An information technology audit of the Indian Railways’ computerised passenger reservation system (PRS) has revealed some serious flaws.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report shows wasteful expenditure and the inconvenience caused to passengers. In addition, it exposes the system to manipulation and fraudulent practices like bogus bookings. The Railways’ carries about 5.5 lakh passengers in reserved accommodation every day. The PRS facilitates booking and cancelling of train tickets from any of the 4,000 terminals across the country.
A finding that should cause considerable concern to the train travellers is that fares and distances were wrongly represented in the reservation system leading to charging of incorrect fares. The electronic databases were found to contain numerous deficiencies that rendered the data unreliable.
The audit, conducted in ten zonal railways, has indicted Railways for its poor contract management practices and delays in finalising arbitration cases, which led to an avoidable payment of Rs 13.31 crores as well as prolonged litigation.
In its report, the CAG deplored the fact that the Railways’ continued to largely rely on the hired BSNL channels, which experienced frequent and extensive failures disrupting the PRS services. This also increased the expenditure on these channels given there were nearly 30 to 50 failure incidences reported every day in the several zonal railways.
Though the Railway board had taken a decision in 2005 that all zonal railways must shift over to its own Optical Fibre Cable (OFC) network to increase the communication reliability, no clear milestones or targets had been set out for the switchover, it observed.
The CAG recommended that the Railways’ improve its network and ensure that the switch over to OFC happens soon and BSNL links are reduced to the minimum.
The audit also found that sound IT security practices were not being followed and this led to the risk of misuse of the system by unscrupulous staff. The application controls were weak and a number of tickets were booked on “fictitious details” indicating bogus or proxy bookings in advance.
Another shortcoming was that changes in the system necessitated due to changes in Railways’ rules were not carried out in a timely manner resulting in inconvenience to the passengers as well as increasing the risk of revenue loss to the organisation.