Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on Wednesday urged job aspirants not to destroy public property and assured them that their grievances would be resolved as candidates went on a rampage over alleged irregularities in a recruitment exam by the public transporter.
Earlier in the day, the ministry suspended the Non-Technical Popular Categories (RRB NTPC) and the Level 1 exams after reports of vandalism by job aspirants from different parts of the country came to light.
"I am telling the aspirants that this is their own property. Why are they destroying something that is their own? However, authorities will follow due process if public property is damaged," the minister said at a press conference.
His comments came after violent protests by job aspirants erupted in Bihar and poll-bound Uttar Pradesh.
Vaishnaw said the Railways is in touch with chief ministers and the issue is being handled 'sensitively'.
"I urge the candidates to put forth their grievances formally. Our intention is to resolve this issue quickly. A committee has been formed and it will examine representations by the candidates," he said.
A passenger train was set on fire and another was pelted with stones in Bihar on the third day of unrest in the state.
"I request students not to take the law into their hands. We will seriously address the grievances and concerns raised by them," Vaishnaw said, adding all Railway Recruitment Board chairpersons have been asked to listen to the concerns of candidates, compile them and send them to the committee.
"An email address has been set up for this purpose. The committee will go to different parts of the country and listen to the grievances," the minister said.
This came a day after the national transporter said that railway job aspirants found involved in vandalism and unlawful activities while protesting will be 'debarred for life' from getting recruited in the railways.
Candidates went on a rampage in a couple of states over the alleged irregularities in the recruitment exam.
A crowd stormed the Gaya Junction on Wednesday, raising slogans, and set fire to the Bhabhua-Patna InterCity Express, though nobody was injured.
East Central Railway CPRO Rajesh Kumar told PTI-Bhasha that demonstrations were also witnessed at Taregana, on the outskirts of Patna, and at Jehanabad though agitators there were pacified without much trouble.
The candidates are opposing the Railways' decision to hold the exam in two stages, claiming the second stage for final selection is tantamount to 'cheating' those who appeared and cleared the first stage of the RRB-NTPC for a computer-based test which was released on January 15.
Around 1.25 crore candidates had applied for the exams that had advertised over 35,000 posts from level 2 to level 6.
Officials said that in Sitamarhi, police fired in the air to disperse demonstrators at the railway station. Protests were also reported from Patna, Nawada, Muzaffarpur, Buxar and Bhojpur districts.
Several trains were cancelled or ran on alternative routes on Tuesday on account of the protests.
The controversy over the exams arose as candidates protested against the screening process of the recruitment drive in Railways' Non-Technical Popular Categories (NTPC) alleging that the exam is designed to favour those with a higher qualification, even in jobs that require lesser qualification.
'We cannot legally bar graduates from applying to posts which require 10+2 qualification,' the railway minister said.
While out of the total vacancies, 24,281 posts are open to graduates, 11,000 are for under-graduates.
These posts are segregated into five groups based on the 7th CPC pay-scale levels (Levels 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6).
These posts included that of train assistant, guard, junior clerk, timekeeper and station master across its various zones verticals in its zones.
While to get a Level 2 job, where the starting pay is about Rs 19,000 one requires to be a Class 12 pass, for a level six post like station master, who gets a starting pay of about Rs 35,000 being a graduate is mandatory.
Aspirants have alleged that during the Computer Based Test -1 which were held last year, candidates with higher qualification have sat for exams meant for Level 2 jobs.
The Railways has said that no candidate can be recruited for multiple posts thereby ensuring that every deserving candidate gets selected.
It said shortlisting of candidates has been done separately for each level based on options exercised and the educational qualifications of the candidates.
'For second stage computer-based test of each level, candidates have been called 20 times the community-wise vacancies notified against each RRB,' the minister said.
Based on merit obtained in second stage CBT, the candidates will be shortlisted for the third stage exam in which eight times the number of vacancies will be called.
The final result will contain a unique list of 35,281 notified vacancies and no candidate will be appointed against more than one post.
Earlier, the shortlisting was done 10 times the vacancy, however, this time it is 20 times the vacancy for the second stage, officials said.
According to the RRB NTPC exam dates, the CBT 2 exam for which 7 lakh candidates have been shortlisted, was scheduled to be conducted on February 14 and 18. They now stand suspended.