The Pakistan Railways is set to change the centuries-old tradition of coolies (porters) getting hired by private contractors as the practice was exploitative.
Coinciding with the World Railways Workers Day, celebrated on March 27, the Chief Executive Railways Zafar Zaman Ranjha said, “The proposal that is titled ‘Madadgaars (helping hands)’ is ready and will be presented to the authorities for approval in the coming days.
The history of the institution of coolies at the platforms of railway stations of the subcontinent is still alive after over a hundred years. Their services are inevitable for passengers because the trains, which are designated to certain platforms, due to the poor state of stairs and bridges at the railway stations, leave the passengers with no other choice but to engage porters to carry heavy luggage from one platform to another.
“The railway stations are not upgraded as we find them in European countries or other advanced places. But, the bridges and stairs at many railway satiations in Pakistan are more than [a] hundred years old. The Lahore Railway station was built shortly after 1857 and was renovated over the period of time but its main structure was never changed, and that is why porters are the backbone of our facilitation to the passengers and they also deserve a good wage and better quality of life”, Zaman said.
The proposal to revamp the existing porter system in the railway network is modelled on Alfred Marshall’s renowned “Efficiency Wage Theory” which signifies that higher wages induce better service delivery.
The digitalization of the porter system along with new policies and a web-based mobile application will also be launched that will provide a database of all authorized and registered Madadgaars at a station along with their photographs and a specified file for complaints.
“With all the updated features, people will be able to pre-book the Madadgaar before coming to the station and the approved charges will be paid to the Madadgaars for their services by the passengers that will save their time. The Madadgaars would also be able to keep track of happenings”, Zaman told Anadolu Agency.
New uniforms and a Madadgaar desk will be set up at stations. A GPS-based armband that could pinpoint the location of Madadgaars will be implemented and it will also record the conversation between the Madadgaar and the passenger.
Legacy of the porters
Mohammad Hanif, 85, came to the Lahore Railway Station after partition and can still narrate stories related to passengers who travelled on trains during the events of 1947.
“I came to Lahore from district Karnal, Panipat in India and started working as a porter at this railway station when I was in my teens. I have seen countless people reaching their destinations and many stories unfolding in front of my eyes. But I always wished that the government should do something for us”, said Hanif.
Welcoming the decision to digitalize the porters, Ashfaq Ahmed, representative of the porters’ union said, “Who does not want to earn a better livelihood? But it is too early to comment about this proposed digitalization”.
Salman Rashid, Pakistan’s renowned travel writer who travelled throughout his life via train, reminisced about the old and glorious time of railway workers and said, “The station master used to wear a tidy uniform. And the porters were young and vibrant in the 1960s and 1970s. With the passage of time, our quality of railways operation has deteriorated”.
The Pakistan Railways until the late 2000s had marvellous dine-in bogies in which the staff used to serve freshly cooked food and trained waiters used to exchange trays of food from outside of the windows and doors of the moving trains.
“The glorious Khyber Mail even had showers installed in it and we used to dine in separate areas, but the authorities failed to maintain the standards. Now we have to see what their new projects will be but cannot comment on them beforehand. But, upgrading the system with the latest technology is the need of the hour” stressed Rashid.—Courtesy Anadolu Agency