Mumbai: Former railway minister Mamata Banerjee's patriotic song for the country's armed forces and promise of railway jobs for ex-servicemen became quite a hook for many a battle-scarred ex-soldier. But now they would like to make it their swansong.
Lured by the promise of a permanent job, ex-servicemen responded to a railway recruitment drive across its divisions earlier this year, in the chimeric hope of a rewarding new career.
When they finally got their appointment letters in June, however, they were shocked to find that they had been placed as cleaners, waiters, loaders, and in other menial positions.
Many claim that they were short-changed even with regard to pay and other emoluments as compared with what they got in the Army, Navy and Air Force or would have got in the private sector.
One such applicant, Venkateshu Sanjiva, of Karnataka had taken part in the action in Operation Bluestar in Punjab in 1984, and also during the Kargil war.
After retirement from the Indian Army as a technical-level store-keeper, he joined Reliance in Navi Mumbai, managing its labour camp on a monthly salary of around Rs.20,000.
'I responded with great hope to the Central Railway (CR) advertisement this year and quit my private job to re-join government service. I was aghast to be appointed as a cleaner in the canteen at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) in Mumbai,' Sanjiva told IANS.
A former Army Medical Corps store-keeper, Santosh Salvi of Thane, had a similar experience: he was placed as a cleaner-cum-loader in pantry cars of long distance trains originating in CST.
'I have served in places like Assam, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala under extremely trying circumstances. Now, I am reduced to a pantry car cleaner-cum-loader after 24 years' military service,' Salvi rued.
A resident of Ahmednagar, Sunil Funde, who retired as a store-keeper (technical) in remote border areas after 25 years, is now a cleaner in the central railway canteen at CST and, at times, doubles as a waiter.
Former army subedar D.V. Bhoite said he 'feels totally let-down' after getting an appointment letter as a cleaner in the CST canteen.
Originally from Kolhapur, Bhoite notched 28 years in the Army and later took up a private job. He quit that in favour of what he expected would be a better job in the CR.
Incidentally, while presenting the Railway Budget-2011-12, Mamata Banerjee had sung a couple of verses of a popular patriotic number and announced over 16,000 railway jobs all over India for ex-service personnel.
Of these, 1,162 vacancies came up in the CR, with a stipulation that the applicant must have put in minimum 20 years in the Indian Army, Indian Navy or Indian Air Force.
'The vacancies advertised were for Group D, without specifying the nature of the jobs. So a large number ex-servicemen like us applied, though many had better-paying jobs in the private sector,' Funde told IANS.
Funde said reports from other railway divisions indicate that ex-servicemen have been given jobs unworthy of their qualification or experience.
'There are many who have seen action several times in the armed forces. Now, many have been relegated to doing field jobs like tightening nuts and bolts of railway tracks, head loaders, peons, cleaners, waiters and so on,' Funde said.
Others, when they learnt of the predicament of their colleagues, did not bother to take up menial jobs and have continued with their existing jobs, he added.
When contacted, a high-ranking CR official said that Group D in the central government is equal to Class IV government jobs.
The official gave an assurance he would enquire into the grievances of ex-servicemen next week.
Sanjiva, Bhoite, Funde and Salvi said they have decided to continue in their present railway jobs 'as we have no option'.
They said they had commitments like home loan EMIs, higher education for their son or marriage of their daughters, medical expenses of elderly parents, among others, which compelled them to carry on with the railway jobs.
'We have requested CR authorities to at least give us more dignified jobs considering our academic and career backgrounds, but so far there has been no response,' Funde said, adding that 42 of them are cleaners, waiters, loaders or godown hands in the CST canteen.
They unanimously said that as soon as they got better options, they would quit the railways, equally both for the low payscales and the manner in which they have been treated.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)