Friday, June 22, 2012

Fleece train

Fleece train








By Kumar Vikram in New Delhi

















MAIL TODAY blows the lid off a thriving nexus between touts and railway officials






THIS has happened to many of us: We log on to the Indian Railway’s website to book a tatkal ticket but the site fails to open. Not willing to take a chance, we rush to buy a confirmed ticket at the booking counter in the railway station, but none is available. But as if by magic, the friendly guy hovering near the counter offers to get us a confirmed ticket.






Of course, we have to pay double the actual amount, at times even more. But then, we are so thankful for the favour and so elated at not having to miss that urgent conference or the must- attend family function that we don’t mind paying the extra money.






Touts have taken over the reservation system in the Indian Railways — the common man’s transport. More than a decade after online reservation was introduced so that people could get rid of the long queues and rude booking clerks, the common man still has to slug it out to buy a confirmed ticket. It’s a well- oiled network in which all stakeholders — touts, travel agents, railway officials and policemen — make money, except the hapless traveller, who is left doubly poor.






A reality check at the New Delhi railway station revealed that how the middlemen have hijacked the tatkal booking system and made a mockery of the VIP quotas. They operate openly, without any fear.






And the system is being subverted with the blessings of railway officials. The M AIL T ODAY correspondent visited the station on Thursday afternoon as a decoy customer to find out how the racket operates. In the Paharganj market right in front of the main entrance of the station, one can easily spot ‘ agents’ roaming around and offering tickets to prospective passengers.






It did not take more than two- three minutes when a tout approached this correspondent.






When he was satisfied that he had found a prospective customer, the tout took this correspondent to the office of a travel agent. The board outside proclaimed it was a ‘ governmentapproved’ tourist centre. There were seven- eight customers inside the small office. Three persons were busy arranging tickets — fixing the deal in league with perhaps the railway booking officials. One of them asked, “ How many tickets do you need?” and quoted the rate — ` 3,500 for one AC- II ticket in Rajdhani Express.






When asked about the high cost, he curtly replied: “ We don’t keep all the money. We have to pay at least two persons. Do you want a ticket or not?” At another travel agent’s office, which also claimed to be ‘ approved by the government of NCT of Delhi’; the rates were similar. The agent explained: “ Besides paying the person concerned ( read booking official) per ticket, we also have to pay to the local police on a routine basis to run our business.” Another person there said apart from the booking clerks, officials at the railway ministry are also paid to get confirmed tickets under various quotas.






The deal was finally fixed for a ticket to Patna for Friday ( June 22). The original cost of an AC- II ticket in Rajdhani was ` 2,152, but the agent charged ` 3,500. He booked a ticket on the railway website. The reservation status showed a waitlist of 62, but he promised: “ Don’t worry. It will be confirmed on Friday afternoon.” Indeed, the PNR status of the ticket at 2.30 pm on Friday showed it was confirmed.






The touts are doing brisk business as the tatkal system on the Internet does not open for about an hour while the booking starts at 8 am. And by the time the railway website opens after 9 am, most of the tickets have already been booked by the agents, who then sell them to the passengers who are ready to shell out the highest amounts.






Ankit Sinha, who had to travel to Mumbai, could not get a confirmed seat in any of the dozen- odd trains, even when he tried tatkal booking online. “ The website did not open till 9 am and by the time I logged in, all the tickets were booked. It appears to have been made for the agents,” he said.






A senior railway official confirmed the nexus: “ The agents have access to all the places. They pay booking clerks to get confirmed tickets. They also buy waitlisted tickets and get them confirmed through VIP quotas.” The Northern Railway claims to conduct routine checks and special drives to bust such illegal networks.






The vigilance wing of the Northern Railway, in association with the Railway Protection Force, conducted a checking drive at ticket counters during the ongoing summer rush from March 1 to May 31. “ During the drive, 234 touts and 90 unauthorised vendors were apprehended from different stations and booked under Section 143/ 144 of the Railway Act, 1989,” a senior Northern Railway official said. At least 122 people were caught travelling on tickets booked in other names.






But such operations will not deter the agents as long as people within the system remain hands- in- glove with them.






The touts, travel agents, railway officials and policemen, all make money, except the hapless traveller who is left doubly poor






THE WORLD OF TOUTS






Touts make big bucks during summer holidays and festivals like Holi, Durga Puja, Diwali and Chhath They sell both AC and non- AC tickets in black.






They earn ` 700- ` 800 per non- AC ticket while for AC, they earn more than ` 1,500 per ticket Touts can also send a passenger without ticket as they are in league with coach attendants. In such cases, money goes to touts, coach attendants and TTEs Touts buy confirmed non- AC tickets in bulk around two- three months in advance on fictitious names and sell them in black. Customers can travel on these tickets as the railways don’t ask for identity proof in non- AC coaches













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