10 Vande Bharat drivers attend Modi's oath ceremony; union demands improved work conditions

NewsDrum Desk
New Update

New Delhi, Jun 9 (PTI) A loco pilots' union hailed the decision to honour 10 Vande Bharat drivers by inviting them to the swearing-in ceremony of the third Modi government on Sunday, while also reiterating its long-pending demand to improve drivers' working conditions.

After the Railway Board selected the Vande Bharat loco pilots -- four women and six men -- from 10 railway zones to attend the oath-taking ceremony, the union expressed satisfaction for making them a part of the historic event.

The women drivers who attended the event are Surekha Yadav, India's first female train driver from the Central Railway; Preeti Sahu from the West Central Railway; Srini Shrivastava for the North Eastern Railway and Aishwarya Menon from the Southern Railway.

The six others are ASP Tirkey (South Eastern Railway), Sneh Singh Baghel (South East Central Railway), N Prakash (South Central Railway), Lalith Kumar (South Western Railway), Surendra Pal Singh (Northern Railway) and Satya Raj Mandal (Northeast Frontier Railway).

"We welcome the decision of the government but these symbolic measures don't bring real relief to the frontline workers. Loco pilots, especially the female ones, have pathetic working conditions and all our demands have fallen on deaf ears of the government as of now," M Thirumurugan, secretary general of the Indian Railway Loco Runningmen Organisation (IRLRO), said.

The Indian Railway has more than 1.27 lakh loco pilots who are engaged in driving various types of passenger and freight trains such as inter-city, superfast, mail, express as well as semi-high speed.

"Drivers are deprived of the basic facilities of lunch break and washroom break while they are on duty for nine hours which often get stretched to 15 to 16 hours," Thirumurugan said.

The women's wing of the IRLRO too raised several issues such as the lack of toilet facilities in engines, the inability to change menstruation pads, mandatory provision to get out of the engine to attend to any technical glitch even at night and no pick-up and drop-off facility for late-night duties among others.

"Women are facing multiple miscarriages due to the nature of the job. They are not able to get nursing break facilities due to long-running duty in violation of maternity benefit law," a female loco pilot and office bearer of the IRLRO said.

Currently, over 1,500 women are working as loco pilots and assistant loco pilots in various railway zones across the country and they have been raising their issues with the Railway Board through various railway unions and federations.

Women drivers say that the railways is coming up with new locos with washroom facilities in new trains like the Vande Bharat, but it will take ages to replace the old ones.

They complained that they have to drink minimum water so that they don't need to use a toilet and this causes various diseases. A group of female loco pilots gave a representation to the Railway Board chairperson Jaya Varma Sinha, highlighting their plight and demanding "a one-time cadre change" option.

The Ministry of Labour has recently constituted a high-powered committee to work out the modalities "to provide defined time intervals for food and attending calls of the nature while on duty for the loco running staff of the Indian Railways". PTI JP JP IJT IJT