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Is the Indian Railways hoarding seats under the tatkal scheme to earn more revenue, enriching agents and touts in the process?
It seems that the Indian Railways (IR) has found a novel idea of earning more money. While passengers complain that wait-list tickets remain unconfirmed, tatkal booking which provides for booking at short notice is being given preference.
Under the tatkal scheme, a passenger is required to pay some extra money, over and above the regular fare, which helps in collecting more revenues for the railways. According to information on the website of Indian Railways, the maximum tatkal charges range between Rs150 and Rs300, depending on the class of travel-from second (sitting) up to executive class.
The question is should tatkal bookings be given preference over the regular reservation system which requires passengers to make bookings months in advance?
Moneylife has consistently maintained that the current tatkal system is being gamed by touts and agents and that all the seats vanish, no sooner the tatkal reservation window is opned. Therefore, travellers are unable to book the tickets on their own and they have to depend on these agents who charge higher rates and a commission.
Rakesh Agrawal, a Pune-based passenger, who failed to get confirmed tickets despite trying to book early on a Pune-Hyderabad train in June 2010, was shocked to discover that several passengers had been given preference under tatkal, whereas he was left with unconfirmed tickets and could not make the journey. "I had a waiting list number 2, 3 at the same time that another passenger applying through the tatkal scheme was also on waiting list number 2, 3. But he got the seat and I didn't," says Mr Agarwal.
Mr Agarwal told Moneylife that the train from Borivali to Jaipur (named Dee Garibrath, no-12216) has more seats set aside under tatkal than under the general quota. According to information available, the train scheduled on 24 April 2011 has 421 seats (Class 3A) under the tatkal quota, whereas there is already a wait-list of 129 people (WL 177/WL 129) under the general quota for Class 3A reservation on this train. The ratio of seats and wait-list is similar for the services operated on other days of the week also.
Following this unpleasant experience, Mr Agarwal tried to seek an explanation about the allocation of seats under the different quotas from the Railway Board, under the Right to Information Act. "In its reply, the Railway Board simply stated that tatkal waiting list passengers are given preference for allotment," he said.
Moneylife spoke to V Malegaonkar, chief public relations officer of Central Railway about the seat allocation under the tatkal scheme. Mr Malegaonkar explained, "It is quite possible that there would be more coaches for tatkal reservation under various denominations, depending on the popularity of the train. But generally we have one or two coaches under the tatkal scheme."
Passengers like Mr Agarwal who pre-plan their journey, complain that due to the tatkal scheme, regular travellers who book in advance are losing out on seats.
"People buy train tickets well in advance-15 to 20 days or a month before the journey date. Indian Railways issues tickets even 90 days in advance. But what is the use of standing in long queues for hours together to buy a ticket when one cannot be certain about confirmation. But people buying tatkal tickets just two days before the journey shelling out extra amounts are getting confirmed tickets. I condemn this system whereby 25% of the seats are allocated to the tatkal scheme leading to problems for people buying general quota tickets," reads a comment on a consumer complaints website.
Under the tatkal scheme booking opens at 8am, two days before the actual date of the journey. Even under this scheme, people complain that most of the time they are unable to book tickets due to some error that occurs on the website of the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC), which suggests that the system is gamed.
Moneylife has written earlier, how the travel website makemytrip.com had advertised that it is the 'fastest' channel for booking tatkal tickets, even as IRCTC's website provides the same facility. (Read, 'Can makemytrip.com make its customer's day?')
Moneylife is in the process of finding out how many trains block a higher number of seats for the tatkal scheme over and above the seats available on the regular reservation system that is accessed by most travellers. If you have details, or an experience to share, post your comments in the space provided at the end of this story.
In a joint press conference in New Delhi, ISMA and NFCSF urged the Centre to remove two big controls on the sector-fixing monthly sale quota and asking mills to contribute sugar for ration shops at subsidised rate
New Delhi: The apex sugar bodies today urged the government to immediately allow normal export of the sweetener saying otherwise sugar mills may not be able to pay the mounting arrears to sugarcane growers, reports PTI.
The government should immediately permit normal export of sugar to prevent mounting sugarcane arrears to farmers as mills are facing losses of about Rs150 per quintal on the sale of sugar, Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA) and National Federation of Cooperative Sugar Factories (NFCSF) representatives said here.
In a joint press conference held here, ISMA and NFCSF sought that the Centre should remove two big controls on the sector-fixing monthly sale quota and asking mills to contribute sugar for ration shops at subsidised rate.
Pointing out that sugarcane arrear till December 2010 stood at about Rs4,000 crore, ISMA president Narendra Murkumbi said: "There is surplus of three million tonnes (MT).
We feel there is definitely a ground for allowing export of another two million tonnes as a million tonne has already been shipped under the advance licence scheme (ALS)."
At present, the government has kept on hold export of 0.5 MT of sugar under open general licence (OGL) due to high inflation. But earlier, it had allowed mills to meet their export obligation (ALS) of nearly one million tonnes by March 2011.
The industry has pegged sugar output at 25 MT for the 2010-11 sugar year (October-September), as against demand of 22 MT. Till February, about 16.3 MT of sugar has been produced, against 13.7 MT in the year-ago period.
"Since January, almost all sugar mills have been selling sugar at a price below the cost of production and are incurring a loss of Rs150 per quintal. This is unfortunate since there is an opportunity to export surplus sugar as global prices are high by about Rs 500 per quintal," Mr Murkumbi observed.
In Uttar Pradesh, cost of sugar production is Rs2,950 a quintal, while ex-mill price is Rs2,800 per quintal.
Similarly, in Maharashtra, cost of production is Rs2,750 per quintal, ex-mill price is Rs,2,600 per quintal.
Mr Murkumbai said the export would improve cash flow of mills to make timely payment to the cane farmers. At the same time, he warned that if the government does not allow mills to export sugar, "sugarcane arrears will further mount by the time crushing operation ends in April."
Noting that this is the opportune time to decontrol the sector as prices have plunged by 30% year on year and expected high production, Mr Murkumbi said: "We should get freedom to sell our product, which all other industries enjoy."
Besides, he said that the government should procure sugar from open market for distribution through ration shops instead of buying it at a cheaper rate from sugar mills.
"Sugar industry is the only industry which is made to bear the financial burden of a social welfare programme. As compared to an ex-factory sugar price of Rs2800 a quintal, at present, the levy sugar price offered by the government is only Rs185 per quintal," the ISMA president said.
He urged the government to put the sugar sector at par with other industries in the country.