Recipient of this year’s Forbes India Award as the “best CEO” of a public sector company, Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) of the Indian railways catering and tourism corporation (IRCTC) Rakesh Tandon spoke to HT about his leadership ‘mantra’ in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:
The IRCTC turnover touched Rs 720 crore in 2012-13, which is within striking distance of the figure of Rs 760 crore of 2010-11 — achieved when the catering business was within the ambit of the corporation. On the verge of completing your term, are you satisfied with the performance of the IRCTC?
The IRCTC has not only stayed afloat, but has demonstrated a growth potential. From 2 lakh e-tickets sold in 2010, we are touching 5.7 lakh today. We are also posting profits in the non-railway catering business. Tourism revenues have grown from `40 crore in 2009 to `200 crore in 2013. The sky is the limit for the IRCTC.
There are complaints that the e-ticketing portal remains painfully slow. How can this issue be resolved?
E-ticketing business has grown exponentially. In the mornings, the site gets clogged, as the process of navigating the payment gateways takes time, while tickets are sold in bulk from the counters. One suggestion to overcome this problem is to allow net users to make Tatkal payments one day in advance.
The Centre for railways information systems (CRIS) was reportedly working on upgrading hardware. There was also the talk of faster and more efficient software issues. What is the progress?
Eleven lakh reservations are required to be done by the railways each day. The IRCTC is booking approximately 5 lakh tickets per day. The site has a capacity to book 1,500 tickets per minute, which works out to 15 lakh tickets per day. Technically, therefore, the portal does have the capacity to meet requirements. However, the new software being developed by the CRIS will ramp up capacity to enable the sale of a maximum of 7200 e-tickets per minute. We expect the new system to be launched by March 2014.
Quality of food served in trains remains poor. Do you think that the decision to divest the IRCTC of the catering business has proved counter-productive?
Catering should go back to the IRCTC. The Railways have other and more critical priorities, while the IRCTC can provide a focused approach to improve catering. The catering business, in my view, needs a paradigm shift. The cold chain models — as practiced by the Airlines — will need to be introduced. Price of food served on Rajdhanis, Shatabdis and Durantos should be market-driven.