Bureau and secretary of Research and Analysis Wing among others in “public interest” on a case-to-case basis. Mr Bhalla and Mr Gauba clearly fall in this rare category.

Time to unmuzzle the civil service?

Smita Sabharwal, senior IAS officer and secretary to Telangana chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, has waded into a controversy after tweeting on the release of 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano rape case in Gujarat. Ms Sabharwal suggested to the Centre that the civil service be ungagged and allowed to express their personal opinions.

As expected, a row has broken out over her comment. While the BJP has criticised her (also along expected lines), former IAS officers Association of United Andhra Pradesh president B.P. Acharya said the babu did not cross any line and there was nothing wrong with her tweets on the case. Babus are mostly perceived as toeing the “official” government line always, but clearly some chafe against the constraints placed on them by service rules.

Ms Sabharwal has received support from many of her peers for speaking out. Sanjiv Gupta, a former secretary in the home ministry, among others, has praised her bold stance. But hopefully, we can expect some positive gains from this episode if it leads to a debate within government and the civil service and some changes in the service rules on freedom of expression of government servants.

Tags: indian railways, ashwini vaishnaw