The Indian Rail Transport Sector Commerce Essay

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Literature has shown the effectiveness of applications of ICT and e-Government in improving public service delivery including rail transport around the world. This paper uses a normative approach to propose a framework for determining the possibilities and limitations of e-governance in bringing good governance to the rail transport as a sector. The current state of affairs in Indian Railways is being described in regards to legitimacy and voice, strategic vision, performance, accountability and fairness, i.e., the five relevant principles of good governance.

The aspect of legitimacy and voice requires participation of key stakeholders and their voice in the decision-making process. Various methods of participation is observed for passengers in the rail transport - passenger association, right to information legislation, media and political representation. Ministry of Railways has successfully implemented websites to gather and dissemination information queries and replies received under the Right to Information Act. e-Governance has been less successful in developing strategic vision for the sector, on the other hand political leadership has guided the development of strategic vision. The uses of ICT and e-government approaches in improving performance of this public service can not be undermined. For long, the Ministry of Railways has used ICTs in managing train operations, commercial functions, rolling stock production, rolling stock maintenance, fixed asset maintenance, railway projects management, personnel management, materials management, financial management and railway security. Similarly, ICT applications like e-ticketing through IRCTC website has been particularly successful in drastically reducing corruption in the system, thus raising accountability for the passengers. Though, ICTs have been helpful in promoting rule of law, it is much less leveraged in ensuring equity as a principle of governance in the sector.

This analysis develops governance framework as useful analytical method for understanding the possibilities and limitations of e-governance at a strategic level. This method helped critically analyze the possibilities and shortcomings of using e-government applications in large organization and public service such as the rail transport in India.

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In this analysis, we argued that e-governance processes are less successful and relevant in achieving two key elements of governance, namely strategic vision and fairness, at least for Indian Railways. The supremacy of political leadership in determining governance outcome is relevant in e-governance and the ability of e-governance in influencing political consensus is still limited.

Categories and Subject Descriptors

J.1 [Computer applications]: Administrative data processing - government.

General Term`s

Management

Keywords

Good governance framework, e-Governance framework, rail transport, India

INTRODUCTION

In the popular media and websites, the terms e-governance and e-governments are being used interchangeably without any perceivable difference between them. For example, the National Informatics Centre of Indian Government maintains the "e-Governance standards portal" which is meant to provide access to technical standards for implementing e-government projects [1]. The scholarly literature, however, tends to differentiate between these two terms. Orihuela and Obi mention that the concepts of e-governance and e-government are not synonymous - the concept of e-governance embraces the way state interacts with its citizens [2]. Even when scholars have identified the conceptual difference, the analysis by Misuraca found that the world has tended to equate e-governance as a tool of democracy, as a tool for improving service delivery by increasing customer satisfaction and as a dynamic mechanism for enhancing interactions between state and non-state actors. He further adds that the dynamics of policy-compliance and efficiency in knowledge management in institutional arrangements is dealt in e-governance, rather than in e-government [3]. Considering that governance is a process, rather than a product or a service, this paper The process of e-governance leverages ICTs in government functions while involving other stakeholders in a dynamic way in service delivery, policy development, regulation, arbitration, networking, among other areas.

E-governance can be seen as a process, much like governance, involving multi-stakeholder participation, wherein ICTs and e-government are tools and enablers. Using this conceptual framework of e-governance, this paper proposed a framework of e-Governance for governance outcomes in the rail transport sector in India.

Indian Railways

The Indian rail transport system is among the largest transport systems in the world, in terms of size and operation. The Ministry of Railways in the central government is allocated with the management and control of railway transport [4]. The Indian Railways carries huge passenger and freight traffic on a daily basis. It is the passenger service, however, that is more visible to the citizens and makes a direct impact on their lives. Passenger service was the topic of discussion only in handful of scholarly literature and this paper intends to add to this growing body of scholarly discourse.

The size of the network can be appreciated from the fact that Indian Railways covers a route length of 63273 kilometers with a fleet of 8330 locomotives, 47375 passenger service vehicles, 6180 other coaching vehicles and 204034 wagons as on 31st March, 2008 [5]. The number of originating passenger has increased from 1284 million in 1950-51 to 6254 million in 2007-8. To put things in perspective, railways in China is primarily a state-owned enterprise, controlled and managed by the Ministry of Railways within the central government. In 2009, China Railways was covering a territorial distance of 86000 kilometers, with a fleet of 18,437 locomotives, 43215 passenger service vehicles and 584961 wagons. In 2008, 1456 million people traveled by rail in China [6].

