Kolkata: Gour Pramanik, 44, is a skilled labourer who works with Metro Railway, Kolkata. His mother, two daughters, and his wife are dependent on the wage that Pramanik receives from Metro Railway. However, since the last couple of weeks, paying of wages to the contractual staff has been put on hold by the Indian Railways. They have cited the pandemic as the reason for this.
Talking to NewsClick, Pramanik said that now he has to look for clients in the locality to make ends meet. Though their contract has not been terminated, in effect all 2,500 employees and all casual staff, including the gangmen who work on track maintenance, have been laid off, said Tapas Kundu of Metro Railways Men's Union (MRMU), while speaking to Newsclick.
Tapas kundu is also the representative of Metro Railways, Kolkata, in the All India Railwaymen's Federation. He said that MRMU has also written letters to the Principal Chief Engineer, Metro Railways, Kolkata about shortage of contractual staff in night maintenance in the Kavi Subhas–Dakshineswar route.
The administration has engaged 100-150 trackmen for track maintenance, but the 30 permanent posts in track maintenance are yet to be fulfilled. In the letter, MRMU has mentioned that, and alleged, “Now the administration is contemplating to mount pressure on existing manpower of around 50 trackmen which is not only absurd but also an attempt to compromise with the. passenger safety. We had raised the issue of filling up vacancies in the safety category."
Earlier, Debanjan Chakraborty, general secretary, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) had written to the Union railway minister, pointing out that contractors were denging the casual employees of EPF in connivance with the local ruling party. The issue is yet to be addressed by the responsible authorities. All these harsh steps have been taken using the Pandemic as an excuse.
The Kolkata Metro was the first planned and operational rapid transit system in India. It was initially planned in the 1920s, but construction started in the 1970s. The first underground stretch, from Bhawanipore (now Netaji Bhawan) to Esplanade, opened in 1984. Line 2, or the East–West Corridor, opened in 2020. By 2011–2012, the Railway Ministry had announced plans for the construction of five new metro lines and an extension of the existing north–south corridor. These were Salt Lake–Howrah Maidan (Line 2 or East–West Metro Corridor), Joka–B.B.D. Bagh (Line 3. Later truncated till Esplanade), Noapara–Barasat (Line 4, via airport), Baranagar–Barrackpore (Line 5), New Garia–Dum Dum Airport (Line 6).
According to Subhash Mukherjee, president of CITU West Bengal State Committee, on August 31, a large demonstration will be held by the casual employees in front of the Rail Bhawan in Kolkata. Employees from the banking sector, insurance sector, and from Port and Dock Mazdoor Union will join the demonstration to protest against the Union government's policies.
Mukherjee noted that the Central Government is disbursing the properties of the State into private hands. It is an anti-Indian conspiracy, he said. It has caused retrenchment of casual workers across sectors. He added that in West Bengal, about 45 government projects have been handed over to the private sector in the last few years, and on August 31, the workers will also protest against this.