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Slave Labour In Indian Railways? By Nitten Gokhaley

In Featured, Investigation, Mumbai
August 31, 2018
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Officials with ‘slaveholder’ like attitude from Indian Railways responsible for increasing number of accidents? : By Nitten Gokhaley

In July this year, certain shocking facts about the functioning of Indian Railways made it in the headlines when Lucknow division trackman, Dharmendra Kumar, wrote a letter to Railways Minister Piyush Goyal. The note once again exposed the reality that senior officials from the ministry use trackman and other juniors as bonded laborers. It also revealed the possible primary reason behind railway accidents.

Trackman’s daily duties involve checking fishplates and tracks for damages, cleaning as well as repairing and maintaining railway tracks, checking on track ballast and making sure that tracks are not blocked. But, instead of checking railway tracks, trackmen are forced to work as personal servants for senior railway officials.

After taking over the Railways Ministry in September last year, Piyush Goyal had warned all the senior officials against using juniors for personal work. Due to the stern warning, more than 10,000 employees belonging to Group D (including trackmen/gangmen) were once again allotted maintenance and safety-related duties as per procedure. However, Dharmendra Kumar’s letter and an increasing number of accidents indicate that this exercise has not shown the desired results.

Kumar’s complaint was supported by a video showing railway employees working at the construction site

The concerned employee’s letter sent to Goyal was also accompanied by a video showing how his boss Rajkumar Verma, a section engineer had asked the group of trackmen to work as construction labor at his house located in Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki district.

“Grade 4 employees like us are treated like bonded laborers by senior officials. I joined the Railways to work for railways and not to work as someone’s private servant. Our job is to look at the safety of railway tracks. When I raised my voice and refused to work at his house, he started issuing threats about suspending me,” said the concerned employee while interacting with journalists.

As per information released by the Railways, around 30,000 trackmen work at the houses of senior officials instead of performing their duties related to rail track safety. Now if the ministry was aware of such practices, why did Suresh Prabhu and other previous railway ministers (from both, Congress and the BJP) fail to resolve the issue?

Corrupt engineers responsible for increasing number of accidents

May it be BJP supporters or the party’s critics; almost everyone was surprised when Piyush Goyal replaced Suresh Prabhu as the railway minister. Prabhu was often considered as an incomparable man when it comes to managing the ministry. But CAG report released in July 2017 pointed out that Suresh Prabhu had failed in fixing too many things.

The ground reality kept on exposing itself due to back to back accidents in various parts of the country. Indians were quick even to blame the ISI and ‘foreign terrorists’ for rail derailments. Over-aged signaling system and tracks are also often blamed. But unfortunately, no one thought about checking if IR’s engineers were performing their duties correctly. No one has time to debate about corruption in Railways.

One won’t be wrong to conclude that the ministry’s officials are compromising the safety of passengers by asking trackmen to work as their servants instead of letting them manage the security of tracks.

Between 2012 and 2017, India witnessed 586 train accidents. Out of these, 53 percent of the crashes happened due to derailments.

Accidents will probably continue happening, and innocent passengers would keep on dying until senior management, including engineers involved in field operations, in railways are made highly accountable.

Narendra Modi Government has taken a maximum number of initiatives to change the face of Indian Railways. Stories about Railway Ministry’s possible collaboration with ISRO to monitor railway tracks and other property have been doing rounds since the last four years. Hope this happens at a faster pace.

IR plays a crucial role when it comes to connecting various parts of the country with one another. It’s time for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and honorable minister Piyush Goyal to crack the whip on senior officials soon. They should even consider making amendments to Part 14 of the Constitution to make public servants accountable.