Knowledge gap

A comprehensive search for relevant literature on this topic of e-governance and e-government in Indian public transport was carried out using keywords like e-governance, governance, Indian Railways, India and transport. Searches were carried out in general search engines, literature databases and digital libraries like Google, OAIster, WorldCat, Scientific Commons and Google Scholar and Science Direct. It is beyond the scope of this paper to present an overview of the literature on governance in Indian Railways. However, the searches retrieved only handful of publications in English language with mention of governance in Indian Railways or Indian transport in their titles.

The searches reflected a paucity of scholarly discourse in e-governance, or even governance, issues in Indian transport sector in general and in railways in particular. This paper, therefore, intends to contribute to this knowledge gap by applying good governance framework to develop new normative theory that helps developing applicability and outcome analysis for e-governance, with particular reference to Indian Railways.

Problem discussion

Railways being a critical public transport service that carried over a billion passenger and goods for the last few years, the primary requirement for such a service is to become efficient. There are various aspects efficiency - energy efficiency, economic efficiency and operational efficiency. From a provider perspective, greater efficiency entails increased net returns per capita of investment in energy, work force, track length and other inputs. The efficiency discourse in scholarly literature is titled heavily towards efficiency from provider's point of view, rather than beneficiaries, the passengers. If efficiency is outcome of good governance in railway transport, then other elements of governance - legitimacy and voice, strategic vision, performance, accountability and fairness - known as Institute of Governance good governance principles shall be exercised through various instruments. This paper provided a bird's eye view on the state of governance in Indian Railways, then assessing applications of ICTs in those areas using case study method. This analysis is then followed by a normative discourse on the role of ICTs in improving governance for Indian Railways as public service.

At this point of time, the rationale behind adopting "good governance" approach for improving service delivery by Indian Railways needs justifications. It is expected that Indian Railways will remain as a state monopoly, to be controlled and managed by Ministry of Railways and largely guided by political mandate of the ruling political party. Even though this governance structure cannot be changed, for a public service delivery, such as Indian Railways, principles of good governance in all other strategic and operational components can be exercised. Such plausibility makes application of "good governance" principles more acceptable for developing a framework of reform in the organization.

Methodology

Following this approach, this paper presents an overview describing the situation of the Indian Railways, according to good governance framework. For each principles of good governance, this paper then presents relevant case studies in ICT and e-government to determine their normative relationship to the governance of Indian Railways as an organization and public service.

Approaches to governance

The principles of good governance, adopted by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), are widely accepted benchmarks. According to UNDP framework, good governance has eight major characteristics - participation, rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, consensus orientation, equity, effectiveness and efficiency, accountability and strategic vision [7]. The Institute of Governance (IOG) has further crystallized these characteristics into five broad principles - legitimacy and voice, strategic vision, performance, accountability and fairness [8]. We have taken IOG's five principles of good governance as the framework of analysis.

Data collection and analysis

Data on the status on these five aspects of governance in Indian Railways was collected from official publications, scholarly literature and social media. The official publications included annual reports and technical publications of Ministry of Railways and other institutions within the Government of India. Non-official sources included academic reports, scholarly literature. Data from social media like popular websites, blogs and mass media were also included to analyze the trends and methods of participation and voice in the sector. The e-governance approaches to the governance aspect were then presented through relevant case studies. The selection of the case studies was based on the relevance of the project to the context of transport governance and the ability of the project to directly address to the governance issue.

Governance and e-governance dynamics

Legitimacy and voice

Overview

This principle of governance requires participation of key stakeholders in decision-making processes, directly or indirectly. The principle of consensus-orientation implies mediation of divergent interests to reach a broad consensus reflecting an overall interest and welfare of the stakeholders involved. In this discussion, we focused on the ability of passengers to participate in the decision-making processes that affect the management of service delivery. Voice in the context of Indian rail transport is exercised in various levels. We recognized four methods of participation - a) through their elected representatives in the parliament and serve as the political leadership in the Ministry of Railways, b) through the railway passenger association, c) by securing strategic information from the Indian Railways using the Right to Information Act and d) through the uses of new media and mass media.

Participation and voice

Though an elected representative heads the Ministry of Railways, political mandate and electorate demands are reflected in two actions - maintaining the status quo in passenger fare and developing railway services in constituencies those are politically rewarding [9]. Media reported that railways ministered favored more infrastructure development in the states they represented [10]. Moreover, public administration especially in the middle and lower rung largely remains unaffected by political incentives. Any political stewardship at the ministerial level, therefore, is less likely to make railway administration more citizen-friendly [11].

