SKP: Station Masters are entrusted with multifarious responsibilities. I will talk of the main ones.
The Station Master has to oversee the operating as well as commercial staff working at the station, and hence has to maintain the Duty Muster, attend staff grievances and counsel them regarding safety rules, allot railway quarters, and so on.
He has to ensure the punctuality as well as safety of trains including those passing through at high speeds. This includes many things such as ensuring closure of gates, the line to be clear of obstructions, the proper taking of signals as well as the alertness of the train crew.
He is responsible for all rail traffic within the station limits, the corresponding signals, the passengers, the station work force as well as the railway property. He has to arrange for traffic maintenance blocks, planning and organizing the movement of track machines and other departmental trains and also ensure the movement of patrol men.
The SM has to ensure that injured passengers are tended to and that the First Aid boxes are filled. In case of an accident, the Station Master (SM) or Station Manager receives the reports as well as ensures the supply of food and drink to passengers and staff at the site of the accident.
He has to see to the clearing of dead bodies, coordinating with the police as well as ensuring the safety of railway property.
He is responsible for the cleanliness of not only the entire station premises but also the nearby railway colonies. He has to attend to passenger enquiries and grievances, ensuring availability of all passenger amenities at the station and their upkeep.
He has to check the daily cash, ensure its timely remittance, the issuing of tickets, etc.
The SM has to attend to various dignitaries visiting the station and provide necessary assistance to them, attend to various officers conducting inspection at their station etc. He has to maintain the dead stock register and cross check the items recorded in this register, get the furniture and other equipment repaired as per requirement, discard overage items and prepare necessary document etc.
MEL: What are the main problems faced by Station Masters of Indian Railways?
SKP: Perennial vacancy in our cadre is the biggest problem faced by SM’s. This places extra workload on us. High attrition rate is another concern. RRB recruitment and promotional recruitment to the Station Master cadre is a long drawn process and by this time the vacancies reaches up to 30%.
Lack of promotional avenue with just two grades in the cadre leaving only one chance for promotion in the entire life time is another problem. We have demanded at least four grades in the cadre so that any new recruit gets at least 3 promotions.
The classification of SM’s under Essentially Intermittent (EI) category under HOER (Hours of Employment Regulations) is not being upgraded in tune with increase in work load due to increase in train services and allied duties. EI category has to perform duty of 10-12 hours daily. Even with the increased train services and other additional responsibilities like ensuring cleaning of Station and Station premises, the Station Masters are still working in the Essentially Intermittent Roster. This is is not only a safety hazard but it deprives the SM’s of time to fulfil their social obligations.
75 percent of the Station Masters are working at non-suburban city limits and at least 40-50% stations are situated in inconvenient locations, in isolated areas bereft of medical and educational facilities. Provision of centralized accommodation at major stations is a long pending demand. Lack of proper transport facilities is another problem. Still they are invariably transferred once in 4 years as a public dealing sensitive category.
The number of LC Gates, public announcement system, safety meetings, number of registers to be maintained, various mandatory courses, training, periodical medical examinations and manpower requirements etc were never considered by the authorities showing their level of ignorance or application of mind or calculated duplicity.
Prior to commissioning of central panels, the SM used to deal with the trains with the co-operation of Cabin Men/ Switchmen posted at either end of the station. Thus, the responsibility for passing trains was equally distributed among three entities. However, with the dismantling of end cabins, the entire responsibility of train passing is on a single person i.e. on the SM! The Railway Board (RB) has agreed for provision of 2nd SM at station where traffic density has increased considerably. Though the initial RB order for posting of additional SM was issued in 2002 as per our demand and also recommendations of many committees, it has not been implemented in true spirit even after the lapse of 19 years.
