The Railway Corruption Enquiry Committee: The problem of corruption in the Railways has been an old one. Corruption existed in the shape of bakhshish or mamul from the public for the services rendered. But corruption assumed serious proportions during the Second World War when the entire resources of the railways were utilised for the needs of defence forces and the transport facilities available for both passengers and goods were severely curtailed. This scarcity led to widespread adoption of corrupt practices in railways, which continued even after the termination of war. The Railway Corruption Enquiry Committee was constituted, in 1953, to enquire into corrupt practices in railways and suggest measures for eradicating them with a view to promoting efficiency and introducing healthy moral tone in the railway administration. Acharya J.B. Kripalani was the chairman of the Committee. The Committee took two years to complete its task.
The Committee viewed the evil of corruption against the larger social and economic setting. It is well know that poverty becomes starkly visible when it finds itself pitched by the side of conspicuous prosperity, and this co-existence inevitably begets either corruption or revolution. The Committee observes:
“It is the enormous disparity between the lowest and the highest paid salaries. While in the most modern countries the difference between highest and lowest incomes is about ten times or even less, in India it is much more. This is out of all proportion to the difference in educational qualifications and ability. High salaries generally lead to luxurious living. The standard of living of high-paid officials becomes the norm to be aspired for. Every subordinate tries to emulate his superior. If his salary does not warrant it, he gets money through doubtful means. True, these high incomes are the privilege of the few, yet their demoralising effect is on all. We believe that, so far as the disparity in the emoluments of the lowest and the highest paid government employees is concerned, it should be narrowed down. It is argued, that, if government, tried to reduce high emoluments to its executives it will not get the requisite talent for public service. But it is not probable, in view of other advantages, like power, prestige, fixity of service enjoyed by government servants. If the government takes the initiative, India shall progressively march towards socialism, which has been declared to be the goal of government policy.
At the same time the Committee felt, in view of the gravity of the problem, that a concerted drive would have to be made and sustained for a long time to reduce corruption in the process laying emphasis on integrity in senior personnel. The principal recommendations made by the Kriplani Committee are summarised below:
Booking of goods and passenger traffic: As regards the booking of goods and passenger traffic, the Committee laid stress on improving wagon position, enforcement of uniform procedure for booking of goods in all railways, strict observance of files by all concerned and availability of goods and facilities at the booking stations. As for passenger traffic, it recommended strict checking of travelling public by the ticket examining staff, occasional surprise checks by the members of the National Railway Users’ Consultative Council and proper guarding of railway premises against entry of ticketless passengers.
Catering and vending: In the interest of the railway travellers getting wholesome food at reasonable prices, the Committee did not favour the perpetuation of large contracts being given to individual contractors and favoured, instead, the introduction of departmental catering as far as possible. The Committee made recommendations for accelerating the construction of dining cars, standardisation of menus, periodical reviews of different types of catering and improvement in the quality of tea and coffee being served.
Engineering contracts: The Committee noticed widespread corruption in the engineering department of the railways. The rule of acceptance of lowest tenders was often ignored and the contracts were given to the favourite contractors. The Committee observed that illegal gratification was accepted by the staff concerned in the matter of payment of bills and extension of time-limit for execution of contracts. It recommended the constitution of a board of arbitrators to decide on the disputes arising out of engineering contracts, and formation of checking squads to check the construction of works on the sites.
Compensation claims: the question of payment of heavy amounts by railways as claims due to damage, deterioration and loss of goods was considered by the Committee. What was most disturbing was that a large proportion of thefts was the work of organised groups of outsiders with the complicity of the railway staff. The Committee recommended strengthening of the claims prevention organisation in the railways and utilisation of the services of the state government pleaders for contesting cases involving large claims.
Internal working of railways: The Committee observed that corruption amongst the railway staff in their dealings with the public was closely interlinked with corruption inter se; the chances for such corruption were greater when there was an immediate point of contact between an employee and his superior. Such corruption existed in the matter of appointments, transfers and other staff matters. The Committee, therefore, considered that the officers in charge of area training schools should be men of integrity who should lay special emphasis on character-building as part of the training programme and refresher courses.
Administrative and punitive measures: The Committee was of the view that the defect was not so much with rules but with the attitude both of the railway administration and the public towards the concept of corruption and that with that attitude the best of rules could be circumvented. It, therefore, recommended certain measures, both preventive and punitive, which, if followed in a proper spirit, could create an atmosphere congenial for honest and efficient discharge of duty by the railway personnel. The preventive measures suggested were the effective supervision at various levels by the inspecting staff and executive officers, periodic transfers of personnel. Strict enforcement of government service conduct rules regarding declaration of immovable property and appreciation of meritorious work by granting of honoraria and medals. In regard to punitive measures for detection of crime and bringing the culprit to the book, the Committee recommended that the existing Watch and Ward Department of the Railways be strengthened and reorganised as a statutory force and that the provision in the law, authorising law courts to order confiscation of property where a charge of corruption was proved, should be invoked more frequently.
The Committee took pains to analyse the various modes of corruption and irregularities in the railways on the basis of evidence collected by it. This, however should not create an impression that it is the only organisation in the country where corruption is widespread among its employees. The fact is that no department of the government, central, state or local, is, today, free from this evil.
The two recommendations of the Committee, namely, introduction of departmental catering on important railway stations and replacement of the Watch and Ward Department by a railway protection force, were implemented by the government.
Though the Kriplani Committee was focused on the railway sector only, it was independent Indian’s first committee to examine the pathological problem of corruption on the railways in all its aspects. The comment of the committee — ‘no department of the government, central, state and local, is today (that is, in the fifties of the twentieth century) free from this evil’ — should make us sit up and introspect.