New Delhi: With the government giving in-principle approval to the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme for defence personnel, workers at Indian Railways, the country’s largest employer, are asking for similar pension benefit, arguing their duties too are “hazardous, risky and complex”.
Railway employees work at over 8,000 Railway stations covering more than 65,000 Kilometer of tracks and over 85% of Railway employees perform duties at remote places, extremist infested areas and places where no township or medical or drinking water or schooling facilities exist, National Federation of Indian Railwaymen (NFIR), that represents over 90% of the railways 1.3 million strong workforce, said.
“The railway tracks are maintained by the employees facing inclement weather conditions and working under open sky akin to that of defence personnel. On an average 800 railway employees get killed per year in the course of performing duties and nearly 3,000 sustain injuries while on duty,” M Raghavaiah, General Secretary of NFIR said.
The defence veterans had called off their fast-unto-death after the OROP principle was accepted on Saturday, but said they will continue a scaled-down relay hunger strike as some issues remain, including the annual revision of salaries.
Raghavaiah appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to scrap the New Pension Scheme in railways and grant OROP to employees “as has been agreed to in the case of retiring defence personnel”.
According to NFIR, the government has subjected railway workers to injustice by governing them under the New Pension Scheme with effect from January 2004. Their demand for abolition of the scheme remains unresolved even after former rail minister Mallikarjun Kharge’s promise of exemption of rail workers from the scheme.
The federation is now busy sending letters to the PM, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and railway minister Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu in support of the “genuine demand” for extending OROP to railways. The move would benefit the 1.3 million serving employees and 1.5 million retired railway personnel.
In its support, the union is citing a recommendation of the Justice H R Khanna Railway Safety Review Committee that the working of the railway system is more like the armed forces and, therefore, Indian Railways functions differently from other government institutions.
NFIR is arguing the duties and responsibilities of its employees – train controllers, station masters, electric signal maintainer, technical staff, loco pilot, guards and technical supervisors — are the same as defence personnel in being unique and unmatched.