Thursday, June 19, 2014

Inhuman Working Conditions of Indian Railway Loco Drivers: Think about it when You Travel!

Indian Railways being a central government monopoly would perhaps be one of the  whole sole business opportunity that the unconcerned bureaucrats and technocrats associated with the Indian Railways mismanage to the core unwittingly due to various systemic lacunae associated with the whole system.

The railways have a tremendous potential for business enhancement because the demand for its services are much higher than the supply. Unfortunately, either due to incompetency or due to various deep rooted vested interests the railway authorities at the top and at the bottom seem to keep the Indian railway services as a matter of perpetual scarcity. Had they managed it well, it could have provided much more employment than the present in a much more decent manner, besides giving satisfaction to the millions of its users. Indians as a whole would have some thing to showcase and be proud of. But unfortunately it has not been so ever since India got independence.

As a railway user, I would not have felt it as a problem to pay a little more, had they enhanced the quality of services, its availability and its safety.

The railways in India is a monopolistic business directly run as a governmental organization unlike many other government controlled businesses. Once upon a time the telecom business was also a similar governmental monopolistic organization in India. Telecom sector has since been opened up to the private sector. Some how those in power do not want to try the telecom experiment with the railways and lose the power and privileges they have been enjoying even from the British Raj days!

I had written about the Indian railways in this forum in earlier occasions too. When governmental systems try to manage business it causes several challenges and those challenges cannot be addressed with a conventional mindset. It requires forceful people who could remove the lethargy of legacy in government. Unfortunately lethargic systems of people hardly facilitate that. Even those who are part of governance become unaware and helpless to effect changes because the systems blind them from understanding the root causes.

What tempted me to write about the Indian railways again is a news that appeared in the national newspapers a couple of days ago.

The news was regarding the pitiful working conditions of the Indian locomotive drivers. Perhaps this news was a small synopsis of a detailed doctoral thesis paper published in 2013 in the IOSR Journal of Business and Management titled Work Life of Indian Railway's Drivers (Loco Pilots)  authored by Dr Rajesh Ranjan and Dr T Prasad based on their detailed investigative studies. 

I recommend all those who are interested and concerned to have a reading of this research paper for themselves.

It is most unfortunate that the Indian authorities have not considered it to take any appropriate actions to fill up the acute shortage of loco pilots during the past years that the shortage as of now is reportedly to the tune of over 20,000. This has caused the train drivers who drive the goods and passenger trains in India to work much more time on a regular basis than what is humanly possible. It is reported that the heavy work load has made the loco pilots to work on an average 10 hours at a stretch now. 

Instead of enhancing the rolling stock to cater to the ever increasing demand, the authorities have been trying to enhance the use of the available rolling stock (loco engines, passenger coaches, goods wagons, etc) to maximum use, sometimes even necessitating compromise on their maintenance, safety, inspections and replacement of spares. Since they have been adopting a policy of decreasing the manpower for enhanced profits and cash generation, the availability of trained and experienced personnel has been on a continuous decline over the years. This has caused difficulties in using even the available equipment optimally. 

It is all the effect of some foolish management consultants propagating the idea of reducing man power for better business sense that has been percolating the corridors of power slowly in such a way that the conditions that existed at the time of the original proposal is no more valid as time elapsed in years. With some bureaucrats getting the idea later, become proponents of the idea much later when it is warranted the least, we land into a situation of complex and contradictory policies!  Effectively, such a scenario causes the governmental systems to work in an antagonist manner always. The resultant is a non functional government which is under constant ridicule by the informed citizens and facing the ire of the common citizens! Under such circumstances, citizens feel pity about their political leaders who head the railway ministry and keep parroting the verses taught by the officialdom under them as explanations to all the ills of the railways that people keep facing day in and day out! 

Some years back there was a report in the news papers regarding Indianization of imported high power locomotive engines as suggested by some of the 'enlightened' technocrats and bureaucrats of the railway ministry. The foreign supplier was delivering air conditioned locos with much facilities to the loco pilots as was the usual practice as per the international specifications.

But some individuals of the Indian techno-bureaucratic system that manages the Indian railways wrote their expert opinions in the concerned files advising against the air-conditioning. Perhaps that had forced the supplier to charge more for removing a standard facility from their advanced engines in order to Indianize them! Unfortunately such decisions that take place within the system of governance hardly get noticed and the concerned technocrats and bureaucrats are never questioned by any one for their so called wisdom! More over the Indian political bosses hardly have the competence to overrule the recommendations of the techno-bureau-financial expert recommendations always. Virtually more often they are contented to act as rubber stamps giving approvals without the ability to get themselves convinced as the representatives of the common man before they give their approvals or disapproval.

Is it not inhuman and cruel that the loco men and women have to keep entrapped in their engine rooms under hostile environment for hours at a stretch even without the facility to attend the nature's call? 

Who are to be blamed if their human bodies succumb to the tiresome situation and their eyelids close for a few seconds and miss the signals while the engine haul them at tremendous speeds exceeding 100 km/hr? 

Are they responsible or those who sit in cool and comfy cabins to write their own opinions on the files without ever understanding what the railway or the loco are? 

Fatal rail accidents are a common feature now-a-days in India. The railway administration is very keen to penalize the loco pilots for all accidents.

Are they responsible? 

To be very frank, I have never ever imagined in the past that our railway loco drivers are discharging their duties under such compelling circumstances.

I salute them. They are our heroes. But what about those who try to exploit our heroes?

Think about it when next time you travel by the Indian railways! 


  1. Now that the railway ministry has enhanced its transport service charges considerably, would it be appropriate to think that they would have now money to improve its working conditions both for its employees and its users?

  2. thanku sir, your words r 101% true. unfortunately rly admn not giving importance to safety of passengers.
    hope a good wkg condition we may get in future. christopher mascrene /sr;asst;loco pilot/ madurai division/SRLY

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