The revolutionary e-ticketing initiative of the Indian Railways is threatening to go bust, causing huge woes to train passengers.
Frustrated at routinely being denied access to the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) website, ticketing agents have virtually stopped entertaining passenger requests on buying train tickets across major centers including New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Jabalpur and Chennai.
"Ticketing provides for lucrative business. The Railways now wants to take it out of private hands and this is the reason that they are creating difficulties for authorised agents", alleges Muttu Kirshan, coordinator of the Tamil Nadu Railway Ticketing Agents.
IRCTC managing director Rakesh Kumar Tandon says the corporation was "canceling identities" and "blocking" access of certain principal agents in view of complaints that they were "over-charging" the passengers and "indulging in other corrupt practices".
The ticketing row has caused a situation when rail tickets have become virtually unavailable to a large sections who are not net-savvy and who do not possess a credit card.
The rail ticketing business is rather attractive. The Railways sells 3.5 lakh e-tickets daily, which converts into a daily turnover of approximately R80 lakhs per day. Back-of-the-envelope calculations are that the daily earnings of 4.5 lakh agents (primary and sub-agents) across India work out to R60 lakhs - at the rate of a commission of Rs 10 per ticket.
"Agents have made a non-refundable deposit of Rs 19, 000 to register, but the IRCTC server has consistently remained down for over six months now. We have no business. Passengers are suffering", said Ashish Jain of the Delhi-based Adya Travels.
"With authorised agents having being disempowered, the 'dalals' (unauthorized agents) are having a field day - especially in this festive season when there is such a huge passenger rush", said Ashok Manvati, an authorised ticketing agent based out of the capital's outskirts at Noida.
The IRCTC last month suspended the operations of two Mumbai-based primary ticketing agents (called Via and ITZ) and all their sub-agents.