Monday, January 1, 2018

Monday, 01 January 2018 | Abraham Thomas | New Delhi


Work stress and fatigue among railway employees are taking its toll on passenger safety. A staggering number of 32,000 vacancies in Railway’s crucial safety sector has forced those engaged in driving trains and maintaining tracks to function way beyond their optimum capacity. Overall, the Indian Railways has a massive 2 lakh vacancies.

The 32,000 vacant posts in safety category include that of Track Maintainers, Train Drivers (Loco Pilots), Assistant Drivers, Guards, Station Masters, Train Controllers, Shunting Staff, Technical Supervisors, Technicians, Artisans, and Ground staff of Mechanical and Electrical Maintenance Departments, and workshops.

Out of 2 lakh vacancies, the Northern Railways (NR) has the maximum vacancies of 27,537 among all rail zones, followed by Eastern Railway (19,942) and Central Railway (19,651). Finding the huge vacancy figures as alarming, National Railway Mazdoor Union of the Mumbai-based Central Railways has approached the Supreme Court claiming that the safety sector in their zone has almost 16,000 vacancies out of the total vacancy figure of 19,651.

In an application filed in apex court, the Mazdoor Union said that this gap needs to be immediately filled as it is taking a toll on the existing workforce which has to work 18 hours at a stretch without any rest. This is further causing stress as many workers are ending up with heart attack, paralytic stroke, and lifestyle disorders such as high levels of blood pressure and blood sugar, the workers’ union told the court.

Apprehending that such a situation may further jeopardise the safety of passengers, the Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud has sought the response of the Centre and Railway Ministry on five outstanding grievances of the workers’ union with an aim to end the deadlock.

The Mazdoor Union presented these figures to the court in reply to a query about the key demands that had yet not been met by the Government. The Union was upset with the inaction to fill the vacancies and had given a call to demonstrate at all railway stations on September 15, 2015. The Bombay High Court, acting on a PIL, passed orders on September 14, 2015 staying the demonstration. On November 29, 2016, the HC allowed the Union to protest at a distance of 150 metres from the railway station. The Union was dissatisfied as they wanted to hold the protest within the railway premises. The workers came in appeal to the Supreme Court.

Besides vacancies, the workers also focused on the deplorable conditions of railway residential quarters, substandard facilities at Railway Hospitals, lack of basic amenities at work places, and exploitation of lower level staff by higher officials of Railways.

The Union complained that the Railway administration has ignored their appeals forcing them to approach the court. While welfare of railway staff is their top concern, the workers strongly believe that non-resolution of these issues has a “catastrophic” effect on rail safety.

According to statistics released by Ministry of Railways, in the last five years, 586 rail accidents took place involving 1,011 casualties. Almost 53 per cent of the accidents (308 cases) were due to derailment, followed by accidents involving unmanned railway crossings (199 cases). An independent study on causes of rail accidents suggests that 41 per cent accidents were due to failure of railway staff and 45 per cent due to human failure (not involving staff). 



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