Bhola, the old watchman from Bihar who world at the building where I work, has one standard question whenever we bump into each other, “Railway pariksha ka kya hua (What happened to the railway exams)?” His son has spent the last three years preparing and giving the railway exam, sometimes for the post of a stenographer, while other times for the post of a railway driver.
The melancholy in Bhola’s voice, who has spend years working as a watchman in Goa for a daily wage salary, suggests that he wants his son to have a better life than his. His hopes of seeing his son escape the poverty trap has been postponed several times, the most recent time due to the pandemic.
There are probably lakhs of parents who are in the same situation as Bhola across the country. However, I did find it odd that the railways ministry conducts so many exams in a year instead of just one common exam. Why doesn’t the Indian Railway conduct one single exam every year, whose result can be valid for all openings for the next two years, similar to NEET or IIT exams?
So, for curiosity’s sake, I placed an RTI asking for the number of candidates who have answered the railway interview exams in the last five years, the money they have collected as fees, and the number of candidates selected.
I wasn’t too surprised that the railways tried to dodge the question of the number of applicants. It would be too embarrassing since that would indicate the number of jobless Indians or those who are unhappy with their current job.
But what is shocking is the total amount of fee earned by the ministry, especially when compared to the number of candidates selected. In 2014-15, 15,000 candidates were selected for a fee collection of Rs 7.2 crores. The following year, the number of candidates nearly doubled at 27,000, but the amount collected jumped up by six times to Rs 42 crores.
It is interesting to note that in February 2016, the Indian Railways scrapped the oral interview round for non-gazetted posts against direct recruitment. The following year, 19,000 candidates were selected, but no amount of fee was collected, indicating that these were selected from the previous year’s interviews. It should be noted that big States including UP, Punjab, Chattisgarh etc had assembly polls that year.
In 2017-18, another 19,000 candidates were selected, but the amount collected was Rs 866 crores.
If railways were to provide the number of candidates who applied for the interview, it could have indicated the factors contributing to the hike in the amount of fee collected. Without this information, all I can do is speculate the following reasons for the hike, which are: hike in interview fees and/or a drastic increase in the number of applicants.
In either case, is it morally right for the government to earn revenue from these people, most of whom are poor? Let’s not forget that besides these exam fees, the candidates who travel from remote villages to the exam centres over long distances have to spend on travel, clothes, stay etc. Candidates suffer from physical and mental stress during this time. Shouldn’t this money be invested in improving the future of the candidates, both who are aspiring to join the railways as well as who couldn’t get selected for the job they have spend years preparing for?