Mumbai rail roko: Harrowing morning for commuters; train services limp back to normalcy
It was a terrible Tuesday morning for lakhs of commuters travelling to work during morning peak hours after former railway apprentices blocked tracks between Dadar and Matunga on Central Railway (CR), demanding permanent jobs. Officials said 68 local train services had to be cancelled.
Around 2,000 job aspirants from Maharashtra, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar blocked tracks, saying they had to resort to desperate measures as top Railway officials were not willing to listen to them.
The agitators were protesting the change in the Railways’ recruitment process, put in place two years ago. The Railways regularly appoints apprentices for various technical jobs in their workshops across India. Earlier, these apprentices would be absorbed into the Railways. But in 2016, the Union railway ministry decided to stop this and reserved 20% quota for apprentices in recruitment. Since then, many apprentices have not been able to get railway jobs. They have been staging protests against this for two years.
The sudden agitation on Tuesday went on for almost three hours due to which CR services came to a halt during morning peak hours, with commuters stranded at stations and in trains. The situation took a slightly violent turn when police resorted to mild lathicharge and protesters threw stones, injuring 11 police personnel. The agitation, which began around 6.55am, ended around 10.35am after senior CR officers gave protesters a written assurance their problem would be discussed.
In a statement, Union railway minister Piyush Goyal said that Railways has already started the recruitment process at the national level and appealed to protesters to apply. All applicants will get a fair opportunity, he said. Meanwhile, the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena extended its support to protesters and a delegation of party workers will meet Goyal in New Delhi on Wednesda
“When we staged a protest on railway tracks in Delhi, we only received a verbal assurance. This is why we decided to protest in Mumbai and moved only after a written assurance was given. If Railways is not increasing reservation, it should then settle the issue with every apprentice,” said Shubham Tambat, who came from Jalgaon.
Mumbaiiites, however, were unprepared. Some were stuck for two hours in local trains. “I was stuck near Kurla for more than an hour because I was travelling to Ghatkopar. I jumped off the train and walked on the tracks. I had no idea about the rail roko, otherwise I?would not have stepped out,” said Kavita Anmol, a Currey Road resident.
The Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) operated 115 extra buses to help passengers outside Dadar station. Passengers at Thane, Kurla and Dadar complained of the non-availability of taxis and autorickshaws. “Why should people who disrupted train services be employed in railways?” said Subhash Gupta, president, Rail Yatri Parishad.