The standing committee on the railways had warned the ministry in December 2019 that lack of people on the job was having a negative impact on inspection routines, adding that it was a grave lapse in ensuring safety of rail traffic. Now, three years later, over 280 people have been killed and more than 800 injured in the Odisha triple train crash.
The Bahanaga Bazar railway station in Odisha, where the accident took place, is under the South Eastern Railway (SER). News18 accessed the data on the number of vacant railway posts in this zone. As of February 2023, out of 96,582 sanctioned non-gazetted posts in the SER, 17,811 are vacant. Further, out of 937 sanctioned gazetted posts, 150 are vacant.
The standing committee, while speaking about inspection and maintenance of bridges, had highlighted the massive number of vacancies. “…The committee, much to its chagrin, found that there exists a very high rate of vacancies in this category of staff. Against a sanctioned strength of 7,669, the actual strength is only 4,517 indicating a vacancy of around 40 percent. Admittedly, lack of manpower has negatively affected their inspection routine and most acutely in the Northeast Frontier Railway. The committee feels that this is a grave lapse on part of the ministry in ensuring safety of rail traffic,” the 2019 report states.
Over 3.12 lakh non-gazetted posts vacant in railways
As of February 2023, at least 3,12,039 non-gazetted posts are vacant in the railways, shows ministry data accessed by News18. Out of all zones, the northern zone has the highest vacancy of 39,059.
The number of vacancies have constantly increased in the last few years. Data shows a total of 2,95,684 non-gazetted posts were vacant till June 2022 while the number was 2.86 lakh in December 2021.
The ministry has 14.74 lakh sanctioned non-gazetted posts across different zones, shows data up to February. Against 18,833 sanctioned gazetted posts, at least 2,885 are vacant.
A ministry official told News18 that vacancies and filling them up was an ongoing process. “Railways is a large organisation. Vacancies keep arising; it is an ongoing process. Posts fall vacant as people retire, resign or in case of death. Filling up such vacancies is a continuous process,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The official, however, refused to connect the number of job vacancies with the committee’s warning and the latest accident. “Vacancies are not hampering work and functioning of railways. In each zone, people are hired on contractual basis if vacancies start impacting work. The accident or mishaps don’t have anything to do with these vacancies,” said a ministry official requesting anonymity.
The officials further said the ministry was also outsourcing non-core activities and hiring contracting agencies for execution of projects that are not permanent in nature. Every year, a great section of permanent employees in the railways retire; between 2019 and 2022-23, over 2.26 lakh employees retired, they added.