There is rising anger among the railway trackmen (or ‘gangmen’ in railway parlance) after four fellow workers died on duty when they were mowed down by a speeding train. On Tuesday morning, more than 150 gangmen and other railway workers gathered at their colleagues’ condolence meet in Kalyan. But the employees also made public, their angst and frustration against the management, for not providing them with a safe working environment.
They are soon planning to go on a strike to demand safer, better work conditions and treatment from the railways. “We might simply decide to stop work if issues relating to safety of the gangmen are not addressed,” said a union leader. Sources said that there was quite a chance that the routine mega block would be affected, if every one of the gangmen skipped work over the weekend.
Vital to the city
There are 18 depots - with 300 or more gangmen in each depot - in the Mumbai division that goes right up to Pen, Panvel, Lonavala and Bhiwandi in the north. The gangmen are extremely crucial to the lifeline of the city - the local trains. They check the condition of the tracks and test it for cracks, look for damages in the sleepers, fishplates and other equipment on the tracks. This ensures a safe and smooth journey for the nearly 75 lakh commuters who use the transport system every day. Even railway officials agreed that they were of prime importance.
Despite this, 71 of these foot soldiers have died while on duty since 2008. Railway unions are of the opinion that there used to at least 12-15 workers in one group. The number, they say, has drastically reduced to about 5-6 now. “Every day, these trackmen walk 20 kilometres on railway tracks only to ensure safety. But nothing is being done to ensure their safety. Instead, the administration blames them for their own death. They lack proper equipment and support - be it the lack of quality footwear, jackets, helmets or gang huts for them to stay,” said A Mahendroo, Assistant General Secretary, National Railway Mazdoor Union (NRMU).
In a recent letter submitted to the Central Railway (CR), the union claimed that these gangmen are made to do household chores by the railway officers - right from washing clothes, utensils, bringing milk and vegetables, and even dropping officers’ kids to school.
This has added to the shortage of staff, which at present is 540, with an additional 100 posts lying vacant. These are meant for watchmen (whose job is to ensure that while gangmen are working, no trains are approaching), keymen, gatemen and welders.
The sanctioned strength for gangmen is about 4650. The letter to Central Railway also contains a list of demands (See box). The gangmen also met the Divisional Railway Manager of Central Railway yesterday after yet another gangman died on duty, when he was run over by a local train (See box).
“Normally, one gangman needs to protect the others working on the tracks. Moreover, without blocks, gangmen should not work. As per the rules, necessary compensation will be paid. The safety rules are also quite elaborate, but this turned out to be a sad incident,” said A Rane, Chief PRO, Central Railway.
Demands submitted to CR
Stop using gangmen as painters, blacksmiths, carpenters, watchmen for household work and clerks
Provide proper footwear instead of chappals, and other equipment such as helmets and other head gear, torches and jackets
Fill up all vacancies for the posts of gangmen
Additional staff should be provided in all sections which were newly opened without provision of staff
The Diwali incident
On November 3, four gangmen were found dead on tracks after they were hit by a speeding train
These men were oiling and greasing the tracks and its parts. The fourth man was the lookout man, whose job was to caution the others in case any train approached. But the lookout man was mowed down first, due to which even the others couldn’t be alerted
The Railways announced an ex-gratia of Rs 15,000 immediately to the family of the victims, apart from Rs 10 lakh each to the family members and jobs to their kin
Yet another gangman death
In yet another incident involving a gangman, a railway worker checking tracks near Titwala railway station yesterday was killed after being hit by a local train. The train was going from Kasara to Thane. The deceased has been identified as Dashrath Dudha.
No of posts of gangmen lying vacant
No of gangmen who have died on duty since 2008