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35,000 posts, 1.25 crore aspirants: railway recruitment process, and controversy

On Monday, thousands of candidates who had appeared for the Railways' recruitment exam protested in Bihar against the results released earlier this month. What posts was the exam for? What is the controversy, and how has Railways responded?

Written by Avishek G Dastidar , Iram Siddique | Bhopal, New Delhi |
Updated: January 26, 2022 6:31:20 pm
Aspirants block a road during a protest over alleged erroneous results of Railway Recruitment Board's Non-Technical Popular Categories (RRB NTPC) exam 2021, in Patna, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. (PTI Photo)

On Monday, thousands of candidates who had appeared for the Railway Recruitment Board’s Non-Technical Popular Category (NTPC) recruitment exam blocked trains in Bihar in protest against the results released earlier this month.

Even as aspirants, mainly in Bihar and also on social media, continued to protest, the Railways said all processes took place as per rules and no one group of aspirants would get any unfair advantage over others in landing a railway job.

What posts was the examination for?

Railways is recruiting in 35,281 vacant posts in various categories ranging from junior clerk, train assistant, guard, time keeper etc to station master across its verticals in its zones. Around 11,000 of these vacancies require 10+2 (Class 12 pass) as the minimum qualification to apply. The rest are higher-pay posts that require graduation as the minimum qualification. The posts are spread across five pay grades— from level 2 to level 6.

For instance, Junior Clerk is a level 2 post (starting pay Rs 19,900) for which being a Class 12 pass is the minimum qualification. Station Master is a level 6 post (starting pay Rs 35,400) for which a candidate must be at least a graduate.

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Police chase the aspirants who blocked railway tracks to protest over alleged erroneous results of RRB NTPC exam, at the Rajendra Nagar Terminal railway station, in Patna, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. (PTI Photo)

How were the tests conducted?

Since 1.25 crore candidates had applied for these jobs, Railways held a common test, called Computer Based Test-1 (CTBT-1), for all candidates as a screening process. Railways says that this was done since nothing would have legally stopped a graduate from sitting for an exam meant for a Class 12 pass anyway.

After these vacancies were announced in 2019, the exams were to be tentatively held in September 2019, but were postponed to March 2020 — and then the Covid-induced lockdown hit in. Eventually, CTBT-1 was held over 68 days in 133 shifts with two shifts each day between April-July 2020. The results for CBT-1 were declared on January 14, 2022.

The real test will be in the next stage, called CBT-2, scheduled in mid-February. Railways says CBT-2 will be as per “graded difficulty” wherein every level will have a separate exam fit for that level’s qualification. For instance in Level 2, which has posts like Junior Time Keeper, Accounts Clerk etc, the exam will be of a difficulty level meant for Class 12 pass candidates. And for Level 5, which has posts like Senior Clerk, Goods Guard etc, the exam will be of a difficulty level meant for graduate aspirants.

So, what is the controversy?

To ensure more people compete for these jobs, Railways has this time made a rule that for each level, the number of qualifying candidates it shortlists for CBT-2 will be 20 times the number of available posts vacant. In the 2016 recruitment, it shortlisted 15 times the vacancy. Earlier than that, the rule was to shortlist 10 times the vacancy.

That’s why this time, for 35,281 vacancies, the total number of “applications” shortlisted for the next round is over 7 lakh.

But the real number of candidates who have been shortlisted for second round is not really 7 lakh, but 3.84 lakh.

For example, a Class 12 pass candidate, based on his choice and test score, may have been shortlisted for both Level 2 and 3 vacancies. Similarly, a graduate candidate may have been shortlisted for all the vacancies in all levels. That’s how the number of the shortlisted for CBT-2 stands at 7,05,446. The Railways say shortlisting would be based on applications, which means: if person A has applied for level 2 and also level 5, then, based on the person’s scores, he or she will be counted in both categories when the shortlist is made with 20 times the number of posts.

The agitators are claiming that those with higher qualification will get a shot at cracking jobs meant for those with lower qualifications and spoil their chances.

What is the Railways’ argument?

The Railways says it is not that simple. The Railways has decided that while someone shortlisted for CBT-2 at multiple levels may be able to sit for the tests, that will not translate into that person actually getting multiple jobs.

This is because in the final round, called document verification, Railways will hold the process for the top level posts, that is Level 6 first, followed by Level 5 and so on. No person who is empanelled to get a job at one level will be considered for the subsequent level. In effect, no one person can “hold” two confirmed railway job offers in two different levels at a time.

“We will hold the document verification for the higher levels first. That way, if someone qualifies for the job of, say Station Master, will no longer be considered for the subsequent lower level jobs, like that of a TTE or others,” said the Chairman of an RRB who did not wish to be named. “But if someone says that he does not want a higher pay job and would rather go for a lower level job, then that’s their choice, but that is highly unlikely.”

How is Railways addressing the protesters’ concerns?

Railways has taken to social media multiple times to explain that everything is happening according to the rules. Moreover, all the conditions governing the recruitment and screening are always published in the detailed notification for the recruitment drive concerned, it says.

To negate any controversy, Railways discloses the answered papers of the screening exam to all its candidates. Candidates are also allowed to raise objections which Railway Recruitment Boards clarify. It is only after this process is over that the result is declared and candidates are shortlisted for the next round.

In the earlier days, each Railway Recruitment Board would carry out its exam separately. That practice was stopped eventually to start centralised recruitment.

The last exam on this scale was held in 2016, when Railways set out to fill around 18,000 vacancies. But at that time, the posts being filled required graduation as the minimum qualification.

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