Thursday, September 14, 2017

BABU BEAT  Derailed by overwork

RICHA MISHRA The Hindu Business line 

PTIChapter of accidents Staff shortage needs addressing PTI

To get the Railways back on track, manpower issues need to be resolved

With the growing number of accidents and frequent derailments all eyes are on the Railways staff whose morale is severely dented. “Stressed out”, “sleep debt”, “no time to even take medical leave”, are the reasons loco pilots, track /gang men and station masters offer as factors affecting their performance.

The Railways may seem to have enormous staff strength, with close to 13.26 lakh employees, but the service is actually understaffed, especially in key areas, compromising safety. Between them the Railway employees have to take care of the country’s 66,030 km of tracks, 10,773 locomotives, 63,046 coaches and 2.45 lakh wagons ferrying over 20 million passengers every single day.Rest is history

According to reports, 16,464 posts of loco pilots are lying vacant. As a result, those on the rolls end up having to work nearly 12-16 hours a day.

The rule book says loco pilots are not supposed to work more than 10 hours a day and have to get four 30-hour rest periods (weekly rest). A member of the All India Loco Running Staff Association says that due to dilution of the existing formula of engine hours for goods crews and tight crew links of passenger and mail trains, the staff ends up working without following the periodical rest cycle.

Now the staff have been issued directives to take proper rest, while reiterating that mobile phones should not be used while on duty.

The directive clearly lays down that drivers should not carry mobile phones on their person while working on the train but keep them in a bag/box. The phones should remain switched off/or be in silent mode and used only for assistance in emergencies.

A loco pilot said, “Now there are random checks. Calls are made to check whether the driver is following this directive. “

Two major causes leading to accidents that were identified are unmanned level crossings and track defects. Says Shiv Gopal Mishra, General Secretary, All India Railwaymen’s Federation, “The main reason for derailment seems to be poor track maintenance due to shortage of staff and materials.” New Railway Minister Piyush Goyal who took charge on September 4 is not new to crisis management, but to make a train journey safe for all, he may have to invest a considerable amount of energy in manpower management. It helps that the new Railway Board Chairman, Ashwani Lohani, is a former railway official himself. After taking charge, he has been vocal about energising the rank and file.Safety jobs vacant

According to Union members, there is much stress, especially among employees at the lower rungs. The freeze on recruitment and long training periods have aggravated things.

“By the time an individual is ready to take the job, another two years go by,” says an employee. An employee says, “Do you know people with an MBA or a Master’s degree are applying for jobs of a track man or other lower category jobs? Now, how sincere do you think this individual will be if we give them a shovel and ask them to clean the tracks?”

“Not only do the Railways have to recruit, they also have to correct the requirement levels needed for the jobs,” says Rakhal Das Gupta, President, All India Railwaymen’s Federation.

The Bibek Debroy Committee for Mobilisation of Resources for Major Railway Projects and Restructuring of Railway Ministry and Railway Board, had pointed out in the Interim Report: “Immediate corrective steps should be taken to rationalise expenditure on salaries and wages of existing employees by right-sizing IR (Indian Railways) through rationalisation of manpower.”

Earlier, a High-Level Safety Review Committee under the Chairmanship of Anil Kakodkar, former Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, had made about 106 recommendations in its report submitted in February 2012. Not all have been implemented.

Meanwhile, employees say the number of officers in the Railways has risen from 6,000 once upon a time to about 18,000 today, even as the overall employees’ strength of 13.26 lakh is a decrease from the earlier 15 lakh.

A senior officer, however, says many jobs have become redundant with time.

He agrees, though, that vacancies in Group ‘C’ and ‘D’ – that are in the safety category – need to be filled immediately.

Staff shortage in these categories affects maintenance of track, coaches, signals and engines.

With an aggressive new Minister and an old hand at the helm, it is to be seen how they meet this challenge.

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