MEL: Congratulations on your victory in the union elections in Central Zone as well as at All India level.
Thank You. As per the rules of the elections, Unions getting more than 35% of the votes polled in a particular zone get recognition by the General Manager as the representative Union of workmen in that particular zone.
In Central Zone, NRMU, which is affiliated to AIFR, got 48% of votes polled and is the leading Union. Out of a total electorate of 1,05,157 in this zone, 89,258 workers voted , which is 86% of the voters.
CRMS, which is affiliated to NFIR, polled 36% of the votes and hence is also given recognition in this zone.
Unions affiliated to AIRF are the leading Unions in 16 out of the 17 zones. The Federation which gets recognition in more than 9 zones is the recognized All India Federation; hence AIRF has got the recognition at the national level. The other rival Federation, NFIR, has this time lost recognition in 5 Zones.
MEL: What about representative associations such as AILRSA, AIGC, etc ? Do they also get to contest the elections?
YGJ: These are trade wise representative organizations/associations. Similar is the case with SC/ST, OBC Associations. These associations are not eligible to contest the elections as the rules allow only those Unions which represent all categories of workmen to contest. Though AIREC is the All India body representing these trade wise associations, they cannot fight the elections as they do not have zonal affiliations.
When the NDA regime was in power at the Centre, the then Railway Minister, Nitish Kumar, arbitrarily gave recognition to BRMS (Bharatiya Rail Mazdoor Sangh). This was challenged at that time by Southern Railway Mazdoor Sangh (affiliated to AIRF). The case went all the way to Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that recognition should not be given arbitrarily. Hence for the first time in the history of the Railways, elections were held in 2007. Now the elections will be held every six years.
In 2007 also AIRF was the recognized All India Federation.
AIRF was formed in 1924. It was the sole representative Union of Railway men till 1947, when NFIR, affiliated to INTUC was also given recognition by the railways.
MEL: Some Unions have challenged the way these elections have been conducted. They also allege that only those organizations that give a written affidavit that they will not resort to any sort of agitation are being allowed to contest the elections.
YGJ: These unions are demanding a level playing field. They are demanding that all facilities given to recognized Unions be withdrawn before the elections, such as facilities for our activists. But our position with the administration is that since we are the recognized union, only if we are defeated in the elections the facilities given to us can be withdrawn. But once the elections are notified, all negotiations with the management stop.
As regards the other allegation that a written affidavit is to be given, that is not correct at all.
MEL: There is a complaint that the Railway Authorities themselves are conducting these elections? Is this correct?
YGJ: In certain Industries, such as BSNL, Konkan Railways etc, the RLC (Regional Labour Commissioner) affiliated to CLC (Central Labour Commissioner)- Ministry of Labour, New Delhi conducts the elections.
But the Railways are too vast for the elections to be conducted by RLC. They have a limited staff. Also their regions are not concomitant with the Railway Zones. For example Central Railway –Zone comprises the whole of Maharashtra, M.P and parts of Karnataka, which fall under three RLC’s. How can they co-ordinate? The Railway authorities appoint a Secret Ballot Election Committee (SBEC) to conduct the elections. The SBEC appoints Zonal Election Committees to conduct the elections in each zone. Similarly each Zone has many divisions. For example Central Zone has five divisions—Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Solapur and Bhusaval. In addition there are several independent Units, such as Matunga Workshop, Parel Workshop which do not fall under any Divison. Each Unit/ Division has separate electoral machinery. Hence the whole process is elaborate and was conducted over three days from April 25th -27th 2013. We have our observers and election agents too who ensure that fair elections are conducted.
MEL: Do officers have Associations?
YGJ: There are two Associations for Officers, Promotee Officers Association- for those officers who have risen through the ranks and Class I Officers Association- for those who have been recruited directly to Class 1 through UPSC. By and large these associations join together on certain common issues.
MEL: There are cases of corruption in railways coming to the front-page.
YGJ: If I am a CME (Chief Mechanical Engineer), previously I was to look after the needs of staff, production and rolling stock. But now because of privatization, I am sitting on a huge value of tenders running into crores. Sometimes tenders are tailor made to suit certain contractors/vendors as only these will have the necessary qualifications. The Railways is now procuring a lot of those items which were previously made in house.
For example seats/cushions of the trains were previously made in house at the Matunga Railway workshop. There was a carpentry shop and a smithy shop. But now these are procured from outside. This has dramatically increased the possibility of corruption.
MEL: If certain goods and services can be obtained from outside, then why do it in house?
YGJ: You must realize that the Railways are an exclusive industry. We are all 100% trained here. You cannot get a Station Master, Engine Driver etc on the market outside. Our trackmen, who constitute the largest number of 3 lakh employees, know what are the Standard Moving Dimensions for safe repair of tracks. But since the last 3-4 years, track maintenance has been privatized. Private contractors are employing gang men who work under extreme conditions for a few years and then leave. The number of fatal accidents involving these private gang men are increasing and there is increasing risk to the travelling public also as they are not properly trained.
The private contractors who are hired are not qualified and their work is not up to the standard. Privatization and outsourcing is the reason why the number of employees in the Indian Railways is continuously decreasing. However another reason is the technological up gradation. Previously a train running on Mumbai- Pune- Mumbai route used to be checked both at starting point, Mumbai and then again at Pune before its return to Mumbai. Then with the use of modern equipment, they declared that the train needs to be checked for operational worthiness only at the starting point, Mumbai. At Pune, only cleaning of the train is done. But now with the use of Ultrasonic Flaw Detectors (USFD’s) they say that the train need be inspected only once every 5000 kms! This has also reduced the manpower requirements.
MEL: Thank you for a very informative interview about how the Indian Railways runs!