India's Railway Board oversees top network, $11.5 bn budget

India's Railway Board oversees top network, $11.5 bn budget New Delhi: India's Railway Board is vested with the powers to oversee and manage what is ranked among the world's top five railroad networks and one of the largest employers, with an estimated 1.4 million people on its rolls.

The board, including its chairman, comprises seven members, each entrusted with a specific area of operation, reporting directly to the Railways minister. The members oversee areas related to mechanical, traffic, engineering, electrical and staff, besides a finance commissioner.

"It is the highest decision making body of the railways, which approves all the policies and projects pertaining to Indian Railways," Indian Railway spokesperson Anil Kumar Saxena said.

The Railway Board was constituted in 1901 and its powers were formalised four years later. The officers today are members of the Indian Railway Personnel Services - a Class A civil service under the Union Public Service Commission.

The seven-member board is powerful financially as well.

All decisions pertaining to its large budget, pegged at a whopping Rs.63,363 crore (Rs.633.63 billion or $11.5 billion) for the current fiscal, is routed through it.

In fact, railways is the only ministry that has been having a separate annual budget since 1920, long before independence in 1947, given its crucial contribution to the economy and the role it plays in nation-building.

The network is spread over 64,000 route km with 7,083 stations, to ferry 23 million travellers and 2.65 million tonnes of goods daily on 12,000 passenger and 7,000 freight trains.

To ensure that the railways is able grow, while also remaining financially healthy, an expert committee under under tech evangelist Sam Pitroda, also the prime minister's advisor on public information, infrastructure and innovations, had made several recommendations.

"The structure of the Indian Railways has remained largely unchanged for decades and it remains a functionally oriented institution that is organised around its cadres, instead of around its businesses or customers," the panel had observed.

"Reorganise the Railway Board along business discipline to reflect chairman as chief executive officer and members for safety, business development, commercial, technology, information and communications technology, signalling, freight, passenger services, infrastructure, finance, human resource and public-private partnership."

According to Economist magazine, Indian Railways is the seventh-largest employer in the world.

It ranks as the largest employer after the US defence department, the Chinese army, Wal-Mart, China National Petroleum, State Grid of China and British health services.

It has an annual revenue base of Rs.1,06,000 crore ($19 billion)

The first train in the network operated from Mumbai to Thane on April 16, 1843.

IANS