The Indian Railways is reeling under a crushing staff shortage with 3.12 lakh non-gazetted posts lying vacant across the country, spread across 18 zones, as on December 1, 2022. This was disclosed by Ashwini Vaishnaw, Minister of Railways, Communications, Electronics and Information Technology, in response to a starred question in the Rajya Sabha.
The maximum posts are vacant in the northern zone (38,754), followed by the western (30,476), eastern (30,141), and central zones (28,650).
In late November last year, the National Railway Mazdoor Union (NRMU) of the Central Railway staged a peaceful protest at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in front of Divisional Railway Manager’s office after duty hours to express discontent over the vacancies.
In the Central Railway, of the 28,650 vacant posts, almost 50% of the vacancies (14,203) are in the safety category that primarily include operating and maintenance staff, such as inspectors of various kinds, drivers, train examiners, shunters, amongst several others.
Non-gazetted posts include a range of employment categories, from engineers and technicians to clerks, station masters, ticket collectors, and more.
The inability to fill posts has led to employees working over-time. A 29-year-old employee working in the Central Railway ticket booking office in Mumbai, said, “I have been working double shifts for up to 16 hours at a stretch, because we don’t have staff to relieve us. I have not been able to take leave to study, because of staff shortage.” The employee is preparing for his law exams and hopes for an inter-departmental transfer to the legal section, once he passes.
The shortage of staff has led to numerous ticket booking windows being rendered non-operational, leading to long queues and congestion. “This has also led to outsourcing of ticketing services. The railways employs private parties who earn ₹3 on every ₹100 worth of tickets sold outside the ticket booking window. The job should have been done by the railway staff in the first place,” an NRMU employee said.
According to the official response tabled by the Ministry of Railways in parliament, “Occurrence and filling up of vacancies is a continuous process and the vacancies are filled by way of promotion and also through placement of indents with recruiting agencies as per operational requirements.”
The response further stated, “Recruitment process for filling up 35,281 direct recruitment vacancies... for Non-Technical Popular Categories has been completed.”