Serious unrest is brewing within the Indian Railways, as railway employees, under the banner of West Central Railway Employees’ Union (WCREU), are prepared to stage an eleven-day protest from August 26 across West Central Railway branches which cover Bhopal, Jabalpur and Kota divisions. Yet another protest by railway employees’ union was registered against the proposals set out for the Indian Railways under the 100 Days Action Plan of Modi government 2.0.
With “Save Railways Save Nation” being the slogan of WCREU – an All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF) affiliated union – railway employees are demonstrating against Centre’s corporatisation and privatisation moves – attempts that, according to the railway unions, will put the financial viability of the national carrier in jeopardy.
The railway employees’ union will continue to stage demonstrations for eleven days at different branches to assert their demands, which include scrapping of the much-criticised new pension scheme and release of the allowances according to the seventh pay commission among other things.
The second innings of Modi government seems to have only brought fear and uncertainties so far to the railway employees – which stands true for most of the other government departments’ employees as well. At first, the government decided to corporatise the seven production units of the railways. The plan drawn was to turn them into a single government-owned entity, namely the Indian Railway Rolling Stock Company. As opposed to the conventional rationale of the government to bring operational efficiency, AIRF has termed it as a “cosmetic change” of turning one legal entity into another without any tangible benefit.
In a letter sent to the Railway Board’s Chairman, AIRF opposed the restructuring of the production units while giving the example of the success of the Rae Bareli’s Modern Coach Factory – the first one scheduled to be corporatised – in doubling its production in the financial year 2018-19 from the previous year, with projections to even triple its production in the current financial year.
The letter added: “[Even] on the fronts of cost and economies of production, MCF has established a record by turning out top quality coaches at the lowest cost. As is evident from the fact that, in the Financial Year 2018-19 coach out turn was 1425 coaches on an average cost of Rs.2.06 crore, having total number of 2201 employees on roll only.”
Interestingly, AIRF’s letter also mentioned BSNL as a “glaring example” of a financially failed product of corporatisation even though it has earlier been a “highly profitable departmental entity”. Quite identical to the apprehensions that were also recorded by the defence civilian employees of the Indian Ordnance Factories – another departmental unit to be turned into a public sector unit (PSU).
In addition to this, the Modi government is also set to ‘privatise’ a railway route altogether with handing over the custody of the New Delhi-Lucknow Tejas Express to Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC). Senior Journalist Arun Kumar Das points towards the consequences of this move in his article as ticket pricing, catering, onboard housekeeping, linens, ticket checking and amenities will be outsourced to private players. The move sparked protests across the county, however, not organised enough to force the government to reconsider.
NewsClick spoke to Ravi Kumar Jaiswal, zonal president, WCREU Jabalpur, according to whom, the eleven-day demonstration is only a trailer and the railway employees of the whole country will protest on the road if the government does not withdraw its decision.
To make things worse for the employees, the Railway Board issued instructions to all the railway zones last month to review performance of employees who have completed age of 55 years or service of 30 years to decide upon their retirement from services “in public interest” – putting well over three lakh railway jobs on line.
Though soon after the media reports started surfacing, the Railway Ministry issued a clarification that such review exercise are routine and are conducted by the administration in public interest.
However, as Mumbai Mirror quoted Ajay Singh, working president of Western Railway Mazdoor Sangh as saying, “Earlier, it was rarely used. Now, the Board wants implementation of this rule on a large scale which is totally against the employees’ welfare.”
As the Indian Railways, nation’s largest departmental undertaking, fear losing its public serving characteristics, protests are being observed at different places across the nation by numerous railway employees’ unions. Will the ruling government pay any heed to the concerns raised by the unions remains the question of the hour.