New Delhi: The Railway Board’s move to stop further recruitment of bungalow peons —officially known as telephone attendant-cum-dak khalasis (TADKs) posted at the residences of officers — has triggered a fresh backlash.
In an order dated 1 November, the Railway Board said, “Engagement of fresh face substitute as TADK is discontinued with effect from 6.8.2020. Existing posts and incumbent TADKs will continue and all issues related to their service conditions and regularisation will be governed by existing policy prevalent over Zonal Railways.”
The decision to review the practice was announced in August this year. “The Indian Railways is on a fast-transformational path of all-round progress. Many practices and management tools are being reviewed in view of changes in technology and working conditions. Measures taken are in to be seen in such context,” the Ministry of Railways had said.
However, the ministry’s decision of discontinuing the practice has invited criticism from officers’ associations.
‘Bungalow peons’ or TADKs are picked by railway officers themselves. After working at an officer’s residence for 120 days, a TADK is hired as a temporary employee of the Indian Railways. TADKs can become permanent employees after a screening test on completion of three years of service.
TADKs are hired for attending telephone calls and carrying files from the offices to the officers’ homes. But over the years, they have come to be used by the officers to perform household chores like cooking, taking care of young children, etc.
“There were some concerns from officers, but the government has accommodated them by ensuring that the existing bungalow peons stay, and the ones presently working can continue to work,” a railway ministry official told ThePrint. “But it was an archaic practice, and as we seek to modernise the railways, it is important to shed colonial vestiges.”
‘Decision will compromise safety of officers’ families’
Railway Officers’ Associations, however, are “disturbed” by the order.
In a letter addressed to the Railway Board chairperson dated 4 December, the Federation of Railway Officers’ Associations (FROA) said, “The officers and Railway men across the country are disturbed by this guideline.”
“FROA had earlier requested to continue with the existing TADK policy in view of the urgent nature of activities being performed by Railway men round the clock,” it added. “It is even more disheartening to issue such a policy when the country is grappling with Covid pandemic and Railway men are performing their duties with utmost devotion.”
In a letter written on 3 December, one division of the Eastern Railway Officers’ Association, said, “All the divisional officers are quite upset and have become demotivated seeing the Railway Board’s Order.”
The Association has termed the order “practically unimplementable”, and has argued that the system of allowing officers to choose their TADKs must continue since they serve in the homes of the officers, and must be trusted and familiar to the family of the officer.
The Association said a TADK “serves the Railways and the nation 24×7 even on holidays, and weekly rest days, leaving his family alone during night inspections, emergencies, failures, breakdowns, and as and when directed from time to time by High Officials, HQ and Railway Board.”
“If the recruitment process through the earlier system is not retained, the safety of the family of the Railway Officers is bound to be compromised,” it added. If this cannot be done, “it is only reasonable that railway officers should be brought at par with other services i.e. accountable only within humane and defined working hours so that s/he may have the time to care for his/her family. Similarly, on holidays and weekends also he/she can be excused from official work to run the inevitable errands that domestic life demands, which would otherwise have been taken care of by a TADK/Bungalow peon.”
Responding to the criticism, railway ministry spokesperson D.J. Narain said, “The order is very practical and takes care of functional needs of all concerned. TADK has not been discontinued. Only Direct recruitment of fresh face as TADK has been discontinued . Vacancies for such TADKs would be filled from existing strength of TADKs or unskilled working force. Railways would ensure that all functional necessary requirements are there in place to ensure maximum productivity of all officials.”