Mazdoor Ekta Lehar (MEL) has been carrying out and publishing a series of interviews with the leaders of many category-wise associations in the Indian Railways, representing the loco pilots, guards, station masters, train controllers, signal and maintenance staff, track maintainers etc. Here in the sixth part of this series, we are presenting the information that our correspondent (MEL) gained from conversations with Com. Amzad Baig, Central President, and Com N. R. Sai Prasad, Central Organising Secretary, Media Centre, All India Pointsmen Association (AIPMA).
MEL: What are the main responsibilities of the pointsmen of Indian Railways?
AIPMA: First of all our Association, All India Pointsmen Association (AIPMA) would like to thank Mazdoor Ekta Lehar for placing our problems in front of the rail users and citizens of India.
The job of a pointsman is very critical for the safe running of railways. We have to exchange all right signals for trains passing through a railway station. While the Station Master stands on the railway platform while the train is passing through, we stand on the other side of the train and very often we have to stand on the tracks when there is no platform available. We have to observe the train while in motion and convey any abnormalities in the train’s movement to the Station Master, after the train has passed through. We also have to carry out attaching and detaching duties during shunting of trains and we have to carry out stabling of trains at railway stations and clamping of points in the presence of the Station Master.
MEL: What are the main problems faced by pointsmen of Indian Railways?
AIPMA: We face a number of problems in our work. We have to be on duty for 12 hours because we are classified in the Essentially Intermittent Category of Railway workers. But in certain divisions of the Indian Railways, we are categorised in the continuous category. As per the railways’ own rules, workers in the continuous category can be put to a maximum of 8 hours of duty per day. This was being violated in these divisions and it is only through the struggles of our association that we could ensure 8 hours duty for the pointsmen in these divisions. For the rest of the Indian Railways, our pointsmen have to be on duty 12 hours and this is very taxing on us, mentally and physically. Even though the nature of our work is highly risky, since we have to stand in the open most of the time, we are not getting any risk or hardship allowance. Also previously, four grades of pay structure were applicable to the pointsmen, Rs 2550/, Rs 2610/, Rs 2750/ and Rs 3050/; now this has been changed to only two grades of pay, namely, Rs 1800/ and Rs 1900/. As a result, 10% of pointsmen are in Rs. 1800/ grade and the remaining 90% are in Rs 1900/ grade pay.
MEL: How safe are the working conditions of pointsmen of the Indian Railways?
AIPMA: The working conditions are very unsafe for our category. For example, we are not given proper shelters with basic facilities of light and fan and there is not even an arrangement of a proper chair or bench for us while performing 12 hour duty. Many times there is no supervisor monitoring us while clamping and shunting and this has caused loss of our lives. On an average from 2016 onwards, 10 to 15 pointsmen are killed every year on duty. In addition we are not getting safety shoes and rain coats on a regular basis.
MEL: What is the total number of pointsmen currently employed in the Indian Railways? What is the actual sanctioned number of posts of pointsmen? How many of these workers are employed on contract?
AIPMA: After the track maintainers, the pointsmen are the second largest category of railway workers. Currently there are approximately 65,000 pointsmen working across the Indian Railways. The sanctioned number of posts is about 79,000 as per our knowledge. Due to the sensitive nature of our work, it is not possible to employ contract labour in our category.
MEL: Is there any move by the railway authorities to decrease the number of sanctioned posts of pointsmen by surrendering the posts?
AIPMA: All possible steps were taken by the administration to freeze the number of pointsmen. But a committee established by the Railways to enquire into how many accidents were averted by pointsmen found that the maximum number of accidents were averted by our category. After this they withdrew any action to reduce the number of pointsmen.
MEL: What steps has your association taken to bring these problems to the notice of the railway authorities and what has been their response?
AIPMA: All India Pointsmen Association (AIPMA) have given our representations to the administration at all levels, Board Level, Zone Level and Division Level. We also met the Executive Director of the Railway Board on 26.08.2019 after which they appointed a committee and this committee has submitted its report regarding our grievances; we are still waiting for final orders.
MEL: Thank You Comrades Amzad Baig and N. R. Sai Prasad for this very informative interview and we fully support the just demands of the Pointsmen of the Indian Railways. It is necessary for all Railway workers as well as the entire working class to support these just demands!