Nov. 18: A spreading backlash with ethnic overtones has forced the railway to postpone job tests in two flashpoint states and ask its recruitment board to “'be sensitive to local issues”.
The directive from one of the biggest job providers in the country came amid a groundswell of protest in the Northeast and Maharashtra against the appointment of people from other states. The protests have reignited a powder keg of issues built round the so-called son-of-the-soil policy in government recruitment.
The railway has postponed indefinitely two of the four Group D exams in Assam and Bihar. The confrontation had begun a little over a week ago when some examinees from Bihar were prevented from taking the test in Guwahati, sparking reprisal attacks in Bihar on trains coming from Assam.
A powerful Naga organisation today joined the campaign, asking Biharis to stay away from Nagaland till the train attackers are punished.
The decision to defer the tests was taken after Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi spoke to railway minister Nitish Kumar this morning. Gogoi also convened an all-party meeting which decided to send a delegation to the Prime Minister with a request to review the recruitment policy.
In the four-part examinations, candidates have already appeared for two rounds on November 9 and 16.
The tests will go on as scheduled in other areas. But the Railway Board has sought all the 19 recruitment boards’ opinion on whether the current round of examinations for 20,000 Group D posts — largely gangmen who man tracks — can continue in view of the turbulence.
The gangmen are vital to plans to improve safety standards in the railway whose record has been blighted by a series of accidents over the past two years.
Although the minimum eligibility criteria for the post was a pass in Class 8 exams, the railway has received applications from engineers and MBAs, a railway spokesperson said. “More than 50 lakh applications were received for the 20,000 vacancies in group D.”
The railway recruitment boards in six zones are multi-state. They include the East Central Railway (Bihar and Jharkhand), North Frontier Railway (Assam, other northeastern states, parts of Bengal and Bihar) and Western Railway (Maharashtra and Gujarat).
“The state with the highest area in a zone prompts the board to adopt a big brotherly attitude when it comes to recruitment and other decisions. Although the railway does not discriminate on the basis of the majority state, political and local influence manage to get their work done,” said a Railway Board member.
“The pre-eminent state within a railway zone tries to corner as much as 90 per cent of the local contracts and it is not uncommon to see fights between locals and outsiders,” he added.