Samir Kumar/39 Senior Divisional Commercial Manager, Delhi Division, Northern Railway Photo: Vivan Mehra/www.indiatodayimages.com
Samir Kumar joined the Indian Railway Traffic Service in 1999, aged 26. Today, he handles the commercial department of the Delhi division and has about 4,000 people - train ticket inspectors, reservation staff, etc - reporting to him. He finds his living conditions extremely congenial, having been allotted spacious 'quarters' in a railway colony in Delhi's Connaught Place. He has been posted all over the country and prizes his varied experiences, including an occasion when - posted in Dhanbad - he had to tackle the abduction of an entire trainload of passengers by Maoists. "We are not merely transporting people," he says.
Oshin Makkar was 17 when her father, a senior clerk with the Northern Railway and her family's sole breadwinner, died. How were she and her mother to manage? No problem - the Railways has a 'compassionate grounds' scheme by which, if an employee dies while in service or a non-gazetted one has to retire for medical reasons, a member of his family is entitled to a job in his place. Now 20, Makkar has been with the Railways for three years and is simultaneously pursuing her graduation. She hopes to be a chartered accountant. "My future is safe and secure," she says.
The compassionate grounds scheme - which has helped 1,772 people so far in the Delhi division alone - is only one of numerous benefits Indian Railways (IR) provides its employees. Around 44 per cent of the staff has 'residential quarters' within railway 'colonies' that have all the conveniences residents need. Employees are also entitled to subsidised meals and refreshments at any of the 253 Railway canteens across the country. There are Railway schools and inter-colleges for their children, passes for free rail travel for the whole family, there is free medical care in Railway hospitals (and elsewhere if the need arises), there are recreational facilities and sporting events.
"In this age of cut-throat competition, the Railways offer job security as well as job satisfaction," says Leena Anand, Chief Law Assistant, Legal Cell, Northern Railway.
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The statistics are mindboggling. With staff strength of 1.4 million, IR, which completed 160 years in April this year, is the biggest employer in the country. In 2012/13 alone, it recruited 156,000 more employees, including 8,500 (Group A) officers. Its network is the biggest in Asia after China's with 12,000 passenger trains and 4,000 freight trains carrying 23 million passengers - the equivalent of Australia's population - and 2.65 million tonnes of freight, respectively every day.
"The job is demanding as trains run 24/7. You have to be alert to fix the glitches if any arise," says Vivek Sharma, 33, Assistant Operations Manager, Freight Movement, Ambala. "But IR takes care of you."
It is not only employees' personal needs that IR cares about. Professional growth is looked after too.
IR began its training programme in the mid-1980s and now has seven training institutes for officers and 270 training centres for non-gazetted staff spread all over. "We do not want our people to stagnate," says Himadri Moharana, Director, Training, Railway Board. Every year around 320,000 staff members and 7,500 officers undergo training, with IR's training budget being progressively raised. In 2011/12, it spent around 2 per cent of its salary budget on training, and in 2012/13, two and a half per cent.
"Since safety is very important in the organisation, our employees have to undergo regular refresher courses," says R.R. Prasad, Executive Director, Manpower Planning and Training, Railway Board. "For loco-pilots, for instance, it is once every three years, for gatemen, once every five years." Even railway employees of other countries where IR is helping to build railway networks have been trained at these institutes, entirely for free, for the past six to seven years.
Employees with up to 12 years of experience are periodically sent not only to the Railways' training institutes, but also to the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management for short courses. Those who have worked 15 to 18 years go to the National Academy of Indian Railways, Vadodara, for a two-week course, followed by a week each at leading business school INSEAD in Singapore and leadership training centre, ICLIF, in Kuala Lumpur. After 24 to 25 years of service, officers, who have now reached deputy regional manager level, go to business school HEC, in Paris, for two weeks. General managers with 30 years' experience spend a week at the Stern School of Business, New York University.
The sheer size of IR also ensures there is room to nurture diverse talents. "If someone likes teaching, he can be posted at the centralised training institutes," adds Moharana. "If someone is interested in film-making, he can make documentaries on the Railways. If someone is scientifically inclined, he can go to the Railways' Research Design and Standards Organisation in Lucknow."
Finally, the key element that determines the attraction of any organisation: what's the pay like?
At IR, the average wage per employee rose by 15.91 per cent to Rs 456,807 per annum in 2011/12 from Rs 394,112 in 2010/11. With the implementation of the Sixth Central Pay Commission's recommendations, salaries are now 40 to 50 per cent higher than in 2006. The attrition rate is low, around two per cent at best at the officer level - rarely do people quit IR unless they get extremely lucrative offers.
Now, like other government employees, Railways' staff too waits expectantly for the Seventh Pay Commission's report, likely in 2016.
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Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly mentioned the staff strength of Indian Railways at 14 million, instead of 1.4 million. The error is regretted.