Monday, September 11, 2017

THE ASIAN AGE. | ARPIKA BHOSALE
Published : Sep 11, 2017, 

There are more than 500 shoeshine boys across WR platforms in Mumbai.
The proposal came about as shoeshine boys belonging to the Dalit community asked the WR to consider employing them as railway employees.


Mumbai: Your ticket fare on Mumbai suburban in Western Railway (WR) might soon include the salaries of shoeshine boys. Even though the railways has maintained that the Mumbai suburban is a loss-making exercise, the WR is allegedly mulling over a proposal to induct shoeshine boys who operate on platforms, as railway employees, said officials.

So far, the boot polishers are hired by private contractors on behalf of the railways as part of the ‘Shoeshine’ policy that seeks to accommodate them on platforms. There are more than 500 shoeshine boys across WR platforms in Mumbai.

The proposal came about as shoeshine boys belonging to the Dalit community asked the WR to consider employing them as railway employees. They said it is difficult to find work and they do not have job security when employed through contractors.

However, railways officials fear inducting them as employees might lead to more financial stress on WR. An official on condition of anonymity said, “There is a severe crunch on our resources, at the same time the railways is a public/social organisation and hence the policy of including those from this community as railway employees is being looked into.”

Officials fear this will set a precedent for others to demand similar job security.

Another official said, “A lot of contractual labourers come from similar economically weak backgrounds. A lot of construction and in fact, even gangmen are employed on contract basis.” “They too will be within their rights to ask that they be inducted as railway employees, but it will also mean that running local trains in the city will become even more expensive,” he said.

WR divisional railway manager Mukul Jain, however, denied that WR is considering such a policy. “The demand is an old one and we are not looking into any such policy,” he said. “It is not possible to give them the status of railway employee,” he added.

However, officials from the railways said they have been asked to do the homework for the same policy and keep it under wraps.

Shoe-shine boys have been employed from as far back when the railways has been running, but they have become obsolete over the past decade due to factors like the increased availability of polish, people opting to shine their own shoes and inflation.

Railways activist Nirmal Takemgarh, a former member of the Divisional Railway Users’ Consultative Committee, said, “Whatever the WR does will have to be with a lot of caution. They will have to keep the sentiments of this community in mind and also look at how it will effect the account books.”

The WR is currently looking at ways to offset the loss that will be incurred if this policy is introduced. Last year, the WR saw losses of Rs 700 crore. Although the fare of the Mumbai local will not be altered, other avenues like dynamic pricing in more long-distance trains are being looked at.

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