Agitation paralysing Mumbai suburban services withdrawn

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Mumbai, March 20 (IANS) An agitation by railway job-seekers that paralysed the Central Railway (CR) suburban train services here for over three hours on Tuesday has been withdrawn.

The agitation demanding railway apprentices’ recruitment resulted in a major rail blockade, police caning and retaliatory stone-throwing.

The morning peak hour suburban and long-distance train services were severely disrupted as hundreds of protestors squatted on the railway tracks between Matunga and Dadar on the CR.

After the intervention of top CR officials and the Railway Ministry with a written assurance to the protestors, the agitation was finally withdrawn at around 10.45 a.m. and the highly-vulnerable system started limping back to normal.

The agitation’s cascading effect led to overcrowding on the Western Railway (WR) with all trains running packed to capacity, on the roads linking Mumbai with the mainland and the Eastern Express and Western Express Highways slicing through the country’s commercial capital.

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More than 4.5 million commuters were badly hit for the second consecutive day following a strike called on Monday by drivers of cab aggregators and app-based taxis that disrupted Mumbaikars’ schedules.

Attempting to restore normalcy, the local police resorted to a mild lathi-charge to disperse the protestors. Some retaliated by pelting stones at the police.

At least five protestors and a few police personnel were injured.

The protests were held by activists of the All India Act Apprentice Association (AIAAA) who demanded scrapping of the 20 per cent quota for direct recruitment and jobs for local candidates in all states who have cleared the All India Railway Act Apprentice Exams.

They claimed to have met Railway Minister Piyush Goyal but there was no progress in the matter and they have now threatened to intensify their agitation if their demands were not met.

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A Shiv Sena MP from Mumbai Rahul Shewale met top CR officials to resolve the matter and later said that the railways would hire over 12,400 candidates who have cleared their apprenticeship exams.

A CR spokesperson said that there was no provision of giving jobs to apprentices as per the Apprentice Act who are only trained for a specific period to hone their skills and gain experience.

Meanwhile, the BEST deployed extra buses to ferry commuters to and from various points like Dadar, Matunga, Kurla, Sion and other stations.

The protests disrupted the entire suburban and long distance railway schedules in Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Raigad and Pune with commuters stranded for hours.

College students who started their University of Mumbai’s BA, B.Com and B.Sc. examinations on Tuesday were also affected. The university permitted an hour’s extension for students to reach the exam halls.

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The opposition Congress and Nationalist Congress Party have demanded a discussion on the issue in the Maharashtra Legislature on a priority basis.

Mumbai’s famous Dabbawalas were also stranded at various CR stations right from Kalyan in Thane to Dadar in Mumbai.

Meanwhile, Rail Yatri Parishad chief Subhash Gupta attacked the railways for “complete intelligence failure” and for the absence of railway officials.

–IANS

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