Gangmen’s lot: 3 yrs, 57 deaths after lives of servitude
They weather harsh conditions to make railway tracks usable, their lives depending on the person holding a signal to alert incoming trains. The signal does not always work, as figures show.
In the last three years, 57 gangmen have been run over by trains while working on the suburban tracks. Of these, 47 deaths have been on Central Railway tracks; the rest on Western Railway tracks.
In life, too, gangmen live in pathetic conditions. They have no career growth to look forward to, and most of them work as domestic servants for railway officials.
In 2008-2009, the death toll rose alarmingly along both lines. The reason, said officials, is that during that period there were no flagmen warning them of approaching trains. There is a shortage of flagmen, said officials.
Since April this year, CR has had eight more deaths while WR saw the death of Ram Dev on May 22. Ram Dev was hit by the Bandra-Patna Express between Mira Road and Bhayander. In the absence of a flagman, he didn’t get the crucial signal. A group of gangmen had protested at Borivali station.
WR gangmen allege a shortage of staff but administration figures say there is no vacancy. In Central Railway, there are 26 vacancies, officially.
According to S Mudgerikar, CPRO, CR, “Vacancies are not the only reason. Even a slight loss of concentration can prove fatal. We have given top priority to filling up vacancies. A large number of licensed porters have been absorbed as gangmen.”
Ajay Singh, divisional secretary of National Railway’s Mazdoor Union, listed the alleged vacancies. “Forty-one are at Dadar section, three at Andheri and 71 at Borivali,” he said. “Administration figures cite a surplus of 105 at Bhayandar section. Actually there is none; two additional lines were laid and the Railway Board created 178 additional posts.”
A gangman’s career leaves him a gangman all his life. He cannot get a promotion beyond cadre, though he may be called a keyman, mate or flagman. In rare cases, after departmental exams, they are promoted to permanent way inspectors (now called section engineers). Most never get quarters.
Then there is domestic work. “It is our destiny to wash the clothes of officials and their families , and escort their children to school and back. If we don’t obey them, they mistreat us,” said Devi Prasad (name changed). He is a graduate.