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Protests in UP, Bihar, Railways puts recruitment drive on hold

Reaching out to protesters, the Railways announced a high-level committee, headed by Deepak Peter Gabriel, principal executive director of industrial relations in the ministry, to engage with them.

Written by Avishek G Dastidar | New Delhi |
Updated: January 27, 2022 6:47:23 am
Indian Railways, Railways suspends NTPC exam, Railway exam aspirants, Railways protests, India news, Indian expressThe current recruitment drive for Non Technical Popular Categories (NTPC), in which 3.84 lakh candidates were shortlisted for 35,281 vacant posts in various categories ranging from junior clerk, train assistant, guard, timekeeper to station master earlier this month, is at the centre of the ongoing protests. (File photo)

AMID VIOLENT protests for the third day in Bihar, where four empty coaches of a stationary train were set on fire in Gaya, and intelligence inputs that protesters were being mobilised via social media in other states too, the Ministry of Railways on Wednesday decided to put its recruitment drives on hold.

Reaching out to protesters, the Railways announced a high-level committee, headed by Deepak Peter Gabriel, principal executive director of industrial relations in the ministry, to engage with them. However, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw emphasised that the ministry’s “employment notification has legal sanctity”. “So for those who have grievances, we will have to find a solution and deal with the matter with sensitivity,” he said.

The climbdown came a day after the national transporter warned that job aspirants found involved in vandalism and “unlawful activities” while protesting “will be liable for police action as well as lifetime debarment from obtaining Railway job”.

Sources said the decision was taken in view of the worsening law and order situation in Bihar. “The situation was just going out of our hands and spilling over to other parts of India. They were mobilising through Telegram, WhatsApp and other social media,” said a senior Railway official.

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The immediate concern, according to sources, was the protest in Prayagraj on Tuesday, with the political dispensation fearing that the discontent would spread in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh. A bulk of the job aspirants are reported to be from Uttar Pradesh, followed by Bihar and Rajasthan.

The current recruitment drive for Non Technical Popular Categories (NTPC), for 35,281 vacant posts in various categories ranging from junior clerk, train assistant, guard, time-keeper to station master earlier this month, is at the centre of the ongoing protests.

The Railways had said that the number of qualifying candidates shortlisted for the next round would be 20 times the number of vacant posts. So, while over 7 lakh “applications” were shortlisted, the actual number of candidates is around 3.84 lakh, as the same person may have been shortlisted for more than one post.

Of the 7 lakh shortlisted “applications”, the two Railway Recruitment Boards (RRBs) from Uttar Pradesh (Prayagraj and Gorakhpur) account for 1,06,579; Bihar’s two RRBs (Patna and Muzaffarpur) for 27,373; and Rajasthan RRB (Ajmer) for 35,481.

Vaishnaw’s statement means that the 3.84 lakh candidates who qualified for the second round of the NTPC recruitment drive will remain qualified. A total of 1.25 crore candidates had appeared for the exam. The protesters are reported to be mainly candidates who could not qualify.

Addressing a press conference, Vaishnaw said. “I urge the candidates to put forth their grievances formally. Our intention is to resolve this issue quickly. A committee has been formed and it will examine representations by the candidates.” He also urged protesters not to destroy public property.

With 1.25 crore candidates applying for these jobs, the Railways held a common test, called Computer Based Test-1 (CBT-1), between April-July 2020. The results were declared on January 14 this year. The second round of exams (CBT-2), as per “graded difficulty” wherein every level will have a separate exam, was scheduled to start from February 15.

Around 11,000 of these vacancies require 10+2 (Class 12 pass) as the minimum qualification. 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.

The protesters are claiming that those with higher qualifications will get a shot at jobs meant for those with lower qualifications and spoil their chances. Sources said there is a possibility that some of the grievances, like the cut-offs being too high, may be looked into.

Individual Railway Recruitment Boards will reach out and create groups that include protesting candidates and those who qualified. “We will hear them out and also explain to them,” said an official.

The ministry has also decided to suspend its Level 1 (Group D) recruitment drive as a pre-emptive measure. The ministry had decided to hold a two-stage exam, but had not mentioned this in its original notification, triggering protests.

Meanwhile, citing “inputs”, the Railway Protection Force (RPF) has alerted some railway divisions that the Congress is supporting the agitation. In a letter to all four divisions of the West Bengal-based Eastern Railway on Tuesday, the zonal chief security commissioner said the party’s National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) had extended support to the “Rail Roko” by protesters on January 26.

“Inputs further indicate that activists from Indian National Congress may also support the movement,” said the letter.

A top official of Eastern Railway said the RPF regularly issues such alerts, based on intelligence inputs from various agencies. He said there were fears that the agitation may spread to West Bengal.

The Congress spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

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