Distressed railway porters look up to Budget 2017 with cautious optimism

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BENGALURU: Railway sahayaks are pessimistic about coming under the ambit of social security and are looking at the upcoming Budget with mixed hopes. Not many are aware that the government had announced the probability of extending the social security schemes run by the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO).

A new cess may be announced on Tuesday to cover railway porters. There had been a proposal from the labour ministry to levy a cess of 10 paise per railway ticket to bring the porters under the ambit of social security net.

Gorai, who has been working for the past 20 years in the Bengaluru Cantonment Railway Station, said he has given up all hopes. “I am uneducated, but we all know that the railway budget has been done away with. The only thing we got from the last year’s Budget was a name change. What difference does it make to me whether I’m called a coolie or a sahayak?”

“We do not have any kind of security. We only have railway passes which we can use for one round-trip to our place and some treatment in the railway hospital. We can’t do this back-breaking work all our lives, but we can’t stay away either because we get no pension,” he added.
Murthi, who works in the Bangalore City Railway Station, said, “We take a maximum of `6,000 per month, which is not enough. I still feel we’ll not get any good deal at the end of the Budget; they only want to please the rich and powerful and give some sops to the minorities.”

When contacted by Express, E Vijaya, deputy general manager, South Western Railways, said that although the policy has been announced no guidelines have been issued. This will be applicable only for registered porters,” he added. On being asked how the government has arrived at the figure of 20,000 porters, she said the figure might be misquoted as the number of registered porters is much higher.

Porters are not government employees per se, but are just working in that ecosystem. It’s some kind of a contract labour where the Railways is outsourcing the work to people who have registered with it, said Rajaji Meshram, director, infrastructure and government services at KPMG.

“Porters are unique to the railway ecosystem and in India the only social security is pension and PF. In PF, the mandate is that the employee needs to put a part of his salary and the company contributes a part,” he said, noting that porters don’t get a salary.

But, the idea of imposing a 10 paise is not welcomed by all. P Sharyar, who runs a kirana shop right outside the Cantonment station and a frequent traveller, feels that once the cess is introduced, it can be increased whenever the government wants.

“Why should the money for porters’ social security be taken from the ticket which I am buying?” he asked, saying that those who use porters’ services should fund it.

Vishwas Udgirkar, senior director, Deloitte India, an expert on the railways sector, explained that the government is going in for the cess mode because money collected through this mode cannot be used for other purposes. “If they increase the fares, then the money can be diverted elsewhere. Railways today is in such dire need of the money that they need to charge cess for everything now like the safety cess.