Mumbai: Tired of booking train tickets and not knowing if they are confirmed till the eleventh hour? If your answer is yes, then here's who you should blame: the growing breed of railway agents in the city, whose numbers have multiplied almost a hundredfold in the past six years.
A query filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act by activist Manoranjan Roy has revealed some disturbing numbers, which indicate that agents are monopolising ticket bookings, making direct access almost impossible.
The response reveals that every month, an average of over one crore tickets are being booked by these agents. Between 2006 and 2012, their numbers have shot up from a modest 1,537 to a stupendous 1,35,157 - in the Mumbai division alone. Meanwhile, passengers languish in the waiting list, even if they make bookings three months in advance.
All these agents have been appointed by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).
"It's the same situation for a majority of passengers. They want to know why their bookings aren't confirmed, and where the tickets are being tied up," said Roy. He added that these agents charge huge amounts for confirmed tickets, making the most of the demand that they create by booking most of the tickets.
Roy is of the opinion that railway authorities have been turning a blind eye to the obvious black-marketing of tickets. "There is no vigilance on the agents. The black money taken by the agents from passengers desperate for tickets is not recorded. Though officially IRCTC has written that they don't pay any commission to the agents authorised by them," added Roy.
One of the reasons that the railways has suddenly spawned such a large drove of booking agents is the faltering online booking system on the IRCTC website.
"We have been getting complaints that the website does not work properly and even after completing all the formalities and providing details like credit card numbers, the tickets don't get booked. The passenger is left with no option but to approach the agent," said a Railway official, requesting anonymity.
"No foolproof facilities are available for the aam aadmi. Those who can shell out money have access to special facilities. What about the passenger who can't afford to book tickets through agents? Why doesn't the railway do something for the common man?" asked Roy.
Roy also questioned the IRCTC for not doing anything to curb the superfluous numbers of agents, and instead continuing to appoint them.
"Why don't they stick to online and window booking systems and enforce them strictly?" he said.
Subodh Jain, general manager of Central Railway, said, "The agents are appointed by the IRCTC and they know about the procedures. More people book tickets online these days. So, there are more agents connecting to it."
Virender Singh, group general manager, IRCTC, said, "We are not controlling agents." He refused to shed further light on the matter.
Madhu Kotian, president of the Yatri Pravasi Sangh said, "The agent system should be discontinued by the railways. Nobody is benefiting from this."
Rajiv Singhal, member, Zonal Railway Users Consultative Committee (ZRUCC), said, "The Railway should think of an alternative to agents. Also, they should decrease the 120 days prior ticket booking system. I don't think that anybody but the agent benefits from this provision as very few can plan their trip four months in advance."
Vipin Mishra, frequently travels to Varanasi
I am with many agents and sometimes I feel I should also become one. I have bought tickets at Rs 800 over the actual price. This is what the agents charge for tickets. This figure increases with demand. The railway authorities should put an end to this system and they will be able to earn more from direct booking."
Janhavi Shah, final year student
My parents always ask me to book the tickets. It would be convenient if I could book the tickets online. I have even sat waiting for the tatkal quota to open, but as soon as I log in it gets full. The railway authorities should stop giving tickets to agents."
Renu Shukla, Kandivli resident
Whenever I book tickets through the window or online, they never reach confirmed status. I don't know why the railway authorities always harasses the common public. I know of many people who have faced problems similar to mine, and don't have access to agents.