After Railway Protection Force (RPF) head constable Vijaykant Jha fell out of a moving train and slipped into a coma on Wednesday while returning home after his 12-hour night shift, questions are again being raised about insufficient staff in the RPF. The dearth has forced 12-hour shifts on officials instead of eight-hour duty, causing immense strain to them, both mentally and physically.
Samir Zaveri, director, Mumbai Suburban Railway Passengers Association, said to protest against the long working hours, he has written to the Ministry of Railways, asking it for more recruits in the RPF. “I don’t think anybody can work efficiently for 12 hours continuously. There are many side effects to working such long hours. The pressure is beginning to take its toll on the health of officials, who are developing many physical problems, other than irritation and stiffness after sitting at a place for so long,” Zaveri said.
He said he keeps reminding the authorities to increase the RPF strength, but has not got a positive reply. “The vacancies are in thousands, putting more pressure on the force. Wednes-day’s incident is the result of stress and overwork. Author-ities should immediately sort this issue otherwise such incidents will continue,” he said.
Admitting to the taxing work schedule, a senior RPF official on condition of anonymity said, “We have to place them at different locations and they have to do multiple tasks. I know they get tired but due to shortage of personnel, we have no option but to assign them work that should be done by two-three men. Every RPF police station has vacancies for about 30 personnel on an average. They are not only being flogged with a gruelling shift of 12-14 hours, but also have to ensure the safety of more than six million commuters daily.”
He also complained that the seniors want the subordinates to be physically fit by exercising. “If our men are doing 12-hour shifts, how can they be
expected to go home and give time for exercise? They always complain that they have no time left for family, et cetera,” the official said. Anil Sharma, chief security commissioner, said, “We don't put the staff on duty of our own volition. We are understaffed, so we have no choice but to assign them 12-hour shifts. However, this is not a routine thing, we do it mostly on special occasions.”
The RPF is in-charge of protecting railway property, passengers and passenger areas. On long-distance trains, RPF escorts are equipped with walkie-talkies, arms and FIR forms to assist and secure passengers in case of untoward incidents. On the Central line, the sanctioned strength for the RPF’s Mumbai division is 2,408. But there are 609 vacancies, of which 540 are for constables for duties at stations. So the RPF has roped in 218 Home Guards to assist in patrolling. On the Western line, the sanctioned strength is 1,887, and there are 630 vacancies. At least 300 Home Guards have been enlisted for help here. Nationwide, the RPF has nearly 11,000 vacancies.