The Railways Ministry has decided to disband five units of the Railway Engineers Regiments – the Railways Territorial Army – an auxiliary force created in 1949 under the Territorial Army Act of 1948 to maintain rail communications in forward areas during active hostilities and essential rail transportation in the country “in the event of a grave national emergency.”
Jhansi, Kota, Adra, Chandigarh, and Secundraband are among the five units that will be disbanded as a result of the ministry’s June 3 instructions. According to the Ministry of Defense’s “endorsement,” just one Railways Territorial Army unit will be kept operational on the 361-kilometer line connecting New Jalpaiguri and Rangiya in Assam, covering the important train link through the Siliguri corridor up to Rangiya.
The Ministry of Railways further stated that “uninterrupted train contacts will be maintained at all times towards the Northern and Eastern Borders.” Currently, the Railways TA units in West Bengal’s Chandigarh and Adra serve as the second line of defence for the Northern and Eastern borders, respectively.
From June 3, the ministry’s orders to the Directorate General of Territorial Army (DGTA) demanded “urgent necessary measures for disbandment of five Railway Engineers Regiments…within the shortest possible time and not exceeding 9 months.” The government stated that further expansion of the 6 unit at Jamalpur will be “examined afterwards.”
According to a Railways Ministry official, there were originally 15 such TAs, but they were cut to six. Railways undertakes operational assessments of several wings, according to the source, and recent studies have revealed that TAs are becoming less relevant.
“Following the evaluation, the railways suggested that all TAs be disbanded.” However, the military ministry recommended that we have at least one TA. The officers would be placed on a supplementary list after the five TAs are disbanded, according to the official.
Even though the ministry said in its annual report for 2019-20 that the Territorial Army structure on Railways was “functioning very well” as Railway employees were “performing their defined activities… and carrying out operational tasks to the best satisfaction of Railways as well as Defense authorities,” plans to wind down the Railways Territorial Army units have been underway for the last year.
When the idea to abolish all six Railways TA units was met with opposition in recent months, the ministry proposed an interim proposal to cut 50 percent of the employees in the TA units. However, following the Railway Board’s most recent meeting with the DGTA in April, the Rail Mantri authorised a plan to dismantle five units, and the final order was issued on June 3.
The Territorial Army is a volunteer force made up of non-departmental TA units and departmental TA units that are drawn from the general public. Infantry Battalions are non-departmental units (with which Union I&B minister Anurag Thakur is affiliated).
Departmental units are those associated with the railways, the oil industry, health care, and the environment. Personnel assigned to the TA are required to attend a 30-day annual training course to stay physically fit and familiar with military discipline and weaponry defensive procedures.
The railroads TA, in particular, was a key player in the 1965 and 1971 India-Pakistan conflicts. TA units were also called into action during the Bengal famines of 1979 and 1980, the Bhopal Gas Disaster of 1984-85, and Operation Parakram, the India-Pakistan standoff in 2002. The Rain Mantri awarded special recognition to the Railways TA units in Chandigarh and Secundrabad in 2005 for their “chivalry and dedication” during the training for Operation Parakram.