Violence by railway job aspirants: Exams suspended, grievance panel set up, minister appeals for calm
New Delhi, Jan 26: The Railways suspended its NTPC and Level 1 exams on Wednesday after the candidates went on a rampage in some states alleging irregularities in the process whilst minister Ashwini Vaishnaw urged them not to destroy public property and assured redressal of their grievances. The suspension of exams and the statement by the minister are being seen in certain quarters as a step down from the earlier decision to bar applicants found indulging in vandalism given that elections are due in five states, including the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh.
"I am telling the aspirants that this is their own property. Why are they destroying something that is their own? However, authorities will follow due process if public property is damaged," Vaishnaw said at a press conference. The Railway Ministry formed a high-level committee, headed by Deepak Peter Gabriel, the principal executive director of industrial relations in the ministry, to examine the aspirants' grievances.
Sources say it was the protests by the job aspirants in Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh for two days and the fear that the agitation may fan out in other parts of the country through the aggressive social media campaigns being run by the candidates forced the Railways' hand. Bihar, home to a majority of the job aspirants, saw violent protests for the third day in a row. A crowd stormed the Gaya Junction and set on fire the Bhabhua-Patna InterCity Express. But nobody was injured.
East Central Railway CPRO Rajesh Kumar told PTI-Bhasha, "The rakes were empty and parked inside the yard when miscreants set a coach on fire. It has not resulted in disruption of rail traffic." In Sitamarhi, police fired in the air to disperse the demonstrators at the railway station. Protests were also reported from Patna, Nawada, Muzaffarpur, Buxar and Bhojpur districts.
In Uttar Pradesh, police arrested two persons and lodged a case against around 1,000 unidentified people for allegedly rioting and blocking the train tracks. Six police personnel were suspended with immediate effect for using unnecessary force on Tuesday. A police official said it appears the accused had taken "money from some political parties" to cause unrest.
Police were also probing the incident from this angle. A video of the incident surfaced on social media, following which Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra condemned the use of force against the protesting job aspirants. She added the government should put a stop to the action of entering the hostels of students for carrying out searches and damaging property.
Rahul Gandhi said students were the hope of their families and the country and asserted that if independence can be taken through non-violent opposition then why not rights. In an attempt to placate the candidates, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said his ministry is in touch with chief ministers and the issue is being handled "sensitively". "I urge the candidates to put forth their grievances formally. Our intention is to resolve this issue quickly.
A committee has been formed and it will examine representations by the candidates," he said. Vaishnaw urged the aspirants not to take the law into their hands and promised to "seriously address their grievances and concerns". He said all Railway Recruitment Board chairpersons have been asked to listen to the concerns of candidates and send them to the panel. "An email address has been set up for this purpose.
The panel will go to different parts of the country and listen to the grievances," he said. The candidates are opposing the Railways' decision to hold the exam in two stages, claiming the second stage for final selection tantamount to "cheating" those who appeared and cleared the first stage of the Railways' Non-Technical Popular Categories (NTPC) for computer-based test released on January 15.
Around 1.25 crore candidates had applied for the exams that had advertised over 35,000 posts from levels 2 to 6. It is being alleged that the exam is designed to favour those with a higher qualification, even for jobs that require lesser qualification. However, Vaishnaw said, "The employment notification has legal sanctity. For those with grievances, we have to find a solution and deal with sensitivity. We cannot legally bar graduates from applying to posts which require 10+2 qualification." Of the total vacancies, 24,281 are open to graduates and 11,000 for under-graduates.
These posts, segregated in groups based on 7th CPC pay-scale levels from two to six, include that of train assistants, guards, junior clerks, timekeepers and station masters. For a Level 2 job, the starting pay is about Rs 19,000 and one requires to be a Class 12 pass, while for a level six post like station master, with a starting pay of about Rs 35,000, graduation is a must. Railways said shortlisting of candidates has been done separately for each level based on options exercised and educational qualification. "For second stage computer-based test of each level, candidates have been called 20 times the community-wise vacancies notified against each RRB," the minister said.
Based on merit obtained in the second stage CBT, candidates will be shortlisted for the third stage in which eight times the number of vacancies will be called. The final result will contain a unique list of 35,281 notified vacancies and no one will be appointed against more than one post. The CBT 2 exam, for which 7 lakh candidates have been shortlisted, was scheduled for February 14 and 18. The tests now stand suspended. PTI