by Dr. A. Mathew, Secretary, Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC)
(Based on the inputs provided by Shri Sunil Kumar, Secretary General, All India Station Masters’ Association)
A few days AIFAP website carried the news about the intention of all the 32000 Station Masters (SM) of the Indian Railways (IR) to take mass Casual Leave on 31st May under the banner of the All India Station Masters’ Association (AISMA). Out of concern to the passengers, they have warned them in advance to plan their travel keeping this in mind.
When we understand how hard the SM have to work, how vital their work is for the safety of the passengers and rail crew and how badly they are treated, it will be clear why they were forced to take this decision.
The duties of the SM:
We will highlight some of his main duties. The SM has to:
- Oversee all the staff working at the station – both operational as well as commercial. This means that he also has to maintain the Duty Muster of the staff, attend to their grievances, counsel them about safety rules, allot railway quarters, and so on.
- Ensure the safety as well as punctuality of all the trains with halts at his station as well as those passing through at high speeds. This includes ensuring closure of appropriate gates, ensuring that the line is obstacle-free, ensuring that the proper signals are taken and that the train crew is alert.
- Arrange traffic maintenance blocks, plan and organise the movement of track machines and other departmental trains as well as the movement of patrol men (track maintainers).
- Ensure safety and maintenance of railway property, furniture and equipment.
- Ensure that injured passengers are tended to, that the First Aid Boxes are filled, receive reports as well as ensure supply of food and drinks to passengers and staff at accident sites.
- See to the clearing of dead bodies, coordinating with the police.
- Ensure cleanliness of not only the station premises but also of the nearby colonies.
- Check the daily cash, ensure its remittance, check the issuing of tickets, etc.
- Attend to passenger enquiries and grievances, and ensure the availability and upkeep of their amenities.
- Attend to various officers conducting inspection.
- Attend to visiting dignitaries.
The main problems of the SM:
- There are about 30% vacancies among the SM, which puts extra workload on them. The number of sanctioned posts keeps on decreasing despite increasing workload. They have to work in 10-12 hour shifts daily, which is not only utterly inhuman, but poses a serious safety hazard to those who travel by train.
- The number of trains has increased, as have the numbers of gates, public announcements, safety meetings, registers to be maintained, various mandatory courses, training, etc.
- 75% of SM work in non-suburban city limits ad about 40%-50% stations are situated in isolated areas with no educational or medical facilities.
- Only one promotion is available; arbitrary cancellation of Night Duty Allowance of employees having basic pay above Rs. 43,600, non-implementation of agreements with the management, etc.
- Lack of safety at work place; possible injuries during shunting of trains, during manual operation of signalling points, while practising hand cranking of points, while exchanging signals with running train crew, operation of OHE (Overhead Electrical) Isolation switch during emergency, etc. Many SM have even died due to such injuries.
- More than 160 SM died due to Covid-19.
Though the AISMA has been taking up these issues with the administration at Divisional, Zonal and Railway Board levels, these burning issues of the SM have not actually been addressed. All they get at the most is sweet talk and some promises.
The bad conditions in which the SM have to work lead to health problems as well as anxiety and even worse due to not having time for social interactions. The vacancies in all branches of the IR are really taking a serious toll on the workers. Recently an SM on duty suffered a heart attack and died because he did not receive help in time due to the vacancy of Pointsman not being filled up.
The SM are waging a just fight and deserve the support of all of us!