Me: wearing the mask given by the UPSC and the gloves with white powder coming out of the gloves. While I was wearing the Jodhpuri Bandhgala suit of light black Italian wool, I was not nervous but certainly excited.
Then comes Mr. JayaRam from Ayodhya to call me for interview. Finally the bell rings…
The secretary of the board opens the door for me and the show begins…
Me: Gently opening the door with a pleasant smile asking the board if I can come in. I closed the door behind me while thanking the secretary to open the door for me.
I greeted the board with the folded hands and with a big smile on my face (as I was eagerly waiting for this conversation).
Me: My greetings to the esteemed members of the board..
Ch: Pls have a seat..
Me: Thank you sir..
(I took the seat. It was a black wheelchair and not the wooden one which is heavy and hard to pull out..)
Ch: As I see Mr. Tarun that you passed out from the Shri Ram College of Commerce in 2017 and almost immediately thereafter you were selected for the railways. So, you have been working for almost four years now.. (Me: nodding..)
So now you want to join the other services. In IAS you have faster promotions by two years. But you would be losing the four year seniority and you know that in government the seniority is everything. And bureaucracy is like same everywhere. So why you want to leave the IRPS?
Me: Sir my decision to join the IAS is being shaped by my life incidents. My mother has studied upto fifth just because her village Rundhi didn’t have a high school. I often wondered why we cannot have good schools everywhere.
Similarly I grew up listening talks among women for female foeticide which disturbed me a lot.
I want to work in areas like healthcare and against dowry etc and that’s why I want to join the IAS.
IRPS has given me a lot of good opportunities and the experience which would help me in future.
Ch: fair enough.
So, Tarun what are your duties in railways?
Me: Sir I am responsible to adjust the recruitment panels, give departmental promotions, manage the transfers, do settlement and managing the industrial relations.
(wanted to say that my work involves caring for 19000 employees and 22000 pensioners and HR innovations).
Ch: So Tarun you do blogging. What are the recent blog you have written?
Me: Sir a couple of. One I wrote is “2G of smile”. It says that ‘gratitude’ and ‘giving’ is the way to smile. One I wrote titled “Forest Organisations”. I compared the rule based regimented organisations to the garden and the organic innovative organisations to the forest. One was the “Burnout Holiday” which I wrote about the organisational stress. And one was the “Learning allowance”. It was about the organisational learning.
Ch: Organisational learning is an interesting area. What are your views on training etc and what do you suggest?
Me: Sir what we have in bureaucratic organisations is the “strait jacketed training modules”. In that the issue is that the lifelong learning suffers. What I proposed was that we can allow certification based courses and then we will reimburse the cost in salary bill amount. I also proposed a lot more mentorship. Why cannot the employees teach among themselves. We have started this initiative in which employees teach each other what they know the best.
Ch: But that seems a general thing. These ‘straight jacketed’ training programmes and the periodical MDPs keeps the workforce developed. Don’t you think if this certification thing is the case then you will have the situation of a lot of fake certificates being produced and you reimbursing them?
Me: Sir for that we can do two things. One is that a large organisation like railways can procure the courses on its own and then the employees can pursue them. For that I also conducted a survey in my organisation and people told me that they want to learn the new technologies like the AI, IoT, Big data etc.
Also, we can use the iGOT platform now being developed by the government. Moreover, the current training modules may continue.
(Chairman sir nods and then passes to the first member).
M1 (lady member): So Tarun you have this hobby of ‘co-operative cooking’. What it is?
Me: Ma’am I grew up in a village. There we used to cook together and often eat together. But then I shifted to Ferozpur and it was a bit alone there. So, we neighbours started to cook together and its been very nice ma’am.
And you have written that you love to talk. So it means that you can talk endlessly? What it is for..
Me: Ma’am talking has been very important in my life. It helps me conduct my work smoothly every day. I would like to give an example.
There was a 74 year old man in the corridor of my office. As I observed him, I went upto him and called him in and offered tea and a seat. On talking, he poured out to me. He was in trouble as he wanted to correct the DOB of his wife on the pension documents and he has been struggling for months now. Even after I asked, his work was not being done. Then on further talk I found that basically he wanted the new medical card and so we made him a new medical card with old DOB of his wife without going into the process of pension papers.
Similarly, only because of talking I get feedback from people as to where I am lacking and my mistakes. I try to correct them.
M1: Yah. That’s a nice habit. So because of this you may have got the ‘empathetic probationer award’ in railways?
