Railway porters now see a life of security

February 26th, 2008 - 8:10 pm ICT by admin  

By Prashant K. Nanda
New Delhi, Feb 26 (IANS) Tens of thousands of red-robed porters in rail stations across India had reasons to cheer Tuesday as Railway Minister Lalu Prasad agreed to induct them as employees - giving them a life of security and belonging. Disgusted with being called “coolies” - a legacy of the British Raj and a sad reminder of the days of slavery - the daily-wagers were elated after learning that they will be inducted to oversee unmanned railway crossings and do other sundry duties.

“This means I will be a permanent employee of the Indian Railways,” exclaimed Mahik Ram, 42, from Rajasthan, as he showed his license tied to his biceps. “It was hard to accept that you are an outsider in the system you serve.

“I heard the announcement on TV. All of us are happy. We will be gangmen. We can send more money to our families,” Ram told IANS, his voice almost choking, as a group of fellow porters at the New Delhi Railway Station - India’s busiest - cheered and clapped.

Ram is among an estimated 38,000 licensed porters who will benefit from Lalu Prasad’s move. Railway officials said inducting the porters would help in meeting the manpower needs, given the shortage of 140,000 Class D personnel.

Licensed porters - who play a vital role in the life of the millions of train passengers — are not employees of Indian Railways. They are merely contracted to offer their services to passengers. Officials said porters could be easily inducted because they are familiar with the working of the railways.

“The bond between the passengers and the porter is ages old. The porters deserve respect for they are engaged in service day in and day out,” Lalu Prasad said in his budget speech.

“In view of the long-pending demand of licensed porters, we have decided on a one-time basis to appoint them as gangmen and to other Group D posts after due screening,” he announced.

“A large number of vacancies will arise due to promotion of gangmen as gatemen for manning unmanned level crossing gates.”

He said porters belong to several underprivileged sections, including Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, other backward classes, minorities and other weaker sections of society. Accordingly, they deserved the government’s support.

Ram Khilari, another porter at the same station, said his relatives had already called him to ask when he would get the promotion.

“Lalu has given us respect. What other ministers promised, he has delivered,” Khilari said.

Ram Kumar, who hails from Bihar, the home state of the railway minister, said he saw for the first time a minister understanding the pain of ordinary people like him.

“I earn Rs.5,000 a month - that is, if I can work on all 30 days. Now, I can earn more and have the assurance that my family and I will not go hungry if I take ill or am unable to work.”

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