Like most Mumbaikars, I started using railways regularly at a fairly early age. First as a student and then as a working man. Like you, I also wondered why our rail service can’t be more efficient and safe. When I joined a company I was told that people matter in deciding how well the company is run. So I decided to find out about people running the railways in our country. In the course of my investigation I also found out many other things about the IR (Indian Railways) which I thought would be of interest to rail users like you.
Indian Railways is the backbone of our nation. If even for a single day the rail services stop, our life would come to a standstill, the movement of crores of passengers and of essential goods would stop. Do you have an idea how huge the operations of the IR are?
Indian Railways is the largest public enterprise and the largest employer in the country with 17 lakh workers, including around 4 lakh contract workers. It carries more than 810 crore passengers every year. Its 67,000 kilometers of routes connect the remotest parts of the country to each other. More than 1crore people use suburban services every day. The infrastructure of Indian Railways consists of over 11,000 locomotives, 2.75 lakh wagons, and 70,000 passenger coaches, supported by 8 locomotive and coach manufacturing units, as well as over 300 loco, coach and wagon maintenance workshops and even 125 hospitals.
What really shocked me was the number of contract workers. Nearly 25%. Doesn’t efficient and safe operation require well trained and dedicated people? How can contract workers who get one-third or one-fourth the salary of regular workers play that role? That made me more curious about workers’ numbers. I was in for even bigger shock. There are as many as 2.22 lakh vacant positions, not filled for years. Of these, the vacancies in the safety category, which is directly responsible for the safe running of trains, and includes, loco pilots, guards, station masters, gang men, Signal & Telecommunication staff, etc. were 1.29 lakh as of April 2017. Can you believe it? Does it not mean that the Rail Minister and senior officers don’t care for our safety?
Unemployment is one of the biggest problems that the youth of our country are facing. Then why are the vacancies not being filled? While I was still trying to find answer, one day my local suddenly stopped while going to office. I was told that rail apprentices were sitting on the tracks near Matunga and had stopped all trains. This made me curious about rail apprentices – who are they and what do they do?
For the operations of this huge enterprise the IR hires various categories and types of employees. Through the Apprentice Act, apprentices are hired for training and subsequently to work for the Indian Railways. There are three categories of Apprentices in railways. These are a) Trade apprentices—either fresh candidates or ITI qualified candidates, b) Technician apprentices (diploma holders) and c) Graduate Engineer apprentices. The largest by far is the first category who undergo four years of apprenticeship while the third category, the engineers undergo a one-year apprenticeship. From the second year onwards these apprentices carry out all the work that regular employees in that trade are supposed to do. At the same time the stipend paid to these apprentices is much lower than the salary paid to regular employees. For example just before the revision as per 7th Pay Commission announced in 2016, the stipends paid during training were –
Rs. 1490 per month in the First year, Rs. 1700 per month in the Second year, Rs. 1970 per month in the Third year and Rs. 2220 per month in the Fourth year. How does one survive in Mumbai on this stipend?
In the recent years the Indian Railways have stopped regularizing all the apprentices who complete their training successfully. Now only 20% of technical railway jobs are reserved for trainees who complete their apprenticeships. The apprentices have been strongly opposing the government notification of June 2016 in this regard. The apprentices come from poor households who don’t have many opportunities of livelihood. Since each of them is trained in a special skill it is very difficult for them to get jobs outside the Indian Railways.
For months no officer paid any heed to the voices of the apprentices. Finally in the early morning of Tuesday 20th March 2018 at 7 a.m., thousands of apprentices who had completed their training in the Indian Railways occupied the railway tracks between Dadar and Matunga in Mumbai on the Central Railway lines in the heart of Mumbai city. They remained on the tracks till 11 a.m., completely paralyzing the morning rush hour train movements on the Central Railways.
The apprentices, who are all members of the All India Railway Act Apprentice Association, had travelled from across Maharashtra, Bihar, Punjab and other states to demand permanent jobs with the Indian Railways after having completed their railway apprenticeship program.
The police tried to lathi charge the protesters and lodged cases against them. However, seeing the determination of the youth the authorities were forced to give in. The protesting apprentices called off their Mumbai agitation later that morning after the Railways agreed to give them a reply within two days.
The question again arises – instead of employing untrained contract workers, why are well trained apprentices not given jobs in railways?
After that I discovered one more policy of the IR which seemed as bad – the policy of “reengaging” retired workers at very low wages. By “re engaging” retired staff, the positions occupied by these retired staff are blocked for promotion from the ranks below them. Further, these retired staff cannot perform the duties of the young workers which are required in every department, since in most cases, apart from desk jobs, the duties are hazardous and strenuous. Such is the work in the workshops, track maintenance, S&T departments, Station Masters’ jobs, etc. How can older workers who have crossed 60 years do the work expected of younger workers? This policy is against the safe and smooth running of the Indian Railways. It is another way of preventing recruitment of fresh workers and also of cutting down expenditure on salaries as a new recruit would be entitled to full benefits of salary with all allowances.
Recently, the Railways announced that it would recruit 80,000 rail workers. About 2.4 crore applications were received for these positions. That means 300 applicants for every post! No date has been committed for the selection. There appears to be no real intention to recruit but only to pour cold water on the anger of unemployed youth. At the same time, the IR has made a lot of money from the application process by charging Rs. 500 per application except for SC/ST candidates. Even assuming 70% non SC/ST candidates, this amounts to Rs. 1200 crores collection by the railways from applications alone!
For us youth unemployment is a very serious problem, increasing with each passing day. A huge army of unemployed youth today exists in our country. Even those who are employed are generally employed on a contractual basis. The employees on contract get a third or even less of the salary of regular employees and have to put in the same hours as regular employees with no job security.
Instead of encouraging permanent employment, our government is encouraging more short term employment. On March 20, 2018, the Central Government issued a notification allowing fixed term employment in all sectors. Fixed term employment means employment for a fixed period, the fixed period being any length suitable for the employer. After this period it is entirely up to the employer whether to re-employ the same worker for the job or hire a new worker.
Youth of the country need to stand up against all these anti-youth policies. We must support all those fighting for better jobs and more jobs. What use is our education if does not get us a secure, decent livelihood?
For all of us who use railways to travel, we must demand that all positions affecting safety must be filled in with well-trained permanent workers immediately.
Spark supports all just demands of youth of the country for better employment opportunities and conditions. The demands of railway apprentices are completely valid and Spark extends full support to them.