India’s rail safety rests on the shoulders of 200,000 Railway Trackmen. IR has an entire pool of trackmen under Engineering Branch, whose job revolves around maintaining tracks. In a letter dated July 13, Dharmendra Kumar, a Railway Trackmen working in NR’s Lucknow Division wrote to Rail Minister that his senior had employed him to build his private house, in Barabanki in UP.
LUCKNOW: Making an emotional appeal to Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, a Railway Trackman from the Northern Railway has complained that his seniors treat Group-D employees like bonded labourers and his senior has employed him and five other trackmen to build his private house than maintenance of rail tracks.
We have joined the railways to do our job, not to service our seniors. We will not build a house and will only work for the railways, Trackman Dharmendra Kumar from the Northern Railway’s Lucknow Division said in an impassioned appeal to the railway minister while speaking out against the colonial tradition of working as “bonded labourers” for senior officials.
In a letter dated July 13, Kumar wrote to the minister that his senior — section engineer Rajkumar Verma — had employed him to build his private house, in Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh.
“They (seniors) treat grade 4 employees like bonded labourers. We have joined the railways to do our job, not to service our seniors. He has put these men who should be looking after the safety of tracks to do construction work at his home for the past month. When I refused, he threatened to suspend me.”
“I have informed senior officials of this and no one has responded so far,” Kumar told PTI. Kumar added that he shot a video of railway employees working at the construction site. The video is part of the complaint he has sent to the minister. “I am being threatened but I won’t budge. How can I help him construct his house when so many derailments are happening in this country? I want the minister to take strict action and ensure that workers like us are not treated this way,” said Kumar. He alleged that he has been marked ‘absent’ at work since refusing to work for Verma.
“An enquiry has been ordered by the Divisional Railway Manager and is to be conducted by a senior officer of the Lucknow division. Strict action will be taken against anyone found indulging in malpractice,” said Northern Railway spokesperson Nitin Chowdhury.
Soon after taking over in September last year, Railways Minister Piyush Goyal had instructed officials to not use their juniors for menial jobs and said strict action will be taken against those who continue to do so. Since the minister’s order, around 10,000 Group-D railway employees, including gangmen and trackmen, have been removed from the houses of seniors and put back into safety and maintenance work, officials say. Despite these instruction from the Railway Minister, some seniors are misusing their power/positions in different
Indian Railways has an entire department of trackmen – formerly known as gangmen – whose entire job revolves around maintaining tracks. These 200,000 trackmen set out every morning carrying 15 kilos of equipment and walk along a 5 kilometre stretch of rail to check it for defects.
The work is hard, as well as dangerous. Trackmen spend most of their day on tracks that still have trains plying on them, which leads to an average of more than 300 deaths every year. Added to the danger is the pressure of maintaining the tracks themselves, since mistakes by trackmen could leave trains vulnerable to incidents like the tragic derailment in Kanpur.
For years, the authorities have promised to develop safety technology that will better alert trackmen when trains are approaching and giving them lighter toolkits.
In addition to the trackmen, Indian Railways uses ultra-sonic flaw detection machines, but these have to be taken out manually and are thus likely to only travel over high-density routes once every two months. The authorities are working with the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras to develop automated detection systems, but for the most part current monitoring is heavily dependent on the trackmen alerting engineers about potential dangers.
Clearly, Kumar and his five colleagues are not among them.