The Railway Board and employees at Integral Coach Factory in Chennai, makers of the train, are at loggerheads over the proposed transfer of design and reassigning the manufacturing of Train 18 to Modern Coach Factory in Raebareli.
Barely a fortnight after the Vande Bharat Express went on its first journey between New Delhi and Varanasi, a controversy has erupted over Train 18.
The Railway Board and employees at Integral Coach Factory (IFC) in Chennai, makers of the train, are at loggerheads over the proposed transfer of design and reassigning the manufacturing of Train 18 to Modern Coach Factory (MFC) in Raebareli.
Twelve unions, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-backed Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, have begun protesting at the Chennai unit against the transfer.
They claim the technology used in making the train is ICF’s “intellectual property”.
“The entire nation, including (Prime Minister Narendra) Modiji, praised the effort of ICF in the making Train 18.
"Now, his own government has started transferring its making to Raebareli. This is a politically driven decision,” said Muraleedharan, a leader of the Labour Progressive Federation, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s worker arm.
He added that officials who are opposed to the government’s move have been transferred.
ICF workers started the stir after the transfer of Shubhranshu, principal chief mechanical engineer at the unit and one of the key officials on the Train 18 project.
On February 15, during before the first run of the train, Modi had said, “I am grateful to designers and engineers.”
A few days later he had said those insulting the makers of Train 18 because of some glitches during the inaugural run would be punished.
Neither the Railways nor Shubhranshu, now with Southern Railways, commented on his transfer.
The other unions who have joined the protest are All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF), Congress-backed National Federation of Indian Railwaymen (NIRF), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC).
On February 17, the railways had said in a statement that it was planning to manufacture Vande Bharat Express trains at Raebareli to augment its production.
“We have started demonstrations (from Monday). Our employees were promised by the Railway Board we would be making the Vande Bharat Express trains,” said P Mohandoss, general secretary of AIRF.
ICF had completed the construction of the first Vande Bharat in 18 months.
Projects of semi-high speed trains usually take about 35 months from conceptualisation to delivery.
Currently, it runs between New Delhi and Varanasi.
On January 31, the unions had approached the Railway Board so that the Train 18 project was retained at ICF, at least for three years.
“Rajesh Agrawal, member, rolling stock, Indian Railways, has agreed to and conveyed to ICF that an order of 50 more train sets would be given for 2019-20,” the representation of the unions said.
Mohandoss said the labourers would continue with demonstrations and protest meetings, and submit a memorandum to the PM and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal.
“We are registering our strong protest against the decision of the Railway Board in this regard, as this is against the interest of the organisation as well as the employees.
"The employees are very much disturbed and agitated as efforts put in by them over a period of two years to roll out a new product is to be snatched away just like.
"Everyone feels that this is the intellectual property of ICF,” the representation added.
Photograph: Kamal Singh/PTI Photo