THE RAILWAYS has stopped an employment initiative launched in 2004, when it started giving jobs to children of employees in the lower tier in return for voluntary retirement, and decided to approach the Supreme Court to determine if the scheme is Constitutionally tenable, official sources said.
The Liberalised Active Retirement Scheme for Guaranteed Employment for Safety Staff (LARSGESS), which was started during former railway minister Nitish Kumar’s term in 2004, was suspended indefinitely last month following an order from the Rail Ministry. The order issued to all zonal railways stated: “Keep LARSGESS on hold till further orders.”
The move comes after the Punjab and Haryana High Court said in July, while hearing a case over the scheme, that it violated the Constitution on the “principle of equal opportunity” for all in government jobs.
“Such a policy was violative of Article 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India..,” the court found. It asked the Railways to “revisit the offending policy keeping in view the principle of equal opportunity in public employment….”
The High Court’s order has put the government in a quandary because in the past, the Kerala High Court and Patna High Court had found merit in the scheme. “Since there are different judgments on the same issue across India, we want to approach the Supreme Court and get a verdict once and for all,” a senior Railway ministry official said.
The LARSGESS scheme was based on the line that in jobs related to safety — drivers, gangmen, etc — one requires quick reflexes and agility, which a person may not possess after a certain age. The scheme was aimed at encouraging ageing employees to retire by offering the same job to their children. Since 2004, approximately 20,000 jobs were given to children of railwaymen under LARSGESS.
The government’s latest move, however, has railway unions up in arms. In meetings with the Railway Board over two days last week, the unions demanded that the scheme be continued in all areas where courts have not delivered any adverse judgment.
“Agreed that it can’t be continued in North India and West India because the high courts in Ahmedabad in the past and Chandigarh have given negative orders. But that does not stop this scheme in the rest of the country outside the jurisdiction of these courts,” Shiv Gogal Mishra, head of All Indian Railwaymen’s Federation, the largest union, said.
According to qualifying criteria for this scheme, the beneficiary employee should have put in up to 33 years of service and be in the age group of 50-57 years — the norms vary depending on the job.
The scheme was initially open only to gangmen and drivers but expanded over the years to include a range of positions, such as pointsman, shuntman, leverman, gateman, trolleyman, Khalasi/Khalasi Helper redesignated as Helper, etc.
LARSGESS was notified in January 2004 following a safety workshop held by the Railways in 2003, when three accidents resulted in the deaths of over 100 passengers.