Railways short of drivers, yet doesn't use all the ones it has
Derailments and collisions are a regular hazard for the Railways and its passengers. Most are blamed on human error — mistakes by drivers, who often plead fatigue. Case in point, the July 19 Uttar Banga-Vananchal Express collision in Bengal that left 63 people dead. Srinand Jha reports.delhi Updated: Aug 10, 2010 12:29 IST
Derailments and collisions are a regular hazard for the Railways and its passengers. Most are blamed on human error — mistakes by drivers, who often plead fatigue. Case in point, the July 19 Uttar Banga-Vananchal Express collision in Bengal that left 63 people dead.
With a shortage of 17,000 drivers, fatigue is a big problem for the Railways. Yet, this crunch isn't for lack of qualified personnel. It's because many drivers work less stressful jobs as peons and chauffeurs of their seniors. And, they continue to get the pay, perks and promotion opportunities reserved for drivers.
Called 'absentee' drivers, they are trained and recruited as drivers but a majority of them have never set foot inside a train engine. Random investigations in the Delhi and Ghaziabad divisions by HT revealed a list of 30 drivers who have remained in stationary jobs while continuing to get promotions.
Across 16 railway zones, the number of such drivers is estimated to be 3,000- 5000.
According to Railway Ministry spokesman Anil Kumar Saxena, drivers can be medically de-categorised and placed on stationary assignments, but aren't eligible for promotions.
The rules also provide for deployment of drivers in stationary jobs on three-year deputation (extendable to five). On completion of this period, they are required to go back to the line for an equal period.
"But these 'backdoor entrants' are able to avoid the rough grind and schedule of line duties while drawing the same salaries and perks," alleged Sanjay Pandhi, working president, Indian Railways Loco Runningmen Organisation.
"Senior officers make non-productive use of their services, all at government expense."
HT tracked down three 'absentee drivers'.
"Drivers have a 24x365 schedule. They are cut off from society; their overtime dues remain pending. It is a rotten life. I am happy in a stationary job," said Narendra Kumar.
Sanghbir Singh had a similar argument: "Being a driver is no good for the family. There are huge problems in the Railways." Loco inspector P C Gupta has been on stationary duty since 1986. Said he: "There are many people like me. Go ask them, why pick on me?"