Trackmen want ‘undignified’ roll call scrapped

Around 2.6 lakh railwaymen have started a clamour for ending a 100-year-old practice prevalent in the Indian Railways that, they say, is a needless hangover from the British era. Citing “dignity of labour”, they have urged Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal to put an end to the archaic rule of “roll call” for trackmen — known as track maintainers — to mark attendance, saying it is humiliating in this day and age.

Every morning, while their fellow railwaymen and officers mark their attendance by signing in a register, trackmen have to stand before a gangman and mark their presence in a roll call.

In their letter to the minister, they have cited the fact that all the other similar cadres in the railways whose nature of work mostly involve manual labour have long since started signing for attendance, which, they have said, is the “dignified” way.

“This outdated system has never been considered for change by the ministry. The educated track maintainers feel humiliated and insulted while in other departments the system of signing the attendance register is already in vogue,” the letter written through the National Federation for Indian Railwaymen says.

The demand has somewhat flummoxed policymakers in the Railway Board, who never anticipated that an innocuous practice of roll call could spark such indignation. For the Railways, the issue is also one of utility. Prior to 1992, the job of trackmen did not require educational qualification. As a result, a large number of trackmen is still unlettered and hence, unable to sign. “The system of roll calling helps during inspections to see that attendance is not misrepresented. Why change a system that works fine?” said a senior official.

The trackmen have argued that over the past two decades, the Railways have implemented minimum qualification of eighth pass and then 10th pass, resulting in a larger number of track maintainers who are able to read and write.