On November 3rd 2013, there was a terrible accident on the Railway tracks near Kalyan Station on the Central Railway and on the outskirts of Mumbai . While repairing a fault on the tracks, 4 gangmen were run over by a train and killed on the spot.
MEL interviewed a leader of National Railway Mazdoor Union (NRMU)- Central Railway, Mr.Joe D’Souza, Asst Gen Secretary of NRMU, on the reasons for this tragedy.
Mr.Joe D’Souza: The maintenance of tracks fall under the Engineering Department and is done by the Gangmen. Over the years due to not filling up a large number of vacancies the number of gangmen has seen a huge decline though the work load have continued to increase with introduction of new trains and increase in track kilometers. Instead of increasing the number of gangmen and other staff as required with the addition of new trains , the railways has followed the opposite policy of reducing the number of gangmen! The railways give the justification that the operations have to be made profitable and hence the labour cost has to be reduced. Also they give the explanation that with improved and more reliable technologies such as LWR (Long wielded rails), cement sleepers, better turnouts, etc, the number of gangmen required is less. On the contrary the recent accident shows clearly that it is these faulty policies of the authorities that have resulted in this tragedy. The engineering department also employs a category of workers called artisans, which are the welders, painters and blacksmiths. The artisan’s positions are not being filled up after the existing artisans retire. Hence gangmen are withdrawn from their official duties and made to do the work of these artisans. In addition Senior Officers withdraw gangmen to perform domestic chores in their houses such as washing their cars, or bringing their children from school!
All this results in a depletion of the number of gangmen actually available to a particular gang. This may mean that whereas a gang would normally have 6 gangmen, it would have to function with only 4 due to the shortage. The tasks to be performed by the gangmen does not decrease, but on the contrary increases with increase in number of trains and hence increasing repairs and maintenance work of the tracks. A repair of tracks can involve either a) A Major Block, wherein train movement on the track is completely stopped. In such a case the danger to the gangmen from moving trains is not there b) On line maintenance, wherein the track has to be repaired without stopping the movement of trains. This is a high risk operation and there are standard safety rules to be followed such as having gangmember on watch 30 and 100 meters away from the site of the repair to warn the gangmen on work in case of an approaching train. But with a shortage of gangmen, these procedures cannot be followed. Also with increasing traffic on the tracks the work gets continuously interrupted and this breaks the concentration of the gangmen. Also with a shortage of gangmen the railways is now outsourcing the maintenance of tracks to private contractors with the result that 15-18% of the gangmen are now contract workers employed by these private contractors. These people employ workers with very little experience further increasing the risk to their own safety as well as those of the travelling public. IN fact because in the recent tragic incident, the concerned workers were regular railway employees, the authorities will be forced to take some remedial measures. We will be holding a dharna at the General Managers Office on Friday, 8th Nov at 5 pm to protest this accident. But when contract workers die there is no remedial action. For example two years ago there was an accident near Kurla station on Central Railway in Mumbai in which three of these contract workers were killed on the spot and the railways did nothing about this.
A few days ago the Railway Minister, Malliakrjun Kharge visited Mumbai and inaugurated three trains, one to South and two to North India. However he did not care to announce any increase in number of drivers, guards, train and track maintenance staff that would be required with the introduction of these new trains. This creates an increased work load on the existing staff, jeopardizing their safety as well as that of the public.
This is at the core of the problem.
MEL: Thank you Mr. D’Souza for the information you provided.