Indian Railways ticket bookings under the Tatkal quota continue to be problematic as touts and travel agents, in collusion with railway staff, are able to corner confirmed tickets within minutes of the opening of the ticket window.
The Sunday Guardian attempted a series of online transactions over a period of four days to book a ticket under the Tatkal quota from New Delhi to Patna in multiple trains, but failed as all the available tickets were booked within 30 seconds of the Tatkal window opening.
While the IRCTC website showed no availability for that day, a travel agent based in Noida arranged for an AC three-tier Rajdhani ticket after charging Rs 1,500 extra. On the Indian Rail website to check the next seven days' Tatkal availability report, a search on 17 June for ticket availability on trains originating from Patna showed that there was no room (NR) in Patna Rajdhani in any class under the Tatkal scheme from 15 to 21 June. However, Tatkal tickets can only be booked one day before the actual travel date. In some not-so-popular trains, like the Magadh Express, the same search showed tickets were available under the Tatkal quota.
Railway officials not authorised to speak to the media admitted that there are problems with the Taktal scheme, most of which are due to the collusion of Railway staff with the agents. "It is a good scheme that has been misused by touts and some of our staff. Then there is also the need for augmenting the coaches in trains in a massive way, which is much easier than starting a completely new train," said a senior Rail Ministry official. He said that corrupt Railway staff book tickets well in advance using the online ticketing system and then sell those tickets to passengers through touts and travel agents.
It is not just online booking that seems to have been taken over by unscrupulous elements. Attempts to book Tatkal tickets at reservation counters too proved futile. Such was the demand for tickets that some passengers were waiting at the New Delhi station reservation counter from 4 a.m. for the Tatkal window to open at 10 a.m. And yet, barring two passengers at the front of the line, none of the others got a confirmed ticket. The booking clerk, who refused to be identified, stated that there was nothing he could do as all the tickets were booked as soon as the Taktal window opened. "Everything is done by the system and there is no manual interference from our part," he told a senior citizen who was upset at not getting a confirmed ticket.
Anant Swarup, Indian Railways executive director for public grievances, said that steps are being taken to tackle the problem. "Complaints regarding Tatkal bookings have been coming to the minister (Suresh Prabhu). An inquiry has been ordered. A meeting was held under the Member (Traffic) of the Railway Board to look into why the ticket booking website was not functioning properly, and we found that there was massive server overload. The minister immediately ordered five more servers at the cost of about Rs 100 crore. We have also segregated the time for Tatkal booking ticket for sleeper and AC berths to minimise the load on servers. After these steps, the complaints have decreased. We have also identified trains in which coaches will be added. In the last year, we have added 594 coaches permanently," he said.
He attributed the problem of Tatkal tickets being booked in advance to a technical glitch, and stated that it has been resolved after this newspaper brought it to the ministry's notice. The "glitch" which was first observed by this newspaper on 14 June and brought to the Railway's attention on 17 June was rectified on the afternoon of 19 June.
The presence of touts near railway booking counters at New Delhi railway station was also hard to miss, with many of them approaching this correspondent with promises of arranging for a confirmed ticket, but refusing to answer on how they would do it. A tout loitering near platform 16 of the station said that he would charge Rs 2,000 extra for a confirmed ticket for Patna on the Rajdhani Express for travel on the same day. He said that despite the Tatkal tickets being booked a day in advance, he would be able to arrange for the name of this correspondent to appear on the passenger chart when the list is released two hours before departure. He said that the deadline for securing a confirmed ticket for the same day through him was five hours before departure time.