Railways to spend Rs.15000 Crore on Safety next year

NEW DELHI: The Indian Railways will spend Rs 15,000 crore over the next 12 months to make travelling safer for passengers. The money will be spent on improving safety features on trains, tracks and stations on a “war footing”, a top Railway Ministry official said.

This will include installing elevators and constructing more foot-overbridges (FOBs) at all high density stations to help clear passenger traffic during rush hours. “Rail Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani has already instructed general managers to go for an immediate audit and sanction works at the earliest,” the official said.

The announcement follows Friday’s stampede at the Elphinstone-Parel foot-over-bridge in Mumbai that killed at least 23 people. The Rail Board has empowered all general managers to spend on safety works on their own without waiting for any budgetary allocation or clearance. Besides, station directors have been empowered to take quick decisions in case there is a pile up of passengers at stations.

The Mumbai suburban network, which includes both the central and western railways, will get 10 new FOBs along with elevators to avoid a repeat of any such incident. The rail board has also decided to equip all major stations with CCTV cameras for better management of crowds during the peak hours.

All stations in an around Delhi will also be equipped with the same facilities at the earliest. Almost 2,000 CCTVs will be installed at 400 major stations. Rail minister Piyush Goyal has ordered that all this work should be completed on the Mumbai suburban network and at all major stations well within 15 months.

“Not only the Mumbai suburban network but stations around Delhi where lakhs of daily commuters use railways to reach the capital for work will also get additional FOBs and elevators,” the official said.

The government has approved a Rs 1 lakh crore dedicated Rail Safety Fund, which will be used for overhauling rail tracks, constructing foot-over-bridges, eliminating unmanned level crossings, upgrading network signalling and for installing CCTV cameras. The fund will be spent over five years.

Who are the Railway Gate Mitras?

Over 10000 men and women are employed as gate mitras by the Ministry of Railways at unmanned level crossings to ensure the safety of people while crossing railway tracks. To get a better understanding of what it exactly is, one must not forget the iron poles which are used to allow any vehicle or person to cross railway tracks, when a train is approaching. Now the job of gate mitras are to exactly do the same job, where there are no iron poles to obstruct the vehicles.

According to Indian Railways, “‘Gate Mitra’ is an initiative of the Ministry of Railways to enhance safety and prevent accidents at unmanned level crossing gates. The person engaged as “Gate Mitra” would alert road-users about approaching trains at unmanned level crossings. They are primarily deployed to counsel the road users to be vigilant while crossing the unmanned level crossing gates.”

However, the gate mitras, complain of exploitation and meagre payment. Speaking to RailNews, several gate mitras said that how they are made to work for 12 hours every day, witout any off throughout the year, for a meagre salary of 3000 to 4000 rupees per month. They also said that there is no arrangement for shelter, first aid, bathroom, and if somebody is not well, taking a day off would amount to salary cut even losing the job. Neeraj Kumar, President of Bhartiya Rail Gate Mitra Association Karmikshan said that 35% road accidents used to happen at unmanned level crossings bt after the deployment of gate mitras, the frequency of such accidents have rapidly decreased, however, even after being at the spot for over 12 hours, the gate mitras don’t earn enough to make ends meet. Apart from the lack of basic facilities, women who are deployed at such spots have no access to toilets mostly, they have to go in the open to relieve themselves, which also puts their safety at stake. Some women employees stay far away from these level crossings, and face severe problems during menstruation.

The gate mitras also said that due to absence of shelters, they have to also battle the harsh climate – heavy rains, blazing heat. If they do take an off, or raise a question, their contractors threaten to strip the of the job. Sarita Verma and Rajwati, 25 years of age, and had been working as gate mitras for 3 years, told RailNews about the problems face by women in the job. They revealed how women are harassed by unknown people and sometimes sexually explicit slurs are thrown at them. However they women said that they have now grown used to it, and it does not deter the from doing their job any longer.

RailNews also spoke to one such Contractor under whom 14 gate mitras are employed, and what he revealed gave an interesting twist to the story. At first the contractor revealed that the time stipulated for the work has been specified by the Railways and the contractor or the external agency has no role to play, and hence the complaints of employees regarding working hours and offs cannot be taken into consideration.

However, on further questioning what was revealed is the fact that the Railways have only specified the time for which gate mitras are required to be at the unmanned level crossing. Point to be noted is the fact that the number of hours to be worked by each and every employee is not specified by the railways and depends on the contractor. So it is obvious that to make more profit, these contractors employ less number of people and make the work under extreme pressure to earn more. For example if employing 10 gate mitras would allow every employee one off a week, the contractors would hire only 7 (example) make the work without offs, and earn their profit.

The above contractor speaking to us also mentioned about a rest giver ho is deployed if n employee needs rest, however, this claim has been refuted by the employees.

The question is, it is so easy to defy labour laws and exploit the poor? RailNews will keep a tab of the story and the space would be updated with each and every development..