Rail jobs: another ‘poll lollipop’

Commuters lean out of an overcrowded local train on the day of Railway Recruitment Board Examination (RRB), in Patna, in 2018. PTI

Close on the heels of the 10% reservation for economically weaker sections, the BJP-led NDA government doled out another election lollipop. Railway Minister Piyush Goyal announced last week that Indian Railways will recruit a whopping 2,30,000 people, over half of them in just the next two months. This comes just weeks ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. Like in the case of the 10% quota in admissions and jobs, the intention of the Narendra Modi-led government in this case, too, is suspect, considering the timing of the announcement. Indeed, one wonders if there’s a connection between the new quota and the recruitment announcement. Was the latter made only so as to dangle some 13,000 jobs in front of the newly reserved category?

That the Railways has been quite short-staffed was known for years and it is surprising that the minister and Indian Railways woke up to it only now — with just about 100 days to go for elections — to make the key statement of intent. No one would have faulted the government had this very intent been declared earlier, say 2-3 years ago. For everyone knows the dire need of filling up of the huge backlog of posts in the Railways — especially those concerning safety issues. But keeping silent over the issue for nearly five years of its rule and making the announcement suddenly now is a clear indication that it has been made with nothing but votes in mind. That the government did not give too much weight to the safety issues in Indian Railways operations either over the last many years is evident from the answers it gave from time to time in Parliament and to RTI queries.

The staff strength of the country’s biggest employer is over 13 lakh, and it has vacancies numbering a staggering 2.8 lakh. According to one estimate, the vacancy in safety-related posts alone comprise some 16% of these. The Railways did not fill up posts related to safety such as gangmen, guards, levermen, cabinmen, even drivers, inspection of tracks, signalling, engineering, telecommunication, etc. At the senior levels, several crucial posts are lying vacant for months, ranging from General Managers to Additional Members to Board Member. Besides, five posts of commissioner of railway safety are also vacant. No wonder the country witnessed some horrific accidents, which included at least four major mishaps in 2018, not to speak of a train with 22 coaches ploughing around 13 km without an engine. Most of these could perhaps have been avoided had the government made regular recruitments, instead of making this grand recruitment announcement at the fag end of its term. And all this while millions of youth were desperate for jobs, any jobs.

 

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