Decoding the unrest triggered by the Railway Recruitment Board
Since 2019, when it announced recruitment of four lakh people, Indian Railways has failed to recruit even one. It added fuel to the fire by adding a two-step selection for Group D posts
In January 2019, the then Railway Minister Piyush Goyal announced a ‘bumper recruitment’ of people to fill up 400,000 posts in the Indian Railways. The announcement, barely four months before the General Election, was predictably trumpeted as the world’s ‘first’ such mass recruitment.
This was followed by advertisements calling for applications to fill up 35,000 NTPC (Non-technical Popular Category) posts of Station Masters, Goods Clerks etc. and a little over one lakh posts of ‘Group D’.
Applicants were to submit a fees ranging from Rs. 500 to Rs. 2,500 with their applications. Special concessional rate of Rs. 250 for each application was allowed for certain categories. With 2.42 crore applications (24 million) pouring in, the Railways collected, claim various estimates, between Rs. 800 to Rs. 1,400 crore from the applicants as examination fees.
The minimum qualification for Group D jobs was non-matriculates while for NTPC it was Intermediate. For both, however, a large number of unemployed graduates and possibly post-graduates also submitted their application.
Railway Reruitment Board conducted Preliminary examinations for NTPC between December 2020 and April 2021, with some of the examinations coinciding with the second wave of the pandemic. The results were finally declared on January 14-15, 2022, triggering protests.
The RRB had earlier committed that 20 times the number of vacancies would be shortlisted for the Mains from the Prelims. But aspirants complained that far fewer numbers were shortlisted. They also alleged duplication of Roll numbers which figured multiple times. So, although the target was met on paper, in practice the RRB shortlisted far fewer candidates for the next stage than what it had committed and advertised.
Another reason that sparked discontent was that the more qualified candidates got selected in the prelims, leaving the less qualified but fulfilling the minimum educational criterion of Intermediate level, for whom the posts were meant, behind.
RRB added fuel to the fire on January 24, 2022 when it announced that selection tests for the Group D posts, originally scheduled for September-October, 2019 would commence from February 23, 2022. It also changed the selection test from a single, online test to a two-stage process of prelims and Mains. This would be the first time in 50 years that aspirants for even Group D posts would appear at a preliminary examination. This added fuel to the fire and many of the estimated 1.5 Crore applicants for Group D posts came out and joined the already agitating NTPC candidates
The present Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has admitted that the pandemic and the unexpectedly high number of candidates had delayed the process. He also gave the alibi that the examination was conducted by an outside agency and it took time to select the agency.
Agitated candidates however point out that recruitment by the central government had reduced to a trickle over the years. Selections, they say, are still awaited even for posts for which exams were held in 2018. Recruitment to the armed forces had also stalled in addition to inordinate delays in holding selection tests and declaring results.
The Railway Board aggravated the situation by threatening to debar candidates ‘for life’ if they are found to have indulged in violence and destruction of Railway property. The unsigned notice said that technology would be used to identify such miscreants, presumably hinting at CCTV footage and face-recognition software.
It has since then backtracked and formed a five-member committee of Railway officials to look into the grievances. In an effort to placate the restive candidates, they have been asked to submit their suggestions on selection tests by February 16. In the event, the selection test for Group D posts has once again been postponed.
(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)
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