Here is an instance that depicts the vulnerability of frontline workers such as the railway staff on duty at stations, checking lakhs of passengers, day in and day out. On Sunday afternoon, a man entered the Borivli station premises and the authorities checked his ID card and allowed him to proceed. That was the simplest part of the story. What happened next was breathtaking, for the railway employees, the unions and the administration and gave them cause for pause.
Around 12.15pm, the man had entered the suburban railway station of Borivli west, leading to platform 3. Sources said that after checking his ID card and other credentials, he was allowed to enter the platform, but shortly after that, he complained of breathlessness. “The railway police staff standing at the entrance came to his aid and held him firmly,” said sources in Western Railway.
He was then taken to a bench by a tree on the platform and asked to lie down. Sources said that later, the civic team subjecting long-distance passengers to Rapid Antigen Tests went to the location where the man was resting and the man tested positive.
“Around 12.45pm, an ambulance arrived and he was taken to the hospital,” said the WR official. By this time, the air grew thick with anxiety. As a precautionary measure, the railway staff immediately cordoned off the area and embarked on sanitising the platform, the seating area and the station entrance.
These are testing times for railway employees, who agree that such instances are worrying as there is no measure to check or test people coming in to board suburban local trains. Currently, there are 11-12 lakh passengers who are travel by local trains, boarding at various stations of Western Railway and there is no saying when a situation similar to the one described above could happen at any point.
Railway unions claim their employees are at high risk and authorities are not doing much. The railways is testing only those passengers arriving from other cities and states on long-distance trains. The unions say they have written letters to the administration in the Railway Board and even spoken to the highest authorities in the Railway ministry.
“Railway employees are at the frontline and every day, they come in contact with thousands of people. This time, in this second wave, the number of Covid cases has gone up, the availability of beds, medicines and injections at hospitals are a big issue due to its shortage. However, the administration is running trains as per the normal timetable,” said Sharif Pathan, President, Western Railway Mazdoor Sangh (WRMS).
Railway employees, right from the motormen, ticket-checking staff, railway police and those working in workshops have been complaining about the increasing cases of Covid among the staff and yet the work routine hasn’t changed much, barring offices, where only 50 per cent staff are called every day. The unions are demanding that their work schedule be changed.