The work load and responsibilities of Station Masters working at the busiest sections, major and busy stations have increased manifold. Thus, it becomes essential to post in charge SM or Station Superintendent (SS) at all the major and busy stations. Though the SS would be having an average of 15-20 staff as subordinates, he is left to do shift-duties like other Station Masters and while simultaneously toiling hard to fulfill his supervisory responsibilities. This is an ironical situation to which the railway administration has been turning a blind eye despite our numerous representations. It is having a demoralizing effect on the cadre of Station Superintendents.
In October 2020, Night Duty Allowance of employees having basic pay above Rs 43,600 was arbitrarily cancelled. We SM’s (as well as other staff in safety category such as loco pilots, guards etc.) have to carry out night duty till our retirement at the age of 60. Working in night duty is against nature and to withdraw the monetary compensation for this is extremely unjust.
Also in the present situation Station Masters are forced to report for duty even during pandemic lock down without being declared as ‘CORONA WARRIORS’. Those of us below 45 years have not been given preferential vaccination, which is our right.
MEL: Are there any contract workers employed as Station Masters in Indian Railways? What is the total number of Station Masters currently employed and what is the actual number sanctioned?
SKP: At present there are no contract workers in our category. There was a system of re-engagement of retired Station Masters with 50% of last drawn salary as wages. This is now stopped. I estimate that the actual strength is of Station Masters currently employed is only about 28,000 as against the sanctioned strength of about 35,000. So not only are there about 20% vacancies, but the number of sanctioned posts itself keeps going down by the process of surrendering them. On an average 5% of posts of SMs in every Division was surrendered in the year 2013!
MEL: How safe are the working conditions of Station Masters of Indian Railways?
SKP: Safety at work spot has been a concern for SM’s also. We get injured during supervision of shunting operations, during manual operation of signaling points, while practicing hand cranking of points, while exchanging signals with running train crew at stations where sufficient space to keep distance is not available, operation of OHE (Overhead Electrical) Isolation switch during emergency, mob attacks at stations etc. Many of our colleagues have died due to these injuries.
Recently we have suffered heavy loss of men due to the pandemic. More than 160 SM’s have already died due to Corona!
MEL: How do the safe working conditions of Station Masters affect the overall safety of the other railway workers and passengers?
SKP: Lack of safe and serene atmosphere at work spot for an SM is a potential threat to railway safety. Train operation within station limits and between stations is totally controlled by SM’s. Loco Pilots have the control of acceleration and deceleration of trains. The other part of driving namely steering is done by SM’s through altering route as well as by signaling. Safety is ensured by steering a train to a vacant line. Accidents happen when a train is directed to a line on which another train is waiting or running. Hence a small distraction during the duty of a SM can cause severe accidents. During failure of signaling assets, the duty of Station Masters is more crucial and there is every chance of a mishap unless one is extremely concentrated on the work. It is a vey strenuous job!
MEL: How has privatization affected the responsibilities of Station Masters?
SKP: Privatization in Railway service affects our category adversely by creating outsider interference in our duties that require a high degree of attention. As supervisors at station level, ensuring the conditions of contract work is an additional non-core activity on the heads of Station Masters. We also receive complaints on the quality of service provided by contractors. In future the employment of Station Masters is likely to be outsourced! This has already happened in Metro Railways.
MEL: What steps has your association taken to bring these problems to the notice of the railway authorities and what has been their response to solve the problems of Station Masters?
SKP: We have been taking up the issues with the administration at Divisional, Zonal and Railway Board level. The respective Executive Committees discuss the matter and pass resolutions. These are forwarded to the officers concerned. Meeting with officers and interacting over telephone are also resorted for immediate resolution of grievances. We also approach RLC, the legal forum, Pay Commissions to get our demands fulfilled.
Railway bureaucracy has always been intransigent on many of the issues raised by this Association. We were able to fetch some favourable orders on some of our grievances. At Zonal level and Divisional level the administration points out that we are not a recognized union of the Railways and they try to browbeat us.
MEL: Thank You Comrade Sunil Kumar or this very informative interview! We fully support the just demands of the Station Masters of the Indian Railways. It is necessary for all Railway workers as well as the entire working class to support these just demands.