Formation of railway passenger association is known to be most accepted, traditional and formal method for passengers to air their voices on issues affecting them and participate in decision-making processes. The effectiveness of these associations in reflecting passenger concerns and the inclination of railway administration towards accommodating such concerns remain a question. Experiences show that passenger associations in India not only remain mute spectators in the decision-making processes, but they also have seldom succeeded in conveying the problems their members face before the administration, civil society, media or any other advocacy groups. Passenger associations often remain accessible only to those regular commuters who over a period develop social networks with fellow travelers. Passenger associations often remain aloof to passengers who are not able to communicate through meetings and activities. Anecdotal evidence and personal experiences suggest that passenger associations lack the statutory power to participate in strategic decision-making. This practice is in contrast with the practice that Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) follows by convening meetings with civil society, users and other interested stakeholders for developing regulatory recommendations in telecommunication sector.

The enactment of Right to Information Act (RT Act) in 2005 allowed the citizens to seek information from the government agencies, which otherwise remained within files. Besides, passengers have found websites and electronic media to new platforms for airing their woes. In particular, websites those allow citizens to post consumer complaints were found to contain thousands of complaints on services from Indian Railways. The complaints were related to online ticket booking, rude behavior of railway staffs. However, Indian Railways does not have the mandate to monitor such websites and as a result, the complaints do not receive any remedial measures. Rising popularity of internet and mobile technologies has encouraged media outlets increase their interactions with their readers who are in turn able to voice their opinions and feedback the media. Journalists of print, radio and television media are able to chat, discuss and exchange emails with their readers through social networking tools like Facebook, Twitter, among many others. IBNLive is one such example where readers can send their stories, photos and videos for broadcast over website and television networks. The initiative known as 'Citizen Journalist,' it attracted feedbacks on railways on issues like Mumbai train disruption from heavy rain [12], crossing of passengers over tracks [13], tree-felling for metro rail development [14] and others. Besides, mass media itself has been able to report the concerns of citizens through news and opinion pieces.

Consensus-orientation

If citizens voice their opinions, developing consensus among divergent opinion seem to be a necessary steps towards rational decision-making. Though transport-planning process includes gathering public opinion, consensus-orientation is seldom undertaken. In Indian Railways, there are number of matters on which public consensus can be developed and sought -tariff, track expansions, innovations, among other possible areas. In the previous section on "participation and voice", we pointed out that the Indian Railways do not conduct public consultation processes on matters that directly affect passengers. Therefore, the issue of consensus building among its stakeholders for Indian Railways does not arise. Literature on good governance, especially those published within United Nations system, is also less specific about the processes involved in consensus-orientation.

Managers have long been using ICT driven methods such as the Management Information Systems (MIS), knowledge management and decision support systems to use information for decision-making in their businesses. For Indian Railways, consensus building is important as many population groups can claim building new infrastructure and services in their vicinity at the same time.

E-Government approaches

Citizens in developed and developing countries alike have favorably embraced ICTs in reflecting their voices on policy issues and participating in decision-making processes. Scholarly literature has amply discussed how e-participation and e-democracy functions as enabling tools for participation. In this paper, we studied the use of website in managing the RTI queries and replies by the Ministry of Railways.

RTI portal

The enactment of RTI Act in 2005 mandated the Ministry of Railways to allow access to information under the provisions of the Act. The Ministry is one of the few agencies within Indian Government to develop a web-based searchable database of queries received and replies provided at http://rti.railnet.gov.in (Figure 1). The portal allows the internet users to search, view and retrieve RTI application letters submitted by private citizens and replies provided by the concerned officers for the Ministry without authentication. The portal also has the mechanism to register the RTI applications and allow designated officers to track and process the applications.

The system generated a list, available to general public, of pending cases against the designated officers. The RTI portal of Indian Railways is helpful for the general public to consult the previous applications and avoid submission of the same queries. The system empowered the officials to process and to track the applications digitally, resulting in reduced processing time and quicker delivery of replies.

A scrutiny of the applications filed under RTI Act reveals that a substantial portion of the request for information is generated from within the organizational system of the Indian Railways - its core staffs. Many queries focused on the issues of promotions and recruitment. It can be argued that organizations should not exploit RTI Act to seek and provide information about core organizational functions for its own employees, rather than its beneficiaries.

