For the best experience, open
on your mobile browser or Download our App.

Vande Bharat and the Treatment of its Service Providers

How much money is paid to the staff? How do they manage their rest or bodily requirements? Where do they take rest or sleep? Are they being provided with some social housing or hostels?
A Vande Bharat worker taking rest during the journey. The work timing sometimes exceeds 16 hours. Photo: Tikender Singh Panwar

The high-pitched propaganda surrounding Vande Bharat hides many realities.

There are several reports of people travelling in them and facing hardships triggered by more than a dozen trains running late by even eight to 10 hours. It has further been reported that the Vande Bharat is 2.5 times the cost of a Shatabdi and that for around 480 bogeys of the Vande Bharat there could have been more than 1,000 bogeys of Shatabdi trains.

What is, however, not discussed is the inhuman form of inherently ordained structure leading to the exploitation of the people who are responsible for providing basic services in the Vande Bharat trains.

Long duty hours 

On February 15, 2024, the Vande Bharat train which started at 6 am from Varanasi reached Delhi late. Instead of its scheduled departure at 3 pm, it left the national capital at 5 pm. The expected time of arrival at Varanasi in the return journey is 11 pm, however, it reached the next day at 5 am.

Inside a Vande Bharat train. Photo: Tikender Singh Panwar

The same set of people, including the regular train staff, outsourced staff providing services like serving food, and sanitation, travel back by the same train. They normally get a break of just six hours. The staff, excluding the regular staff who are mainly ticket checkers given alternative duties, boards the train back to Delhi from Varanasi and the rhythm continues till they get a day’s break, when the train doesn’t run.

On February 15, the staff appeared to have been on duty for more than 24 hours without any rest and without any economic benefit like over time, etc. It is a matter of curiosity whether this happens to all the Vande Bharat trains where the staff are made to work the same kind of working hours.

Even for simple understanding if the train runs on time (even though in many cases it does not) the duty hours are more than 16 hours per day, per train.

Also read: Vande Bharat Express: What’s in a Name?

Income issues 

How much money is paid to the staff? How do they manage their rest or bodily requirements? Where do they take rest or sleep? Are they being provided with some social housing or hostels?

On an average, the Vande Bharat workers this author spoke to suggested that one such train has a staff of over 40 people as service workers and around 10-12 as sanitation workers and the same number of ticket-checking officials.

The outsourced workers, this author learnt, are paid a sum of around Rs 12,000 per month with no overtime. The sanitation workers are paid Rs 10,000.

For this sum, on an average, they work 120 hours a week, averaging 20 hours a day, and around 480 hours a month – in the New Delhi to Varanasi train one side journey is eight hours and the train is late by almost two hours on an average, the travel time and the time they take in preparing the train roughly comes to around 19-20 hours.

Basic provisions like Employees State Insurance (ESI), provident fund, etc., were not heard of by the workers serving in the train in which the author travelled.

Inherently flawed design of the contract

Vande Bharat train from Delhi to Varanasi. Photo: Tikender Singh Panwar

The railway ministry and particularly the current government must realise that such a model of development and generating employment is not only faulty but also unsustainable. Instead of providing regular employment to the workforce, the government itself is promoting informality and accentuating the vagaries of the current ecosystem that is based on squeezing the poor and the marginalised.

The massive drive for redevelopment of railway stations and allowing private operators to grab these contracts are not need based, rather they are more to build infrastructure that is not based on any substantive requirement.

Even if such an infrastructure is considered necessary the government should not shirk from its responsibility of providing decent work conditions to the workers.

What the government needs to do is to focus on the huge workforce that the railways employ and make it sustainable with some of the essentials of sustainable development goals including better livelihoods. If the government itself is negating such a principle, one can imagine what is happening in other sectors.

The minimum that the railways should do is to ensure that the tenders floated for such services do not just lead to privatisation of the train paraphernalia. Instead, the basic thing required in the tendering process is that the minimum wages are ensured; the working hours are calculated and in case the period extends more than eight hours of work, double overtime is ensured; there is proper housing for the workers at their stations of boarding. This has been the practice since long and railway quarters were provided to the railway workforce.

Now since the workers are mobile, they require adequate housing for rest and other activities and cannot just be left out at the private workforce supplier.

The railways should at least ensure proper and hygienic hostels if it cannot provide regular housing to this form of workforce so that they can rest and use their body to the best of their ability.

Once the workers have finished their journey, there should be a rest day, the moment they cross more than 16 hours of work. It is humanly not possible for the workers to perform with the current model of working style. This affects their developmental process, both physical and psychological.

The railway ministry should regularly conduct health checkups of the workers and ensure that in the process of Vande Bharat glossy euphoria they are not destroying generations of young people.

Railways, being the principal employer and controlled by the government, cannot run away from their constitutional duties, providing the right to life to every citizen.

Tikender Singh Panwar was once directly elected deputy mayor of Shimla. He was linked with the Leh Vision document and has written vision documents for a dozen cities. Author of two books, he is an urban specialist working in the design of inclusive cities.

Make a contribution to Independent Journalism
facebook twitter