Accusing Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla of being biased against them, train drivers, or loco pilots, of Northern Railway (NR) have alleged that Birla uses his political clout whenever a new train is launched between the NR and the West Central Railway (WCR) zone to help WCR train drivers get rights to run it.
NR loco pilots’ association says that over the past few years, three new trains were introduced by the India Railways between NR and WCR and Birla ensured that WCR’s Kota division, which happens to be his parliamentary constituency, got the running rights of all three.
More recently, on August 24, 2022, when the India Railways introduced a new train between New Delhi and Indore, which passes through three railway zones—NR, North Central Railway and WCR—the NR issued a notification and allocated it to the loco pilots of its zone. But when the NR drivers took the train to the Gangapur City station in the Kota division of WCR, they were allegedly forced to vacate the engine.
In retaliation, the NR drivers allegedly did not allow the WCR drivers to use running rooms at Delhi’s Nizamuddin station, which falls under NR, and made them wait outside for hours.
“The drivers of Kota division forcibly removed NR pilots from the engine and took hold of the train. They drove it to Indore from there,” alleges V.P. Narayan, joint secretary, Indian Railway Loco Runningmen Organisation (IRLRO).
“They have the blessings of Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla sir which they openly boast about,” he adds,
Ultimately, under the instruction of the Railway Board, senior office-bearers of the two zones met on September 7 and brokered an agreement under which the new New Delhi-Indore train would go to WCR drivers but NR got the running rights to two other trains which were earlier with WCR.
In the minutes of the meeting, a copy of which is with Outlook, the disharmony among drivers is quite apparent as it reads: “The Crew and Guard of Delhi Division (of NC) were put on LR (learning road) duty but it was learned that the above staff was not allowed by WCR Crew/Guards/Station staff for the same.”
“Just a day before this crucial meeting in the Railway Board, the office-bearers of employees union of WCR met Om Birla and circulated the pictures on social media to flaunt their political connection,” says Narayan.
He even points out that in 2019, Birla had got the Railway Board’s notification amended overnight and got Nanda Devi Express allocated to WCR which originally was with NR.
“We request Om Birla sir that instead of helping one zone, which happens to be within his constituency, he should use his clout in India Railways to frame a proper policy for the allocation of trains to various zones and divisions,” says a loco pilot, requesting anonymity.
Outlook reached out to Birla’s office but did not get a response.
Fight For Running Rights
A tussle between train drivers of different zones of the Indian Railways to get the running rights of newly launched trains is an age-old one. Whenever a new train is launched, drivers’ lobbies of the concerned railway zones and divisions where the train passes through try to obtain the rights to run it from the originating station to the final destination.
Drivers get around Rs 5 per km as train running allowance. Their promotion to mail and express trains also depends on their running hours and driving experience on goods and local trains. Fewer express and mail trains in a particular zone means limited opportunity for promotion.
These tussles often result in fights. For instance, when the Nanda Devi Express was launched between Dehradun and Kota via Delhi in August 2019, on the very first day, the drivers of the two zones got into an ugly brawl at one of the stations when the train entered the WCR.
Sanjay Pandhi, working president of IRLRO, says that there is no well-reasoned policy made by the Railway Board to address the issue of balancing the kilometre running of trains by drivers of various zones.
“As a matter of practice, loco pilots of the railway division of the originating station of the train get the driving rights. But the problem comes with the divisions like Delhi where very few trains originate from,” Pandhi said.
The majority of trains either originate from other stations and come to Delhi or pass through Delhi to get to other destinations. In such a situation, the drivers of the Delhi division in the NR zone get fewer kilometre to drive as compared to other zones which impacts their allowances and promotion scope, as mentioned earlier.
“Ad-hoc measures, like the one that the Railway Board worked out on September 7 in the Delhi-Indore train, will not work as a permanent solution. The problem will crop up in other divisions sooner or later. There is a need to constitute an expert committee to examine the issue and then balance the kilometre of all divisions in the interest of drivers as well as the safety of passengers,” opines Pandhi.