Explained: Why there are violent protests against the new railway recruitment process

Bihar, home to the majority of job applicants, saw violent protests for the third day in a row as a mob set fire to a train in Gaya.

The railroads suspended their NTPC and Level 1 exams on Wednesday, January 26, after protests by candidates in some states alleging irregularities in the process turned violent. Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw urged protesters not to destroy public property and ensured redress for their grievances. The Ministry of Railways has formed a high-level committee, led by Deepak Peter Gabriel, senior executive director of industrial relations at the ministry, to review the applicants’ grievances.

On January 26, Bihar, home to the majority of job applicants, saw violent protests for the third consecutive day. A mob stormed Gaya Junction and set fire to the Bhabhua-Patna InterCity Express, but no one was injured. East Central Railway CPRO Rajesh Kumar told PTI-Bhasha: “The rakes were empty and parked inside the yard when miscreants set fire to a coach. It did not cause any disruption to rail traffic.”

In Uttar Pradesh, police arrested two people and filed charges against around 1,000 unidentified people for rioting and blocking train tracks. Six police officers were suspended with immediate effect for using unnecessary force on Tuesday. In Sitamarhi, Bihar, police fired into the air to disperse protesters at the train station. Protests were also reported in Patna, Nawada, Muzaffarpur, Buxar and Bhojpur districts.

Why job seekers are protesting

Candidates object to the railways’ decision to hold the exam in two stages, saying the second stage for final selection was tantamount to ‘misleading’ those who applied and passed the first stage of popular categories not Technical (NTPC) Railways for Computerized Test (CBT-1), the results of which were published on January 15. The CBT-1 was conducted from December 28, 2020 to July 31, 2021, and candidates previously protested a delay in results updates and next steps in the selection process.

Read: ‘Tired of waiting’: Railway job aspirants urge government to speed up recruitment

About 1.25 crore candidates had applied for the exams which had advertised more than 35,000 positions from levels 2 to 6. It is alleged that the two-stage exam involving CBT-2 is designed to favor those with higher qualification , even for jobs that require less qualification.

Of the total vacancies, 24,281 are open to graduates and 11,000 to undergraduates. These positions, separated into groups based on the 7th Central Wages Commission salary scale levels of two to six, include that of train assistants, guards, junior clerks, timekeepers and station masters.

For a tier 2 job, the starting salary is around Rs 19,000 and one must be a class 12 pass, while for a tier six job as a stationmaster, with a starting salary of approximately Rs 35,000, graduation is essential.

The response of the Ministry of Railways

Union Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said: “Job notification is legally sacred. For those who have grievances, we have to find a solution and be sensitive. We cannot legally prevent graduates from applying for positions that require a 10+2 qualification.”

He said that the pre-selection of candidates was done separately for each level according to the options exercised and the educational qualification. “For the second stage computerized test of each level, candidates were called 20 times for notified community vacancies against each RRB,” the minister said.

Based on the merit obtained in the second CBT stage, 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 single list of 35,281 notified vacancies and no one will be appointed to more than one position.

The CBT-2 exam, for which 7 lakh candidates were shortlisted, was scheduled for February 14-18. However, following the protests, testing is now on hold.

The suspension of exams and the minister’s statements are seen in some quarters as a step backwards from the earlier decision to ban candidates found guilty of vandalism, given that elections are scheduled in five states, including Uttar Pradesh, politically crucial. PTI sources say the protests by job candidates in Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh for two days and the fear that the unrest could spread to other parts of the country through the aggressive social media campaigns carried out by the candidates forced the hand of the railways.

Responding to the intense protests, Vaishnaw told a press conference, “I tell the aspirants it is their own property. Why are they destroying something that belongs to them? However, authorities will follow due process if public property is damaged. A police official told PTI that it appears the accused took “money from certain political parties” to cause unrest, and the incidents are also being looked at from that perspective.

Accompaniment of job candidates, redress of grievances

A video of police officers aggressively knocking on candidates’ doors has surfaced on social media, following which Congress Secretary General Priyanka Gandhi Vadra condemned the use of police force against protesting job candidates . She added that the government should put an end to the action of entering student hostels to carry out searches and damage property.

Congressman Rahul Gandhi said the students were the hope of their families and the country, and argued that if independence can be achieved through nonviolent opposition, then why not rights.

In a bid to appease the candidates, Union Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said his department was in touch with chief ministers and the matter was being handled “with sensitivity”.

“I urge candidates to formally present their grievances. Our intention is to resolve this issue quickly. A committee has been formed and will consider the candidates’ complaints,” he said.

Vaishnaw urged the aspirants not to take justice into their own hands and promised to “seriously address their grievances and concerns”. He said all Railroad Recruiting Council chairmen have been asked to listen to applicants’ concerns and send them to the panel. “An email address has been created for this purpose. The panel will travel to different parts of the country and listen to grievances,” he said.

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