Even as rail safety has been termed as one of the priority areas by the railway minister and he has flagged safety concerns on account of unmanned level crossings, manned level crossings, derailments, collisions, and fire, there is not much that Indian Railways has achieved in terms of filling the high number of posts lying vacant in the safety category, thereby compromising on the safety infrastructure of the Railways.
According to ministry data, as of April 1, 2016, the total number of vacancies in safety category posts in Group C and erstwhile Group D in zonal railways stood at 1,22,763. While the shortfall is across all the zones, the largest (14,442 vacancies) was in the Northern zone and lowest (303 vacancies) in Metro. The Northern Division comprising — north central, north eastern, northeast frontier, northern and north western — had an aggregate of 39,809 vacancies accounting for the largest vacancies amongst the divisions. The southern division comprising southern, south central, south eastern, south-east central and south western is in need of 30,418 employees.
According to All India Railwaymen’s Federation, there are around 13.26 lakh on-roll employees in Railways of which almost 75 per cent fall in the safety category. While the 1.22 lakh unfilled vacancies make up for roughly 12 per cent of the employees in the safety category, Shiva Gopal Mishra, general secretary, AIRF said that almost 15 per cent of the posts are vacant on a continuous basis and there has been no improvement in the situation.
“Sizeable vacancies in the safety category not only compromises with the safety of the trains and their operations but also puts additional work load on the existing employees which is not a happy situation,” said Mishra.
Though the Railway administration and the board claim that they are working hard to fill the vacancies, insiders say that it is both management failure and also a result of employing overqualified individuals which has resulted into high attrition rate.
“A lot of individuals taking the job within the safety category are overqualified and while they take this job, they prepare for better jobs and leave it as soon as they get a better opportunity. The attrition rate is very high,” said Mishra, adding that even the replacement for the retiring staff is not happening at the desired pace.
While safety category employees are the frontline of railways especially in departments such as loco-running, operations and even maintenance, high number of vacancies means additional work for existing employees.
It is also important to note that over the last 40 years, there has been a progressive addition to the list of posts in the “safety category” and the number went up from 27 in 1971 to 51 in 2010.
In his Budget speech 2016-17, railway minister Suresh Prabhu had highlighted on use of technology to keep up on safety and avoid accidents such as train protection warning system and train collision avoidance system.
Pointing that the ministry has examined all recommendations made by High Level Safety Review Committee headed by Anil Kakodkar and is implementing several of them, he had said, “Our ultimate objective is to eliminate all unmanned level crossings by construction of Road over Bridges (ROBs) and Road under Bridges (RUBs).”
He further said, “In the short term, RDSO has been asked to develop a suitable device with reliable power supply system based on theft-proof panels/batteries in consultation with Indian Space Research Organization, using geo-spatial technology for providing audio-visual warning to road users at unmanned level crossings. Further, a radio based signal design project has been taken up with IIT Kanpur for warnings at unmanned level crossing.”