The Railways suspended its NTPC and Level 1 exams on Wednesday, January 26, after the candidates’ protests in some states alleging irregularities in the process took a violent turn. Minister of Railways Ashwini Vaishnaw urged the protesters not to destroy public property and assured redressal of their grievances. The Railway Ministry formed a high-level committee, headed by Deepak Peter Gabriel, the Principal Executive Director of industrial relations in the Ministry, to examine the aspirants' grievances.
On January 26, Bihar, home to a majority of the job aspirants, saw violent protests for the third day in a row. A crowd stormed the Gaya Junction and set on fire the Bhabhua-Patna InterCity Express, but nobody was injured. East Central Railway CPRO Rajesh Kumar told PTI-Bhasha, "The rakes were empty and parked inside the yard when miscreants set a coach on fire. It has not resulted in disruption of rail traffic."
In Uttar Pradesh, police arrested two persons and lodged a case against around 1,000 unidentified people for allegedly rioting and blocking the train tracks. Six police personnel were suspended with immediate effect for using unnecessary force on Tuesday. In Bihar’s Sitamarhi, police fired in the air to disperse the demonstrators at the railway station. Protests were also reported from Patna, Nawada, Muzaffarpur, Buxar and Bhojpur districts.
The candidates are opposing the Railways' decision to hold the exam in two stages, claiming the second stage for final selection was tantamount to "cheating" those who appeared and cleared the first stage of the Railways' Non-Technical Popular Categories (NTPC) for Computer-Based Test (CBT-1), whose results were released on January 15. The CBT-1 was conducted from December 28, 2020, to July 31, 2021, and candidates had earlier been protesting over a delay in updates over results and the next steps in the selection process.
Around 1.25 crore candidates had applied for the exams that had advertised over 35,000 posts from levels 2 to 6. It is being alleged that the two-stage exam involving CBT-2 is designed to favour those with a higher qualification, even for jobs that require lesser qualification.
Of the total vacancies, 24,281 are open to graduates and 11,000 for under-graduates. These posts, segregated in groups based on 7th Central Pay Commission pay-scale levels from two to six, include that of train assistants, guards, junior clerks, timekeepers and station masters.
For a Level 2 job, the starting pay is about Rs 19,000 and one requires to be a Class 12 pass, while for a level six post like station master, with a starting pay of about Rs 35,000, graduation is a must.
Union Minister for Railways Ashwini Vaishnaw said, "The employment notification has legal sanctity. For those with grievances, we have to find a solution and deal with sensitivity. We cannot legally bar graduates from applying to posts which require 10+2 qualification."
He said that the shortlisting of candidates has been done separately for each level based on options exercised and educational qualification. "For the second stage computer-based test of each level, candidates have been called 20 times for the community-wise vacancies notified against each RRB," the Minister said.
Based on merit obtained in the second stage CBT, candidates will be shortlisted for the third stage in which eight times the number of vacancies will be called. The final result will contain a unique list of 35,281 notified vacancies and no one will be appointed against more than one post.
The CBT-2 exam, for which 7 lakh candidates have been shortlisted, was scheduled for February 14 and 18. However, following the protests, the tests now stand suspended.
The suspension of exams and statements by the Minister are being seen in certain quarters as a step down from the earlier decision to bar applicants found indulging in vandalism given that elections are due in five states, including the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh. PTI sources say the protests by the job aspirants in Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh for two days and the fear that the agitation may fan out in other parts of the country through the aggressive social media campaigns being run by the candidates forced the Railways' hand.
Responding to the intense protests, Vaishnaw said at a press conference, "I am telling the aspirants that this is their own property. Why are they destroying something that is their own? However, authorities will follow due process if public property is damaged." A police official told PTI that it appears the accused had taken "money from some political parties" to cause unrest, and that the incidents are also being probed from this angle.
A video of police personnel aggressively banging on candidates’ doors surfaced on social media, following which Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra condemned the use of police force against the protesting job aspirants. She added the government should put a stop to the action of entering the hostels of students for carrying out searches and damaging property.
प्रयागराज में पुलिस द्वारा छात्रों के लॉज में और हॉस्टलों में जाकर तोड़-फोड़ करना एवं उनको पीटना बेहद निंदनीय है।— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (@priyankagandhi) January 25, 2022
प्रशासन इस दमनकारी कार्रवाई पर तुरंत रोक लगाए। युवाओं को रोजगार की बात कहने का पूरा हक है और मैं इस लड़ाई में पूरी तरह से उनके साथ हूं। pic.twitter.com/jjOxy2iZH2
Congress MP Rahul Gandhi said students were the hope of their families and the country, and asserted that if independence can be taken through non-violent opposition then why not rights.
In an attempt to placate the candidates, Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said his Ministry is in touch with Chief Ministers and the issue is being handled ‘sensitively.’
"I urge the candidates to put forth their grievances formally. Our intention is to resolve this issue quickly. A committee has been formed and it will examine representations by the candidates," he said.
Vaishnaw urged the aspirants not to take the law into their hands and promised to "seriously address their grievances and concerns". He said all Railway Recruitment Board chairpersons have been asked to listen to the concerns of candidates and send them to the panel. "An email address has been set up for this purpose. The panel will go to different parts of the country and listen to the grievances," he said.