Mumbai: A few hundred railway job-seekers caught Central Railway (CR) by surprise, resulting in a virtual paralysis of Mumbai’s lifeline, the suburban train service, for over three hours here on Tuesday morning. The agitation also turned violent as some protesters pelted stones, leading to a police baton charge to disperse them.
The morning peak hour suburban and long-distance train services were severely disrupted as hundreds of protesters squatted on the railway tracks between Matunga and Dadar on the CR to press for their demands pertaining to railway apprentices’ recruitment.
Rattled by the sudden crisis, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal held emergency meetings and announced that 20 percent posts in railway establishments are already reserved for those who have cleared the All India Railway Act Apprentice Exams.
“This has been done as per the various judgements by the Supreme Court from time to time. Applicants who completed the apprenticeship course have also been given an age relaxation equal to the period of apprenticeship,” he announced in New Delhi.
Goyal added the Indian Railways was in the midst of a massive recruitment exercise and had “come out with a policy to ensure a fair, transparent and competitive recruitment process that follows the law and the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court”.
In Mumbai, a CR spokesperson said that there was no provision as per the Apprentice Act of giving job to apprentices who are only trained for a specific period to hone their skills and gain experience.
“However, the Ministry of Railways has taken a decision and reserved 20 per cent of the seats filled through direct recruitment. The notification is already issued with the last date of submitting application on March 31. Apprentices can apply against this notification and Special Examination will shortly be held for apprentices who have done training in Railway Workshops under the Apprentices Act,” the spokesperson said.
After the intervention of the top CR offiials and a written assurance, the protesters withdrew the agitation around 10.45 am and the highly-vulnerable system started limping back to normal.
The agitation’s cascading effect led to massive overcrowding on the Western Railway (WR), as trains ran packed, traffic jams on roads linking Mumbai with the mainland and the Eastern Express and Western Express Highways slicing through the country’s commercial capital.
More than 4.5 million commuters were badly hit for the second consecutive day following a strike called on Monday by drivers of cab aggregators and app-based taxis.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis told the assembly that as the agitators became violent and pelted stones, police resorted to a “mild” baton-charge to control them.
At least five of the protestors and 11 police personnel including some women officers, were injured in the fracas as helpless Mumbaikars watched the unfolding drama.
The protests were carried out by activists of the All India Act Apprentice Association (AIAAA) who demanded scrapping of the 20 per cent quota for direct recruitment and jobs for local candidates in all states who have cleared the AIRAA exams.
Shiv Sena MP from Mumbai Rahul Shewale met top CR officials to resolve the situation and later said that the railways would hire over 12,400 candidates who have cleared the AIRAA exams.
The protests disrupted the entire suburban and long distance railway train schedules in Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Raigad, and Pune with commuters stranded for hours as the BEST chipped in with extra buses at various points to clear the rush.
The opposition Congress and Nationalist Congress Party demanded a discussion on the issue in the legislature on a priority basis and the circumstances leading to the baton charge on the protesters, while Maharashtra Navnirman Sena President Raj Thackeray held a meeting with the agitation leaders.
The protests hit college students who started their University of Mumbai’s BA, B.Com and B.Sc. examinations on Tuesday, but the authorities permitted an extra hour to enable the candidates reach their exam centres.
The agitation threw the schedules of Mumbai’s famous Dabbawalas, whose army of tiffin-carriers were stranded at various CR stations right from Kalyan in Thane to Dadar in Mumbai, though deliveries continued normally on the WR, said Mumbai Dabbawalas Association spokesperson Subhash Talekar.
Meanwhile, Rail Yatri Parishad chief Subhash Gupta attacked the railways for “complete intelligence failure” to anticipate the agitation that left CR crippled for over three hours.
According to some reports, the agitation was being planned since December and over 25,000 aspirants were contacted all over India on social media networks.