Wednesday, March 6, 2013

ICF men warn of tool-down strike

M. Dinesh Varma

Protesting against outsourcing of coaches’ design know-how
Workmen at the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) have warned of a tool-down strike this Wednesday in protest against a Railway Board missive to the ICF to hand over the design know-how of manufacturing certain types of high-value coaches to a few private contracting firms.

The ICF joint action council (JAC), which has called for a series of strikes beginning with the tool-down protest, has dubbed the Railway Board’s move as one that fritters away the intellectual property in coach design that has seen incremental fine-tuning for over five decades, and also threatens the very existence of ICF into the future.
The JAC, constituted on behalf of an estimated 12,000 ICF employees represented by an elected 12-member Staff Council, has called for an immediate repeal of the decision.
The Railway Board instruction to the General Managers of ICF, Chennai, and the Rail Coach Factory, Kapurthala (No. 2012/RS (PF&EC)-142/Coaches/10 dated February 13, 2013) has as its subject “Transfer of design drawings for manufacture of various types of coaching stock by manufacturers in private and public sector-model form of agreement to be signed with contracting firms”.
“Unprecedented”
According to the Railway Board letter, a copy of which is with The Hindu , the private players entrusted with the coach manufacturing contract for 67 rakes (each rake consisting of nine coaches) along with the design specifications, are Kolkata-based firms Titagarh Wagons Ltd. (12 MEMU rakes), BESCO (1 MEMU rake) and Jessop (one MEMU rake and six ACEMU rakes and five motor coaches). The only public sector undertaking in the list is Bharat Earth Movers Ltd., Bangalore, which is to be tasked with the manufacture of 20 DEMU and eight rakes each of MEMU and ACEMU types). “While there has always been controlled outsourcing of non-critical components such as sidewall and roofing, the handing over of around 7,500 design drawings for end-to-end coach manufacture is unprecedented and fraught with safety implications,” said M. Shanmugam, national president of the Indian Railways Technical Supervisors’ Association (IRTSA) which has expressed solidarity with the JAC demand.
ICF sources said the Railway Board’s decision, ostensibly to augment the rolling stock position in Indian Railways, also defied financial logic as outsourcing the manufacture of 67 rakes of about 700 coaches to private firms could cost more than twice the roughly Rs.1,300 crore it would take to roll out the coaches from the ICF-RCF production lines.
“Ironically, this is when an ICF request for just Rs. 243crore modernisation and capacity addition fund to raise production capacity by 200 coaches annually has only been partially fulfilled,” JAC sources said.
The JAC will organise a mass hunger fast this Friday. If the demand is still not met, the focus of the stir will be shifted to Delhi with plans to involve the MPs from the State and sit-ins in front of Parliament and the Railway Ministry.
When contacted, ICF General Manager Abhay Khanna said talks were on with the JAC representatives to avert a strike. Given that the ICF rolls out an average of six different types of coaches every day, the loss from a 24-hour strike can run into over Rs.8 crore.

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