In early June there was a collision between two local trains on the Western Railway in Mumbai. Even before establishing who was responsible, the media had a field day blaming the two drivers. The very next day however the media had to admit that the drivers were not at fault – it was the problem of the signaling system. However, the damage had been done – one more bullet had been fired into the reputation of the drivers at large.
When the Hampi Express met with a tragic accident on 22nd May, railway authorities immediately blamed the railway employees for it: seven officials including two engine drivers were suspended. The next day, before the guilt of the driver had been established, the Railway Minister insisted that the accident was triggered by human error as the drivers had jumped the signal. The engine crew roster proves that the driver concerned had run 23 trains in 19 days, of which 12 were full-night, three half-night and seven full-day duties. This means the driver had undisturbed sleep in only seven days in the past three weeks! Is it fair to blame him for the accident?
These are no exceptions. Whenever there is a train, bus or plane accident, the authorities routinely blame the driver or the pilot even before the investigations have been completed. The government does not even wait to prove its allegations before publicizing the blame. What it hides is the inhuman condition in which these people are made to work, which not only ruin them and their families, but also severely endanger the traveling public.
The horrifying conditions of the engine drivers and guards harm their physical, mental and social health and also endanger Us!
- About 60000 drivers of the Indian Railways run more than 19000 trains.
- More than 20% of the sanctioned 82000 posts have been lying vacant for a long time.
- Out of the existing drivers more than 4000 are unavailable for driver’s duty at any given time since they are medically unfit.
- Railway driver’s unions have repeatedly pointed out that every year the Railway Ministry increases the number of trains but not the number of engine drivers.
- In the last decade the average speed of trains has also increased.
- Experts assert that the ‘rest period’ as defined by railway authorities is itself unscientific.
- In the 1980’s, after prolonged agitation, the running staff got their duty hours reduced to 10 hours continuous duty for goods train drivers and not more than 8 hours for drivers of trains carrying passengers. Union leaders point out that giving more than 8 hours of continuous duty to any driver violates the ILO Convention, to which India is a signatory. But gradually the railway administration started violating this agreement!
- The weekly rest provisions for locomotive drivers are vague and inadequate. Even these are routinely violated!
- Due to severe staff shortage most of the drivers are on night duty for long periods!
- Under the existing rules the drivers are not allowed to break for food, refreshment or even answer nature’s call during duty hours. Railway engines have no toilets! The fatigue levels of and stress on the drivers of super-fast trains which do not have halt sometimes for more than 5 hours and which also run at higher speeds can only be imagined.
- More often than not, drivers end their duty at locations much farther away from their homes. “Retirement rooms” meant for them are of dormitory type – overcrowded and with continuous movement of running staff coming in after finishing their duty and those going out. What rest can they get under such conditions?
- Guards are also very vital to the safety of trains. The problems of understaffing, overwork, inadequate and improper rest, the resultant physical mental stress – all the problems of the drivers are also faced by the guards of the Indian Railways.
- More than one lakh vacancies exist in various railway departments, most of them in departments responsible for safety: thousands of vacancies of points men, signal men, station masters, track maintenance staff, etc. are not just being filled up.
- Engines and rakes are often put back into action without proper preventive maintenance.
- Many critical activities are being gradually handed over to private contractors.
Horrifying Conditions of Workers in other Service sectors are also an Attack on Us!
They harm or endanger us and affect badly the quality of public services.
- Indian Pilots Guild also has often pointed out similar deficiencies about their duty hours and rest periods.
- Similar agony has been expressed by State Transport drivers wherein a few thousand vacancies of drivers and conductors have not been filled.
- Most of the government hospitals have huge vacancies. In Maharashtra alone more than 10000 vacancies of doctors exist in various government hospitals and Public Health Centers.
- The number of vacant posts of nurses, ward boys and other support staff is much larger.
- Thousands of vacancies of teaching staff exist in various village level schools, Zilla Parishad schools, Municipal schools and government aided schools and colleges.
- A large number of vacancies are reported in crucial organizations like Food Corporation of India and Public distribution related departments.
- Various State governments announce “zero budget” periods during which all recruitments are frozen.
Especially after 1992 when the Globalization through Liberalization and Privatization drive was launched at the Centre by the Congress Government with the late Shri Narsimha Rao as Prime minister and Shri Manmohan Singh the Finance Minister, the drive to cut down government expenditure has gained steam. These policies were launched on the instructions of the big capitalists of India. That is why irrespective of whether the Congress, the BJP or any other party of the big capitalists ruling at the Centre or state level, these policies have been implemented vigorously. Not only recruitments of critical positions but expenditure on public health, public education, public distribution (ration system), and for proper maintenance of railway rakes, airplanes, buses, hospital equipment has been curtailed. Government Ministers are openly saying that all such services should be regarded as businesses with a motive of generating profits!
It is clear that the thrust of the government is not only an attack on the workers in a particular sector, but also on all of us – on the people of our country – who the services are supposed to benefit. That is why, when the workers of any service fight for better conditions, they also indirectly fight for us! It is our duty to support them!
That is why the undersigned organisations appeal to all of you and your organisations to uphold the following:
- An Attack on One is an Attack on All!
- All For One and One For All!
- Ensuring “Sukh and Suraksha” of the praja is the primary responsibility of every government and it cannot be sacrificed under any pretext.
- Services like Food, Health, Education, Water, Electricity, Transport etc. should not be treated as “profit making” ventures; they should be made available to all citizens of India at affordable prices.
Lok Raj Sangathan, Airport Authority of India Employees Union, Air India Aircraft Engineers Association (AIAEA), All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA), All India Railway Employees Federation (AIREC), All India Service Engineers Association (AISEA), All India Voltas Employees Federation, Association of State Medical Interns, BEST Workers Union, BSNL Employees Union, Hind Naujawan Ekta Sabha, Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), Kamgar Ekta Chalwal, Ladaku Garment Mazdoor Sangh, Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors (MARD), Mumbai Municipal Engineers’ Association, Mumbai Municipal Mazdoor Union, National Federation of Postal Employees (NFPE), Purogamil Mahila Sangathana,Western Railway Motormen’s Association (WRMA).