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Suresh Prabhu's misguided incentive for Railway officials

The Railway Minister's move to reward Railways officials for timely completion of projects flies in the face of Modí's message

Sudheer Pal Singh  |  New Delhi 

Suresh Prabhu
Suresh Prabhu

New Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu has decided to give 2% of the project cost to the executing teams and their chiefs as a reward for finishing assignments on time, the Indian Express reported Thursday.

Why should there be a monetary incentive for public servants to do their jobs, I thought to myself. They are, after all, performing their official duty and being paid salaries for it.

Indian Railways is implementing 260 projects, each one costing more than Rs 150 crore. What happens if a project like the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) gets implemented on time? It’s estimated cost is upwards of Rs.18,000 crore. And 2% of that is?

A paltry Rs.360 crore!!

The latest move proposed by the Railway minister is in complete divergence with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s message from the ramparts of Red Fort. ‘Why should we celebrate if public officials come to office on time,’ he had asked. In fact, he has also just implemented a biometric attendance system to make sure that officials are where they should be and are working?

By the same logic, the nation should rejoice over completion of projects on time, not over doling out rewards to public officials. In fact, timely project completion should be their Key Result Area (KRA) and failure to discharge their duties should actually attract monetary disincentives. The Delhi government had already implemented such a move where certain services had to be delivered to citizens in a stipulated time frame. If officials failed to do so, they were charged a penalty for it.

Prabhu’s proposal reminds one of a controversial move by the late Vishwanath Pratap Singh who was finance minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government, which came to power with a clear majority amid great hope. In the late 1980s, Singh had announced that all tax officials would get a share of the total black money unearthed by them through raids and searches or investigations, a move that was eventually dropped after all-round criticism.

More worryingly, the move to gratify public servants in one department for performing their official duties is likely to throw up similar demands in other sarkari departments too. What makes an official working in, say, the industry ministry less deserving of a monetary incentive if s/he delivers on time?

And from a strict accounting perspective, under what head of spending would the new minister place such an expenditure? More importantly, how will the money be split within the team?

These are difficult questions that the new regime at the Rail Bhawan will have to face. By announcing such an incentive scheme, Prabhu may be rewriting history, but by adding a not-so-great chapter in there.

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First Published: Thu, November 13 2014. 13:28 IST