Motormen of Mumbai Division of Central Railway refuse to do overtime to protest against overwork and stressful working conditions causing suicide by their colleague


Report by Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC) correspondent


On 11th Feb newspapers of Maharashtra carried articles on their front pages screaming that Mumbai Motormen have held the local train services to ransom. They also carried photographs showing crowded platforms of the Central Railway Mumbai division. The tone was such as to blame the motormen for the inconvenience caused to the working people of Mumbai. However, the reality was that on 10th February afternoon onwards the motormen refused to work on overtime due to which around 150 trips of local trains on the Central and Harbour lines had to be cancelled. The motormen refused to work on over time in protest against the death of their colleague Mr. Muralidhar Sharma, who committed suicide by jumping in front of a local train.

In the morning of Saturday 10th February, Mr. Muralidhar Sharma while on duty on Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Panvel section, overshot a red signal. This mistake by a loco-pilot is treated as SPAD as per railway manuals which may lead to permanent suspension and even immediate termination. As per rules, if a motorman commits such a mistake, she/he has to be relieved of duty immediately pending proper enquiry. However, Mr. Muralidhar Sharma was asked to take the local train all the way to Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus because no other motorman was available to take over from him! After he reached Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus his enquiry was started immediately. He could not bear the stress and asked for a toilet break. Knowing fully well possible repercussions, he boarded a local train, got down at Sandhurst Road, called his family informing them that “…everything is over for me….” and jumped in front of a train. The motormen are convinced that he committed suicide due to stress though the railway administration is reportedly refusing to admit this and labelling it as an accident.

All over India, loco running staff, which includes Motormen of suburban railways, have been demanding immediate filling up of vacancies, since last many years. They have repeatedly written to their local authority and also to the Railway Board pointing out the tremendous increase in their work load due to vacancies, which leads to immense stress thus jeopardizing passenger safety too. But the Railway Board has done precious little in this regard. It has, in fact been declaring much lower vacancy figures as compared to what the loco running staff has been claiming.

In the suburban section of the Mumbai division the situation is also grave. There are reportedly more than 25% vacancies of motormen. Due to these high levels of vacancies, those on roll are being forced to work for extra hours. They do not get rest as per the Railway Board’s own rules and regulations. Motormen of Mumbai do not even get any weekly off! They are supposed to be on duty for each day of a year. Those who work in the shift ending at 11 p.m. are told to take rest in the rest room and report back on duty for the morning shift starting at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. because the railways do not have adequate people due to vacancies! How can the motormen be expected to be fully alert with such duty timings with hardly any rest or sleep! It is alleged that Mr. Muralidhar Sharma was also on a similar duty. Can a motorman, who is forced to work under so much stress without proper sleep and rest, be held responsible for committing some mistakes? Will a motorman deliberately ignore a red signal and carry on knowing fully well that it is her/his life that will be in maximum danger? These are the questions which we must ask.

Such callous, cost saving measures which the Indian Railways is resorting to, is not only putting railway employees’ lives at risk, but endangering passenger safety too.

In this instance, all the motormen of the Mumbai Division of the Central Railway suburban section, who are members of various unions of railway employees, decided to bury their differences and unitedly refused to work on overtime. The representatives of various organizations met the railway authorities in a joint delegation, once again highlighting their high stress working conditions due to the large number of vacancies. The concerned railway officials reportedly told the union representatives that they have been repeatedly raising indents for vacant positions, but they on their own cannot do anything unless the Railway Board gives the green signal! After a lot of persuasion, the local authority agreed to send their grievances to the higher ups and gave an assurance that till then they will not act harshly against erring motormen. After this assurance the motormen stopped their agitation.

But does this solve the basic problem of safety of railway employees and railway passengers? Of course not!

In the last one and half month itself, workers from various railway departments have raised the issue of extremely stressful working conditions due to high level of vacancies as one of their main concerns and demands. In the AIFAP website itself we have reported the signature campaign undertaken by the All India Loco Running Staff Association from 12th Jan to 18th Jan, South Central Railway Mazdoor Union taking up the issue on 19th Jan, 27th Jan and 9th Feb, Running staff of Waltair Division on 23rd Jan, Ticketing Staff dharna on 10th Jan, demonstration by ERMU in Kacharapara and Jamalpur workshop on 28th Jan and 31st Jan, SCRMU demanding implementation of Duty Roster on 9th Feb etc. This shows that high stress working conditions have become a norm across all departments of the Indian Railways.

It is important that both the railway employees and passengers unitedly demand all the steps necessary to ensure safe, secure train services for all. They must unitedly oppose any further privatization of railway services since safety will be the first thing which will be sacrificed by profit hungry private players.



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