Figure 1: RTI portal of Ministry of Railways

Strategic vision

Overview

Strategic vision as a governance principle is about leaders and the public having "a broad and long-term perspective on good governance and human development, along with a sense of what is needed for such development. There is also an understanding of the historical, cultural and social complexities in which that perspective is grounded" [7]. Development of broad and long-term perspectives in strategic vision has traditionally been the result of human intellect and computing has assisted and, in some cases, helped improving the articulation of such visions. Computing has been in vogue in undertaking research projects like scenario studies that help decision-makers in developing better understanding of possible scenarios under difference social, economic and technological situations. Strategic vision is reflected in policy documents and for Ministry of Railways, major policies are incorporated in Planning Commission's five-year plan, annual budget presented in the Parliament and strategy documents brought out by the Ministry.

E-Government approaches

While we recognize that ICTs made it easier to process large amount of information to develop a knowledge base for the managers to take informed decisions, developing strategic vision requires organizations much more than having information processing capabilities. Though theoretically it is possible to capture the nuances of political elements involved in decision-making within the government, rationale information systems tend to formalize the rules and processes overlooking the political dynamics.

Performance

Overview

Responsiveness, effectiveness, and efficiency determine the performance in public service delivery. Responsiveness as a measure of good government requires "institutions and processes try to serve all stakeholders within a reasonable timeframe" [8]. The performance in passenger services in railway transport is measured primarily on timeliness and punctuality, comfort, cleanliness and seat availability. The timeliness of train arrival and departure is perhaps the single most important requirement of quality rail service. The Ministry of Railways reported, "The punctuality of mail and express trains (arriving at destinations on right time) was 91.5 per cent on broad gauge and 98.4 per cent on meter gauge [15]." The authors could not find the methodology for arriving at this figure in the report. However, passengers have very poor perception of timeliness in Indian Railways. Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG India) is a constitutional body to audit and assist the state and central institutions on their accounts and accountability. The audit by CAG in 2009 revealed how Indian Railways computes punctuality of its train services [9]. The report mentioned that if the trains are considered punctual when they are handed over to one zone from the other as long as they are not delayed further. This operational perspective of computing punctuality has no bearing over passengers' ability to travel in the right time. Besides, the railway zones reported plain wrong data to arrive at 95 percent punctuality [9]. The severity of utter lack of timeliness can be gauged from an independent assessment by CAG that found 79,122 out of 145,886 runs (54.24 per cent) the trains reached the destinations beyond their scheduled time of arrival. In 30487 occasions, trains arrival was delayed in excess of one hour [9].

E-Government approaches

Studies have pointed out that ICTs, in particular sensor-based technologies can help ensure improved maintenance of rolling stocks and rail transport infrastructure [16]. In terms of operations, ICTs are widely being used in train operations, commercial functions, rolling stock production, rolling stock maintenance, fixed asset maintenance, railway projects management, personnel management, materials management, financial management and railway security. Applications of ICTs across railway functions are indispensible and considered back-end infrastructure for automation of passenger services. However, areas such as manipulation in train timings to show greater punctuality, as founded by CAG, require urgent automation for ensuring authentic data capture through automated transactions.

Accountability

Overview

For Indian Railways, vigilance seems to be the most industrious method of curbing corruption and ensuring accountability and transparency. The annual report of the Vigilance Department, which was set up within the Indian Railways to curb corruption in the system, provided details of the inspections carried out by the Department and cases registered in the recent years. The Department had 1100 employees comprising of 158 gazette officers with 8 part-time chief vigilance officers, 369 vigilance inspectors, 290 group 'C' staff and 272 other group 'D' staff. According to data available, in 2006 and 2007, 30 percent employees were held as responsible in cases of corruption during random vigilance checks in mass contact area [4].

E-Government approaches

A key source of corruption in Indian Railways was ticketing for long-distance travel. Centre for Railways Information System developed web-based ticketing platform for passengers and launched the service at the website www.irctc.co.in in August 2002. IRCTC started maintaining the website. Despite initial technological and regulatory glitches, the website became hugely popular among its target audience. Within first 10 months, the website transactions increased by 2000 percent [4]. During 2007-8, number of tickets booked through the website went up to 18,909,502 tickets as against 6,823,481 tickets booked during the previous year - a growth of 277 percent in a single fiscal year. During the same period, IRCTC enrolled around 22,000 agents who booked an average 18,048 tickets per day. IRCTC established multiple delivery channels and points of transactions across India. Common people without access to networked computer can book the tickets through cyber cafes in cities and villages [4]. The implementation of the website evidently improved efficiency in delivering tickets to passengers across India. Passengers have been able to receive tickets at their own convenience and more importantly without having to wait in long queues and pay bribes for securing seats.

