Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) managing director Rakesh Kumar Tandon speaks on the recent controversies relating to the e-ticketing business. In an exclusive interview to Srinand Jha, Tandon also elaborates on plans to emerge as a big player in the catering business. Excerpts:
Of late, the e-ticketing business seems to be going awry. The IRCTC server was non-functional lately. Authorised agents complain that they are being denied access to the website. Allegations are that touts are having a field day and passengers are suffering. Comment.
That is not correct. We are going full steam ahead with e-ticketing. From 27 tickets in 2002, the IRCTC is selling over 3 lakh e-tickets each day. We did have a minor problem with the server, but that has been sorted out. As far as the agents are concerned, we do recognise that they are doing useful service. PC penetration in India is just 6%, while only 3% people have access to credit cards. If e-ticketing activities have to penetrate to the masses, the ticketing agents will have to play a bigger role. Certain cases of over-charging and other malpractices on the part of the agents have also come to our notice. As a follow-up to such complaints, the corporation blocked access of 8,000 of the total number of 1.46 lakh agents.
What are the plans to deal with the problem?
The use of technology will bring about greater transparency. We have started the system of providing the fare and ticket commission details by SMS to each person who buys e-tickets on his/her mobile. Tickets on the electronic form (on mobiles) have also been launched. The IRCTC is also doing a more stringent monitoring on the functioning of agents. A DOs and DON'Ts list has been provided to all authorised agents. People (and agents) always find ways to bypass procedures and we have to remain vigilant at all times. This is a continuous process.
The railways plans to start e-ticketing facilities on its own portal. Do you feel this will be a duplication of activity?
The main focus of the railways portal is on providing passenger facilities such as retiring rooms, train connectivity and so on. The IRCTC website has integration with 18 banks, while the railways portal has an arrangement only with the SBI as a payment gateway. Certain upgrades on the IRCTC website had been withheld because the railways portal had been coming up. These, we will take up shortly. I do not feel there is any competition between the railways and the IRCTC portals. Both compliment each other.
What are IRCTC's plans to enter the corporate catering business?
A central kitchen has already been set up at Delhi's outskirts in Noida. We are targeting the corporate and the government sector outside the railways and already have government offices in the North Block, South Block, Krishi Bhawan, Yojna Bhawan and the IIT as out clients. Our plans are to provide approximately 25,000 meals per day. Besides, the IRCTC still has the responsibility of providing departmental catering in 32 premier trains including several Rajdhani and Duronto trains. But the profitable part of our business (issuance of licenses to caterers) has been taken away from us. Because of this, the IRCTC suffered a loss of Rs. 72 crore from departmental catering last year. This year, the loss has been reduced to Rs. 58 crore.