A MONTH after the Railway Ministry issued a policy to discontinue the 100-year-old practice of hiring “bungalow peons” for its officers, plans are on to bring them back in a new avatar.
Several zonal railways are said to be in the process of drafting their own local policies that would enable an officer to retain a Telephone Attendant cum Dak Khalasi or “bungalow peon”. The Odisha-based East Coast Railway has already finalised a policy for hiring people on contract for officers’ residences. Sources said other zones may follow suit soon.
The Railway Ministry had authorised zonal general managers to review the situation in their respective areas. Around 8,000 officers of Indian Railways are entitled to this facility under the old policy.
Under the new policy issued by East Coast Railway, “with the approval of the General Manager”, bungalow peons already engaged with officers before the Railway Ministry discontinued the practice, will be screened and absorbed in the Railways like earlier. “Around 30-40 officers, both from the field and from the headquarters, are waiting to get bungalow peons as per their entitlement,” said a spokesman of the East Coast Railway.
While the central policy says existing Level 1 staff can be engaged as bungalow peons on their consent as per the new rules issued by the ministry, officers say it is hardly feasible. “In any case, bungalow peons, after they get the job, usually do not want to continue to work in houses anymore,” said a senior officer.
Bungalow peons are a sensitive subject for railway officers. Almost no one wants to give up the facility arguing that it is intrinsic to the nature of their job. Railway officers, like their counterparts in the Army, are entitled to keeping a Group D employee posted 24X7 at their homes. The logic is that railway officers get posted in remote, often inhospitable, locations, routinely carry work home or are occupied at odd hours, and hence need help at home. “That is why this practice has been there since the beginning,” said a senior officer.
Typically, officers choose someone to be employed at their home, and after three years, the person gets regular employment in the Railways following a screening process.
Railway Minister Lalu Prasad had extended the facility to officers posted in the Railway Board as well.
After coming to power in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had urged the Railways to consider abolishing the practice in favour of officers taking an allowance. A committee of officers, formed to work out the way forward, had favoured continuing the practice.
However, the December policy, issued after deliberations at the top level of the ministry, had decided to discontinue what is called “fresh face” appointment of bungalow peons, which effectively meant that once an existing bungalow peon completed three years of working at a house and got job as a Level 1 employee, the officer no longer had the option of recruiting a new one. He or she has to make do with existing bungalow peons or get Level 1 employees to do the job with consent.