Fairness

Overview

The concept of fairness relates to equity and rule of law. This paper focuses on the equity aspect. The concept of equity requires that "all men and women have opportunities to improve or maintain their well-being [7]" Rail transport is an enabler for socio-economic empowerment and equity in railway sector shall address to social inclusion of disadvantaged groups. For many years, the response to the issue of social inclusion by political leadership in Ministry of Railways was the concessional fare for the low-income groups. However, the real impact on socio-economic empowerment depends on the citizen's access to rail services. In 1950, Indian Railways covered 53,596 kilometer of territorial distance and added some 10,000 kilometer in the next six decades. Major expansion for approximately 3000 kilometers was undertaken during periods of 1950s to 1980s. During 2000-1 to 2006-7, only about 300 kilometer of new line was laid down. In 2007, Ministry of Railways constructed only 250 kilometer of new track [4]. There were numerous instances of public protests demanding new tracks. The public demand seldom was reflected in political willingness to broaden access to railways services. An analysis of election manifestos of various parties for the General Assembly election held in 2004 showed minimalist mention of transport issues.

E-Government approaches

The effect of ICTs on improvement in equity and rule of law can be both immediate and long term. The use of e-ticketing website by IRCTC, for example

Analysis

Revisiting e-governance

The foregoing discussion on e-governance as an ICT enablement of governance processes throws some light on the discourse of e-governance. The definitions of e-governance provided by various experts, as presented by Misuraca, tend to emphasize the relationship-building aspect of ICTs between governments and citizens in various state functions - service delivery, policy formulation, public participation, for example [3]. Misuraca summarized this tenet of definitions - "there are still quite different understandings of what e-governance is, ranging from naïve and promotional views (e-governance as tools for democracy) to simplistic and unambitious ideas of using the ICTs for enhancing service delivery only (e-governance as customer satisfaction), passing through the one which sees e-governance as a dynamic process, i.e., mainly as an enhancement of interactions between actors (citizens/consumers, administration, private sector, civil society) [3].

Modeling e-governance

Scope

One problem of viewing e-governance as a dynamic process that harnesses ICTs in governance is that e-government and ICTs have been less developed and even adopted lesser in certain aspects of governance. For example, in the case of Indian Railways and to some extent, throughout projects around the world, e-government projects around the world are biased towards participation and voice as enabler of good governance. While participation in operational matters of Indian Railways is feasible and implemented, the framework of e-government in participation can influence service delivery rather than policy decisions. The impact of e-participation in influencing strategic visions in behemoth public services like the Indian Railways is less known. Moreover, e-participation has been implemented as a socio-technical answer to promote democracy and good governance, but it does not address the complex political motivations that seek to influence service delivery to gain political mileage, as a legitimate democratic practice. In view of this, we argue that political and strategic priorities of the state largely determine the directions of policy priorities. For example, political needs can overlook business case of developing new rail lines through certain territory and instead develop in areas that can yield lower returns to ensure social justice and equitable socio-economic development. E-governance as a purely technology-mediated process will have limitations in influencing such decisions.

If it were service delivery, e-government clearly stands out to be the effective solution to improve efficiency and effectiveness in Indian Railways. The discussion on e-government approaches to effectiveness and efficiency in Indian Railways showed that ICTs helped improvement in performance, accountability and fairness.

Key governance elements

We argue that identifying e-government projects and drawing parallel to e-governance processes is tantamount to equating technological processes with governance outcomes. It also runs into danger of obfuscating the necessity of using e-government in perhaps more important processes of governance such as developing political consensus. To illustrate, popular discussions around e-participation tend to glorify the method as effective participation method, thereby undermining the importance of ICTs in influencing political decision-making. In summary, we found the aspects of legitimacy and voice, performance and accountability saw improvement through e-government applications, while the aspects of strategic vision and fairness found e-government less relevant. However, strategic vision and fairness impact equally well the overall governance outcomes.

Conclusion

This paper provides a state-of-the-art analysis of using governance framework to analyze e-governance approaches. It further provided an analysis of shortcomings and possibilities of e-governance processes with regard to governance outcomes. The paper has also established usefulness of using good governance framework in developing e-governance framework. This method helped critically analyze the possibilities and shortcomings of using e-government applications in large organization and public service such as the rail transport in India.

In this analysis, we argued that e-governance processes are less successful and relevant in achieving two key elements of governance, namely strategic vision and fairness, at least for Indian Railways. The supremacy of political leadership in determining governance outcome is relevant in e-governance and the ability of e-governance in influencing political consensus is still limited. E-governance approaches in the rail transport in India, therefore, seek to take into account improvement in various aspects of governance.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The authors acknowledge with thanks the funding support received from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) for undertaking data collection as part of the Executive Master in e-Governance program (2007-9) in EPFL. The paper partially included data and analysis undertaken during this course.

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