As a part of the scheme of reorganization of the Railway Board as recommended by the Acworth Committee (1921), the Financial Commissioner for Railways was appointed in April 1923. This was followed by the Separation Convention of 1924 by which the Railway finances were separated from the General Finances of the Government of India. The process of the separation of the Accounting and Auditing functions on the Railways was completed in 1929, with the responsibility for the compilation of all the Accounts for the Indian Railways passing on from the Auditor General to the Financial Commissioner, Railways. This, incidentally, marked the beginning of the Indian Railway Accounts Service (IRAS) as a cadre distinct from that of the Indian Audit and Accounts Service.
The Financial Commissioner for Railways represents the Ministry of Finance on the Railway Board and also functions ex-officio as Secretary to Government of India in the Ministry of Railways in financial matters. In this capacity, he is vested with full powers to sanction Railway expenditure subject to the general control of the Finance Minister. He has direct contact with the Finance Minister whom he keeps informed of developments in the Ministry of Railways.
Organisationally, the Finance and Accounts functions are integrated with the executive at all levels in the Railways. At the apex level of policy formulation, the Financial Commissioner, Railways, assisted by Additional Member (Finance), Additional Member (Budget), Adviser (Finance) and Adviser (Accounting Reforms) in–charge of Budgeting, Expenditure, Earnings, Accounting and Accounting Development/Reforms, is there to aid and guide the Ministry of Railways (Railway Board). At the Zonal level, the General Manager is aided by the Financial Adviser and Chief Accounts Officer along with his assistants. At the Divisional level, which is only an administrative unit of a Zonal Railway, an identical arrangement exists to assist the Divisional Railway Manager in finance and accounts matters. Besides the major production units and workshops, be they manufacturing units or repair and maintenance units, have an inbuilt system of associate finance and accounts. The stores organisation, which is responsible for procurement of stores and materials worth thousands of crores of rupees, is again assisted by Finance & Accounts. In short, there is hardly any sphere of railway activity with which the Accounts and Finance organisation is not directly associated in the decision-making process. In addition, officers of the Service also occupy management posts such as Divisional Railway Managers, Additional General Managers etc.
The IRAS officers are thus exposed to a vast field of rich experience and in due course acquire an incisive professional expertise which will do credit to any one, whether within the Railways or outside it. No wonder, therefore, that a number of IRAS officers have served outside the Railways with distinction, be it to a department of the Government of India or a Public Sector undertaking or to a multi-lateral lending institution like the Asian Development Bank and World Bank.
Within the Railway itself, the officers of the Service have a legitimate sense of satisfaction in playing a pioneering role in the field of computers; introduction of techniques of modern financial management like Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) and `exception’ reporting; exchequer control as a refinement in budgetary control; restructuring of the budgetary and accounting system including institution of a system of performance budgeting and responsibility accounting, traffic costing, implementation of incentive schemes in workshops, taking over of pension work from the Auditor General etc. The list is merely illustrative and not exhaustive.
The wholly Government-owned financial institution, Indian Railways Finance Corporation (IRFC), which is the borrowing arm of Indian Railways, is managed by officers of IRAS. This institution has set exemplary standards in low-cost commercial borrowing in India and abroad.
The members of the IRAS (now about 550 in number) take pride in belonging to what is a Railway service as well as a financial service. It has served in both spheres with dedication and earnestness. As the service enters its 75th year, it wishes to use the occasion to celebrate its varied achievements, to introspect on its changing role amidst the challenges being faced by the Railways and to find out how to discharge this role more efficiently and effectively.