Com A K Shrivastava is the Secretary General of the All India Guards’ Council (AIGC). Our correspondent met him to interview him about the effect of 20 years of the economic reform policy and to get information about the working conditions in this important sector.
MEL: Last year, the policy of globalization through privatization and liberation that was implemented by the Congress Government headed by Shri Narasimha Rao completed 20 years. At that time, the present Prime Minister, Shri Manmohan Singh, was the Finance Minister. What has been the effect of this policy?
AKS: The policy of globalization through privatization and liberation reduced the work force and increased unemployment. The policies destroyed the middle class and pushed it into the working class. A small number of upper class people have all the money and are growing richer every day. The others have nothing and are growing poorer and poorer. The government jobs are being taken over by contractors. People cannot survive on the salary of Rs.3000 – Rs. 5000 that they get. Crime rates are soaring. What will people do when they cannot earn lawfully?
MEL: How has this policy affected the railways, and specifically the guards?
AKS: Over a period of time, different operations related to the running of the trains as well as the support services have been handed over to private contractors. There are about 15000 trains running in India. Every day they carry about 10 lakh tons of goods and about 1 crore people. The range is about 65000 km. There are 15.2 lakh railway employees now. They want to bring the number down to 8 lakh and get more and more work done through contractors. This will benefit the capitalists, but the effect on the workers will be disastrous. The World Bank’s policies have led to decreasing staff strength. Every year the number of trains is increased. There are 36000 guards and 72000 engine drivers. There are 10000 – 15000 vacancies. Such a large number of vacancies results in overtime and lack of safety. All the enquiries so far have revealed excess duty hours as the cause of accidents, yet nothing is done about this problem.
MEL: Could you enlighten us about the duties of a guard?
AKS: A guard is in charge of the train.
There is a punishment for crossing the danger signal: it is considered to be an “accident” by the Railways and they proceed accordingly.
A train gets the green signal at a level crossing only when the barrier is closed. If it cannot be closed, the train is stopped. If the gate signal is at danger (red) for a long time, then the driver has to inform the guard. The guard has to walk to the front of the train, check the condition of the level crossing and then direct the driver to start his train: he has to certify that the train may pass.
At a level crossing, he has to travel at a speed of 15kph in the daytime or 8 kph in the night time till the next green signal.
When a person crossing the tracks is knocked down, the train is stopped and the driver blows a hooter to call the guard. He has to go and administer First Aid if the person I injured: he is trained for that. Then the train has to be stopped at the next station where medical treatment is available and the patient has to be handed over the Station Master.
If someone dies in a train accident, there is an Enquiry by the CRS (Commissioner for Railway Safety). The CRS is from other transport sectors, mostly from aviation. At that time, the first person to be interrogated is the guard. He cannot change the report that he writes on the spot.
If a pregnant woman is about to deliver a baby on the train, the guard is summoned. The guard has to stop the train, cordon off a portion of the coach and with the help of the ladies available; he has to give all possible assistance for safe delivery.
If a person expires on the train, the guard has to call the Station Master and get a panchnama arranged through him. He has to obtain a Clearance Certificate from the Station Master or police officer. Only after that is done can he start the train.
The guard has to keep his eyes on the neighbouring tracks all the time and check them and also check the passing trains. A station comes every 2 – 7 minutes, where he has to give the green signal to the Station Master.
Before the train leaves its starting station, the guard and driver have to check it before okaying it. Their report is based on the findings of the Train Examiner of the Carriage and Wagon Staff. Each train has to be certified before it can leave.
The guard has to continuously observe the pressure gauge, which ensures that the train brakes are in good condition.
If there is a problem like fire, the guard has to decouple the affected bogies with the help of the Assistant Loco Pilot.
He has to maintain a record of each station passed along with its timing and explanation for late running of the train.
The guards enjoy discretionary powers to direct train movement in absence of Station Master. This can happen for instance, when flood water is rising on the tracks. He can direct the driver to move the train towards higher level of the track, which can be forward or backward.
MEL: So the duty of the guards is very onerous, and he is also very crucial for the safety of trains and hence of passengers.
AKS: Absolutely. The guard and drivers have many suggestions about safety. But they are not heard. Why do they think about introducing measures only after accidents? The flasher lights were introduced after the collision near Itola (between Vadodara and Bharuch).The blinkers on suburban trains were introduced after the accident near Vasai Road. The track circuit was introduced after the accident near Firozabad. It is not difficult to improve the safety if only there is the will. But who travels by train? The drivers, the guards and of course crores of people who have no say in deciding how the country is run.
MEL: Could you tell us about the occupational hazards of the guards?
AKS: Guards suffer like engine drivers, in the matter of having no fixed weekly off, as well as being forced to work for inhuman hours. The guard (as well as driver) is always working under HT lines of 25,000 V. That means they always have to face radiation, which has deleterious effects on their blood pressure as well as sugar.
Apart from this, goods trains loaded with cement, coal, etc. create their problems. The wind blows all the dust in the guard’s direction. A guard is alone all the time. Many guards have been murdered while the train is in dangerous terrain. In the Guards’ carriage there are no lights, toilets or fans. It is made of metal and so gets incredibly hot.
MEL: Since many problems faced by guards are same as or similar to those of drivers, do you raise them jointly?
AKS: We have a good understanding with the AILRSA (All India Loco Running Staff Association) and are working to strengthen these ties.
MEL: It was a pleasure talking to you, Comrade Shrivastava. We are sure that our readers will also be grateful to you for educating them about the crucial role that guards play for their safety.
AKS: Let me just quote a few lines of a poem I have composed.
"Yadi hosh mei chale hum
Durghatna kabhi na hogi,
Sankalp jo drudh hoga
Manzil kareeb hogi …
Economy ki daya hai
Manzil ajeeb hogi"
MEL: That is splendid! Thank you once again.