For more than 160 years, railway trackmen have put their lives on the line to ensure the safety of trains and passengers. A trackman patrols eight kilometers of track every day on foot with iron tools in a rucksack and has the authority to stop a train if he feels the track is unsafe. Even now, at least 250 trackmen die on duty every year, their deaths just a statistic and mourned only by families.
But a new Railways draft notification aims to change all that. To be issued soon, the draft notification has laid down instructions that enshrine dignity in death for trackmen.
According to the draft, if a railwayman dies on duty, while patrolling tracks or while shunting coaches or engines and such mishaps, the “highest level officer” closest to where the accident occurred must visit the bereaved family, attend the funeral and lay floral tributes on behalf of the Indian Railways.
The highest level officer in some cases could even include the zonal General Manager or even the Chairman of the Railway Board. “The spirit of the instructions is that a very senior officer must be present during his cremation and offer his condolences to the grieving family on behalf of Indian Railways,” a senior Railway Board officer told The Indian Express.
The death of such railwaymen has been a source of concern for the railways top brass and has led to several interventions in the form of counselling, probes and awareness campaigns.
The decision was made after a meeting between the railway unions and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and the Railway Board recently. In the meeting, the unions mentioned that men who die while protecting are tracks are “unsung heroes” and should be respected like “martyrs of the Army and the Paramilitary Forces”. The proceedings of this meeting was even recorded on documents.
Goyal was told that when trackmen die in the line of duty, no officer from the Railways is usually ever present to condole or pay respects to the bereaved family. Sources said Goyal immediately agreed and issued instructions to Railway Board Member Staff, DK Gayen and other senior Board officials present to issue necessary instructions to change this culture. The draft of the new set of instructions is the result of this meeting.
“The trackman gets money if he dies in accident while on duty. His family member may get a job also on compassionate grounds. But all that comes much later. When he dies, his last rites are performed like a nobody, with no officer ever present from the administration to be at the side of his family. The minister was told of this and he immediately issued an on-the-spot decision,” said Shiv Gopal Mishra, head of All Indian Railwaymen’s Federation, the largest union in the Railways.
Over two lakh trackmen patrol the 67,000 kilometers of railway routes across the country. There have been years in the past when even 500 trackmen have died in accidents while on duty, but this has reduced after various safety measures.
Of late, Railway Board chairman Ashwani Lohani has started a trend of meeting trackmen while on duty and giving a hearing to their various problems. He has even had tea with trackmen and has inspected tracks along with them in winter night near Delhi. “These are meant to signal a change in our work culture wherein the man protecting the tracks in extreme weather conditions gets to feel like a valuable part of the system he works for,” said an official.