(Me: May be ma’am. Smiling…)
Also, you talked about the female foeticide. Why people still doing it? What should we do? What do you suggest?
Me: Ma’am people have a strong son preference. One, they think that if it is boy then they will earn the dowry and secondly ma’am as our ‘Paramparas’ goes that we cannot eat ‘Roti’ from the home of ‘Beti’. And so, economics of a girl child does not works out for them and so they kill them in the womb itself.
But we can change this ma’am. In fact I am happy to say that Haryana has recovered SRB to 910 while the national average has improved to 929 as per NFHS data.
It could be achieved because of strong enforcement of the PCPNDT as Haryana has done a lot of sting operations even in adjacent Punjab and Rajasthan. Also, the main link is the ‘Aasha Didi”. If she tracks every pregnancy and in routine check ups asks the women if there is any pressure from home, then at least the women would have the comfort that she has the support system and so this problem can be tackled.
M1: What are the issues with healthcare and what we are doing about this?
Me: Ma’am the main problem is the lack of human resource as we are currently operating at half the recommended WHO level. Also, health is not seen as one holistic whole. Like, for health it is not needed only medical care but our food systems, agriculture, water, good quality air, nutrition etc. all matters. Also, our budgetary spending on healthcare is just 1.5% of the GDP which is too low.
As regarding what we are doing, we have the Ayushman Bharat programme but it can be made a lot better. Also, now governments have begun to look health broadly as we have fit India and eat right campaign. Now Indian institute of nutrition has decided to give advisories on diet. Also, I see a behavioural shift in people to a healthy lifestyle.
(Probably ma’am asked something else also which I do not remember. Over to member two now.)
M2: Tarun you were leader of the team of renewable energy models. What it was all about?
Me: Sir we demonstrated the use of solar and wind energy etc as we have events like business conclave. It was about how this is the future of India.
M2: So, what are the plans of railways in this regard?
Me: Sir the railways has the pledge to go net zero by 2030.
M2: How would that be done? What you are doing?
Me: sir as we see now that on stations roof we are putting solar and making buildings also green.
M2: But that is not sufficient to be net zero. And with you at the helm what more to be done?
Me: Sir railways is pursuing 100% electrification and we have electrified 45000 km already out of 67000 route km. We will source all of this from green sources as now we have the ‘open access policy’ also operational.
M2: Yes. That’s truly is needed to be net zero.
Is railways going to be privatised?
Me: Sir we definitely need private participation be it PPPs, JVs and perhaps badly. But privatisation is not on the cards and also it won’t be healthy for the organisations in its current form. (wanted to specifically talk about monetisation pipeline but that didn’t come out).
M2: You know I have been associated with railways. It has got amazingly talented people. As you go ahead with more and more automation etc you would need lesser and lesser people and so what would happen to the employees?
Me: Yes sir the railways have got really talented people. Sir at a point of time we used to have 15 lakh employees and then our business was half. Now I have 13 lakh employees while the sanctioned strength is still 15 lakh. Our strategy is that we will double the business with current workforce. Like our freight share is 27% currently which the national rail plan wants to increase to 45%. While the existing talent would be utilised better with retraining. I have also suggested to make the ‘skill inventory’ so that I know which employees have which talent. It happens in my department also. Like I am in HR and I need technical people which I don’t have. But some other department like telecom has talented people who can help me to digitise the data etc. So I think that cross department talent utilisation should be flexible. So I think that we won’t need any retrenchment of the workforce.
M2: (smiles and says thank you).
Me: Thank you sir.
M3 (lady member): Tarun your hobbies are interesting. You are into public advocacy. What do you do in this?
Me: Ma’am as I was saying earlier that I am concerned for issues like dowry and female foeticide. Other area is inclusive education and changing organisational culture..
M3: No but what you have actually done?
Me: Ma’am I write about these issues. I give speeches in events. We even organised many events in railways also for these issues. I often goto schools to talk to children. I went to oak grove school at mussoorie, in schools run by Manila samiti of railways and my own school. So I talk there. (also wanted to say that we have tied up with SRCC to give lectures on financial literacy to railway employees. But I forgot..)
M3: can you give me two laws which are the result of public advocacy?
Me: Ma’am one is Naaz foundation case in which the homosexuality was decriminalised. Other is dowry ma’am. As even after dowry prohibition act, things didn’t stop. So after lot of advocacy the section 304B of IPC was added calling for dowry death and 498A came as well to deal with cruelty against women.
M3: Do you know about ‘Good Samaritan law’? Do you know after which advocacy things It was introduced?
