The snail-paced COVID-19 vaccination drive in India now may bring Railway services to a halt, disrupting even crucial oxygen supply chains.
After losing about 150 of their colleagues to the raging pandemic, Railway station masters have given an ultimatum to the Railway Ministry to inoculate the country’s about 13 lakh railway employees by June 30. Failing which, the All India Station Masters’ Association (AISMA), which is an apex body of India’s over 30,000 railway station masters, threatened that they would be compelled to abstain from work.
AISMA’s secretary general P Sunil Kumar said that they had been forced to take this stand due to the “indolent approach” of the Railway Board towards the plight of the railway employees, who have been working, risking their life, as a front-line service provider during the pandemic.
Already 2,000-odd employees, including many engine drivers and guards, and 145 station masters have died of Covid-19, Kumar said. According to data available with the association, as many as 136 station masters died this year in the second wave of COVID. During the first wave of last year, 19 died of coronavirus infection.
According to an estimate of the Railway Board done last month, around 93,000 employees of the Indian Railways have tested positive for the virus.
Kumar said despite despite such an alarming situation, the government is not taking any proactive initiative to protect its employees. “Apart from railway employees, even their family members are getting affected. The government is not even providing any special financial help to the families of the deceased employees,” Kumar said.
The AISMA has also demanded a special insurance coverage for the “station masters and other essential train operating staff.” So far only around 5 lakh railway employees have received at least one jab of the Covid-19 vaccine.
The AISMA has conveyed its demands to the Railway Ministry and the Railway Board. It said after June 30 “the non-vaccinated employees would have no other option other than abstaining from duty to save their precious lives.”
The ultimatum comes after the Union Health Ministry earlier this month red-flagged decisions of some state governments approving “banking, Railways and transport” department employees as frontline workers (FLWs) on the ground that they were not listed as FLWs in the Central government’s guidelines.
Kumar said the association has also appealed to the Health Ministry to include station masters and the frontline railway employees involved in train operation in the list of FLWs.
So far the Railways have ferried 12630 MT of liquid medical oxygen in around 200 Oxygen Expresses to 13 states, including Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, among others.
According to Railway Ministry sources, these Oxygen Expresses are supplying on an average 800 MT of medical oxygen everyday from places like Rourkela and Angul in Odisha, Tata Nagar in Jharkhand and Durgapur in West Bengal.