Railways depriving loco drivers of sleep
For Lack Of Rules, Pilots End Up Working As Many As 15 Nights Without Break
Mahendra Kumar Singh TNN
New Delhi: The next time you board a train, spare a thought for its driver. He could well be doing duty for the past 15 nights.
Ironically, there is no upper limit in the railways rulebook on the number of night duties to be done by the engine crew despite data from major rail accidents pointing to the fact that most mishaps take place between early night and late morning.
The weekly rest provisions for locomotive drivers are vague. These talk of giving drivers a 30-hour rest four times or 22-hour rest five times in a calendar month. But the provisions are silent on the gap between two rests.
Faced with a severe staff shortage, coupled with the fact that most trains run also during night hours, railways is being forced to put most of its drivers on night duty for long periods.
As of now, around 60,000 loco drivers are running more than 19,000 trains as there is a 20% vacancy in the 82,000 sanctioned posts.
The dangers of such a situation are obvious. For instance, the engine crew roster for Hampi Express which collided with a stationary train suggests that the driver had run 23 trains in 19 days of which 12 were full-night, three half-night and seven full-day duties. This means the driver had undisturbed sleep in only seven days in the past three weeks.
The crew roster for Kanpur shows that a driver has to run 16 trains in 15 days, of which 15 are full-night. Under the rules, they are not allowed to break for food, refreshment or answer nature’s call during duty hours.
Though railways has blamed ‘human error’ on the part of drivers for recent train accidents, the increasing number of deaths on rail tracks has exposed the glaring negligence in safety measures, including a large number of vacancies for loco pilots.
The drivers’ association claimed that around 3,000 drivers are stationary as they are assigned petty clerical or personal assistant jobs and 4,000-5,000 are medically unfit. Indian Railway Loco Running Men Organisation accused the management of making a scapegoat of drivers, and said the real culprits were the unjust duty hours.
All talk of introducing modern technology to enhance safety in the railways seems farcical given the fact that even something as basic as ensuring adequate rest for the men behind the machines is so callously neglected. Considering that the lives of lakhs of passengers who travel by the railways every day is in the hands of these loco drivers, their remaining alert at all times is crucial. That can hardly be expected if they are fatigued and sleep deprived. Safety apart, there is the issue of the right of the loco drivers to decent working conditions. Surely the government that lays down labour norms for all should at the very least ensure that its own entities provide decent working conditions. Clearly, the vacancies need to be filled, the sooner the better. For the full report, log on to www.timesofindia.com
Publication: The Times Of India Delhi;
Date: May 31, 2012;
Section: Times Nation;