Me: Ma’am this law came so that people help the victims of road accidents. As ma’am it was seen that people do not stop to help in the golden hour. As to which advocacy specifically lead to this law I am not aware ma’am but I know that there were advocacy efforts like people went to supreme court and wrote stuff etc..
M3? And now you have this thing in which the services of railways are merged. So how would you do things…
Me: Ma’am now the eight organised services being merged in the Indian railways management service. I think it is a very good step. Ma’am currently we have dual accountability in railways. Railways is a kind of matrix organisational structure and so our responsibility is to the Divisional railways manager in the field and also to the head of the department sitting in the headquarters and so our accountability gets diluted.
Also, currently we think from the department perspective while after IRMS, we will be able to develop the business unit perspective where my focus would be on business like freight, parcel, passenger and not my department alone.
M3: But what would happen to the specialisation as you know railway is a very technical organisation having people from mechanical and engineering etc. So, how would you ensure that?
Me: ma’am currently the 60-70% of the recruitments in civil services are the engineers. So, we would still keep getting engineering talent. And the plan is that upto group C level as we have our SSEs and SS that is station super indents etc, the functional departments will continue. Rather it will promote more organisation wide empowerment in which lot power could be devolved to the Group C level who do core technical work. It would be good ma’am as staff would be better accountable and their talent will be better utilised. As currently if I want to get the work done from person of any department, then I need to contact the officer of that department. Also, those who are promoted to group B will continue in their respective department. Also, those who come from IRMS would be given a portfolio based on their expertise and their training marks etc. And at higher levels like JAG and above where more overall management is required, a person would be well versed because of the rotation in many departments at junior and senior scale level.
M3: But how your accountability will change?
Me: Ma’am we can be given the territorial charge in future. Like in Ferozpur division we have many big stations like Amritsar, Ludhiana and so in future an officer can be made the overall incharge of the jurisdiction and all the functional departments reporting to that person. And then we can be made accountable to just one authority like DRM in field.
(Now ma’am passes on to the fourth member).
M4: Tarun, you do cooperative cooking. There is this XXX Pulaav. It is normally made by some people though it can be cooked alone also. Do you know?
Me: No sir. I am not aware of this.
M4: Okay then. Leave this.
You also do cycling..
Me: Sir I recently started.
M4: And you are posted in Ferozpur. So, suppose you go out from Ferozpur into villages nearby. Which cycle would you like to take?
Me: Sir I have just one ordinary cycle and I take it all paces. I bought it from a local shop. It is AVON company made.
M4: Oh so you take that cycle. BTW you would like to take the hybrid cycle for the village..
Me: Nodding.. Yes sir.
M4: And there is this man of 74 age whom you helped. Now suppose a situation I which a person is declared dead on behalf of the death certificate. Now the person comes back and is alive. Now he is struggling to prove that he is alive.
Me: Yes sir. Government works on paper and evidence.
M4: Yes that’s the kind of system you are joining. And you being in HR would have to deal with such issues. How would you help the men in this case?
Me: Sir we can ask him to produce a written affidavit or some testimonies from the Panchayat, sarpanch or some neighbors.
M4: But how would you verify?
Me: Sir we rely on the statements of neighbours if they say that he is the man they have been seeing for so many years. Moreover, being a government organisation, we would definitely have the record of him like his photos etc. So, verification should not be the problem.
M4: You also said that you want to work for the healthcare. What you can do in this field?
Me: Sir we can definitely make the impact.
Firstly, we need focus on first 1000 days of the child as that is key for nutrition and health. A lot focus on pregnant and lactating mothers.
Also, I can do good municipal waste management so that mosquitoes etc are less and so the infectious diseases.
NCDs are a growing burden. For them, I would like to improve public spaces like parks and spaces of cycling and walking.
Most importantly, I think that the eating options for children are not healthy. As we see around schools that children get only cola and chips. We should have healthy eating outlets outside.
M4: Yah. I used to have ‘Churan’ near school.
Me: Yes sir. I also had lot of ‘churan’. It used to be wonderful.
M4: Thank you.
Ch: Okay Tarun. Thank you. You may go now.
Me: Thank you sir. Before leaving I would like to give my gratitude to the board members for their time. It has been a learning experience.
(Then I grew up. Folded my hands. Said thank you and dhanyavaad).
I smiled and left…
Note: This is being produced purely out of memory. Views are personal and does not represent views of the government.
Also, it was a lovely conversation where I felt that I am talking to my grandparents like figures. They were cheerful, happy and very very cordial.
All the best!