Bureaucratic tangles keeping railway gatekeepers from getting permanent jobs

Tamanna Yesmin left her post at Harishankarpur level-crossing in Kushtia to join fellow temporary railway gatekeepers for their “fast unto death” programme, which enters its 8th day today. “We’ve been serving the railways for so long, do we not deserve some return?” a tearful Tamanna told journalists, demanding permanent status of their jobs. Photo: Prabir Das

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Tamanna Yesmin left her post at Harishankarpur level-crossing in Kushtia to join fellow temporary railway gatekeepers for their “fast unto death” programme, which enters its 8th day today. “We’ve been serving the railways for so long, do we not deserve some return?” a tearful Tamanna told journalists, demanding permanent status of their jobs. Photo: Prabir Das

Tamanna Yesmin, a temporary railway gatekeeper, was supposed to be working at Harishankarpur level-crossing on Kushtia section to ensure safe passage of trains.

But along with two-three hundreds of her fellow gatekeepers, Yasmin has been in the middle of a “fast unto death” for the last six days, demanding permanent status for their jobs.

But the railway authorities, for whom they have been working for more than four years, haven’t felt any obligation to visit the spot in front of Dhaka Divisional Railway Manager’s office beside Kamalapur Rail Station — where they’re fasting — to check up on them or provide them with assurances.

The protesting gatekeepers mentioned that their colleagues have been working extra hours to keep train operations normal.  

Over the last seven days, more than 100 temporary railway gatekeepers participating in the “fast unto death” have fallen ill, with six of them in critical condition. Photo: Prabir Das

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Over the last seven days, more than 100 temporary railway gatekeepers participating in the “fast unto death” have fallen ill, with six of them in critical condition. Photo: Prabir Das

“We’ve been serving the railways for so long, do we not deserve some return?” Tamanna told this correspondent yesterday, in a choked voice. She is one of 1,889 gatekeepers appointed under two railway projects that Bangladesh Railway (BR) took up to rehabilitate and improve level crossings.

They were appointed in early 2018 and provided Tk 14,450 (Tk 500 more for workers in metropolitan areas) as monthly salary without any rise in last four years. But the gatekeepers have been demanding that their jobs be brought under BR’s revenue budget, claiming that the prime minister gave such directive at an Ecnec meeting.

Over the last seven days, more than 100 workers have fallen ill, with six in critical condition, said Al Mamun, a leader of the platform that organised the demonstration.

On the first day, Jahangir Hossain, general manager (east) of BR, came to the spot and asked them to withdraw their programme, saying that a process is underway but it’s going to take time, said Mamun.  However, the workers decided to continue as the GM didn’t provide a deadline.

While visiting the spot, this correspondent found around 200 workers present there. Some of them were sleeping, while an ambulance was seen taking two of them to hospital.

Tamanna, one of the 325 female gatekeepers, joined the demonstration on February 28. “Working as a railway gatekeeper is difficult for women. We tried to do our best, but now we’re passing uncertain days under open sky.”

WHAT IS BR DOING?

Around 70 percent of 1,412 authorised level crossings do not have dedicated staffers, according to recent BR data. Besides, there’s another 1,149 unauthorised level crossings which have no gatekeepers at all.

In June 2015, BR took up two projects — for its east and west zones — with a provision to hire 1,889 gatekeepers by outsourcing the recruitment process to an external company, sources said.

But as the project came across an Ecnec meeting, it directed BR to appoint the gatekeepers instead of hiring them through outsourcing as “sincerity and accountability is required for this job”.

After this, BR moved to appoint the 1,889 gatekeepers and completed all infrastructure-related work for it.

But when BR sent a proposal to bring them under the revenue budget, the public administration ministry rejected it — citing a 2004 finance ministry circular that prevents bringing project workers to the revenue budget.

In July 2020, the railways ministry re-sent the proposal. But the public administration ministry sent it back — seeking amendment to the proposal — which is still under process.

This led BR to work on sending a proposal to the Prime Minister’s Office to bring changes to the 2004 finance ministry circular.

On February 17 this year, BR Director General Dhirendra Nath Mazumder wrote to the railway ministry to take steps so that the projects continue unhindered.

Contacted, Rail secretary Humayun Kabir asked this correspondent to talk to the DG over the issues.

Meanwhile, additional director general (operations) Sardar Shahadat Ali asked this newspaper to talk to ADG (infrastructure) as the matter is not under his purview.

Despite attempts, ADG (infrastructure) Quamrul Ahsan didn’t pick up his phone.

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