The workers of the Signal and Telecom (S&T) Department play a vital role in the operation of trains, though in general, they do not come in contact with the passengers. The Signal and Telecom Department of the Indian Railways ensures the timely and safe arrival of trains. It maintains the smooth operation of the communication system. This includes the communication between the train controller and the station master as well as that between different stations. The Telecom Department conveys information about the movement of the train at the station and also controls train speeds. The functioning of this department is necessary for the smooth running of trains.
The Telecom Department runs all the railway helplines. It provides the Internet link to the passengers for purchase of their tickets. It is responsible for all the CCTV cameras, it informs passengers about platforms, coaches and timings and timetables through the digital medium. It provides the Wi-Fi facilities. Along with luggage scanners, web scanners and display boards for passengers and display boards for entertainment, digital display of the chart is also managed by this department. The workers carry out the critical function of maintaining all this equipment.
Workers in S&T department are ruthlessly overworked, like workers in other departments of the Indian railways. There is an acute shortage in the number of workers in crucial departments of the Indian Railways (IR). Many vacancies are left unfulfilled. In the S & T department this problem has reached unimaginable proportions. At present, only about 21,000 Group C and 20,000 Group D employees are employed in this department in the entire Indian Railways. However, according to Yard Stick 2010, there are about 65,000 Group C and 58,000 Group D sanctioned posts. This indicated that about two-thirds of the posts are vacant in this department. Due to the insistence of the unions, the Railway Board had passed an order as far back as in 2018 for direct recruitment for 15% in the grade 1 of signal technician, but not a single post has been filled so far.
Thousands of posts are being surrendered in this department every year by the administration. Various posts are gradually being abolished though these functions continue to be performed and the department needs these workers.
This is one of the biggest problems faced by the workers of the S & T Department, and like in so many other departments, this adversely affects the safety of passengers as well as has disastrous effects on the health and well-being of the workers. The HOER 2005 (Hours of Employment and Period of Rest Rules 2005) is frequently violated. This increases the burden manifold on the workers. There is no duty roster in their department. A worker who is resting or enjoying some leisure with this family after working all day is called any time to attend to a failure in the system.
The workers have been demanding for years that a night failure gang be establishment in every unit. This team would fix failure in the night in the vicinity of four-five stations. This would completely eliminate mistakes committed by a tired, sleepy employee who has worked all day. But the authorities do not seem to care.
In the coming days, the problem of staff shortage is going to get even more severe as the speed of trains is increased and technology is upgraded.
Extremely unsafe working conditions. The work of correcting cable maintenance and failure has to be done along the rail track. How dangerous their working conditions are is evident from the fact that more than 80 workers have lost their lives at work in just four years. They work on a 440 volt direct live circuit as well as near AC traction of 25,000 volt. Many times they suffer from electric shocks at the signal post.
When the signal equipment fails, a lot of pressure is put on the workers in various ways to fix it quickly. This may result in mistakes or slipshod work. After this if there is an accident, people lose their jobs. Many times, the pressure to reach the site is so much that it results in accidents and even loss of lives. Without sufficient information about the movement on the tracks workers are liable to get run over. And at the time of failure, they also have to face the anger of the general public. At times, they are also attacked and several workers have lost their lives.
Privatisation is being gradually implemented. Now in many zones, the responsibility of maintenance of signal and telecom equipment has been given to private companies. They take the money but do not keep men for work, so the rail workers have to do it themselves, adding to their burden.
Staff shortage and the resulting increase in workload is their biggest problem. The Indian Railway Signal and Telecom Maintainers’ Union (IRSTMU) has communicated this to various levels of authority through various forums, including meetings with the former CRB (Chief of the Railway Board) Ashwani Lohani at different stations – Chakradharpur, Gandhinagar, Kota, Indore and in Bandikui. Apart from this, their team had twice elaborated all their problems to the former CRB and they have sought a meeting with the new CRB / CEO Railway Board. They have also been fighting to get the Risk and Hardship Allowance. They are also insisting that every unit should be equipped with a four-wheel vehicle so that in the event of failure, they could do the restorations work as quickly as possible.
Indian Railways cares neither for the safety of its workers nor of passengers. It is not just not filling the existing vacancies but it is abolishing the number of posts. The use of contract work for both skilled and unskilled work is now rampant in Indian Railways. Working conditions for existing workers are getting worse. Rail workers deserve the support of all the working people of the country in their struggle to oppose this very dangerous trend.