Citizens' Issues
Rot in the Railways – III: The quota system and the corruption it breeds

Parliament House quota, High Officer Request quota, Discretionary Quota, Emergency Quota, Defence Quota, Foreign Tourist Quota, Union quota … in some cases all these make up half the berths, leading to huge corruption

In the first of the three articles in this series we have seen lopsided cost-revenue structure of the first class seats vs general compartments and in the second we have looked at the Tatkal scam. Let us now look at the next form of revenue loss to the Indian Railways-the totally skewed system of keeping reservation quotas on trains for all and sundry, thereby reducing the "general quota" to a minority and opening up opportunities for corruption.

As an example, on the Hazrat Nizamuddin (Delhi)-Madgaon (Goa) Sampark Kranti Express, only 13 or 20, depending on season, of the 46 berths available in AC 2T are kept for the general quota, and typically these would get sold out on the first day itself, on the 90/120 day APR (Advance Passenger Reservation) when it opened.

Everybody else, barring the four to six berths kept aside for Tatkal, is on a waiting list. This waiting list is kept 'open' till the 'charting' is done. That is till about three-four hours before the train actually departs, thereby ensuring that everybody getting nervous on the waiting list will make every effort to get on to the 'quota' berths-and pay the premium. Half the berths are blocked for quotas-Parliament House quota, High Officer Request (HOR) quota, Discretionary Quota, Emergency Quota, Defence Quota, Foreign Tourist Quota, Union quota and many other quotas. Not to forget the VIP quota. And as per the RTI (Right to Information) response received, there is no external audit of these quotas, the internal audit is done by the people releasing the quotas themselves, and there is no hard and fast rule on when unused quotas can be released for general or Tatkal waiting lists.

In other words, till two-three hours before the train departs from originating station, these often unutilised quotas are available for trading like vegetables and fruit. This happens because of the following flaws in the current system:
# non-revenue reservations for base journey and onward journey leading to blank booking of berths when the APR opens (Why this is still permitted despite CAG objections is not known)
# misuse of supervisor password by other people in both online and offline locations. (Why supervisors and others are not being signed in through physical fingerprint or other bio-metrics is not known).
# not completing 'charting' and not releasing quota till a few hours before departure of the train. (The rules are intentionally kept vague here, and trains also depart without charting being completed, thereby enabling fortunes to be made on the platform and on board.)
# No specific guidelines on the vast variety of quotas available, as well as blocking of the best berths for these quotas. (A lower berth in any class always fetches a higher premium.)

As per data from CRIS and the Indian Railways, over 10 lakh per 1 million people travel on reservations every day. However, the number of reservations made every day exceeds this, by between 10% and 30% depending on season, as people make multiple bookings and also cancel bookings for a variety of reasons. Details on quotas were provided in an answer to Parliament.

The answer, as expected, was brilliantly vague and everything was passed on to the Zonal Railways. Therefore, clean and true data across the complete Indian Railways was difficult to come by. But again, by asking around and getting best estimates, it was learnt that approximately 3.2 lakh berths and seats are kept aside for quotas everyday.

Of these, it was further estimated that as many as 75% and as few as 20% were quotas that ended up getting 'traded' and premiums charged for this were higher than for the Tatkal reservations-and the touts tended to add in the Tatkal premium too. Taking a higher average of Rs1,200 per ticket again (because quota tickets do not have the same strict conditions as do Tatkal tickets for refund or identity, and are therefore considered 'safer', and a median number of about 1.6 lakh berths/seats 'traded' per day, we arrive at about Rs19.2 crore a day.

And this is for regular trains, if we factor in the "summer specials", the numbers shoot up even more, per head, because when people travel in families, the premiums tend to rise even more. But there is absolutely no data available for this, not even guesswork.

There is an exceedingly urgent need for transparency in the railway reservation process, especially in the release of quotas shortly prior to the departure, and this process needs to be made totally open and subject to external audit subsequently.

Will the Indian Railways permit this, since it is the critical step needed to control and re-direct revenue otherwise lost to the Indian Railways, back to where it should be destined?

A step in this direction, for certain trains like the Rajdhani and Shatabdi ex-Mumbai Central, appears to have been taken where the movement of waiting lists on the last few days before departure has been made put on the public domain. Let us see if this is adopted by other zones and stations, for all trains.

You may also want to read:
Rot in the Railways - II: The Tatkal scam
Rot in the Railways -I: Wrong kind of passengers subsidised

(Veeresh Malik had a long career in the Merchant Navy, which he left in 1983. He has qualifications in ship-broking and chartering, loves to travel, and has been in print and electronic media for over two decades. After starting and selling a couple of companies, is now back to his first love-writing.)




5 years ago







5 years ago


I boarded Gujrat Mail from mumbai on 25th May, 2012 night 10pm.
The train reached 'Mani Nagar' station on time, on 26th morning, but was late by 30 minutes on reaching Ahmedabad.
It stopped for 30 minutes outside station to find a parking on platforn # 4. Mind you, platform # 1 was empty, vacant & unoccupied.
He could have brought the train on Platform # 1, on time. But the train was taken to platform-4. The reason will surprise you.
I was told by the stall owner on Pl# 4 that it is money. If we pay something to station master, he will bring all trains to our platform and we can do good business !!!
Next day I got confirmation. I was on Pl # 4, which was occupied , waiting for current train to go and next train Holiday Special to come in ( It was waiting outside the Pl # 4)
That time also 1 & 2 were vacant. I asked a team of 3 TCs waiting there. The senior bald TC said "" you are right sir, the trains are alotted to platform not as per
logistics, nor as per passenger's convinience, but as per relationship with us (us=rly staff like TCs & Stn master). If they (stall owners) bloody dont send chai/ coffee free to us,
why should Stn master send trains to platform # 1 ??. It is Tit for Tat ""

Sir, For a few cups of free chai/coffee, the stn master is diverting trains from platform # 1 to 4 -5 !!! This causes lot of trouble to senior citizens like me.
Can you take up this matter ?? I am ready to write an affirmed affidavit for this . I can stand witness to this complain.



In Reply to MADHUKAR SHETH & ADVOCATE GANU 5 years ago

Dear Madhukar ji and Ganu ji -

1) This media report about change of platform for Gujarat Mail refers, where it states that this change is for operational reasons, from PF 1 to 4.

2) The proposed platforms for regular trains as well as utilisation of platforms can be sourced by RTI application.

Good luck and warm regards/VM

Gyan Mitra

5 years ago

The computer technology used is but a servant. If public pressure encourages hesitant railway officers, there is no reason why the names with details are revealed on line from the moment the reservation opens for a particular train. Also, those that take advantage of the 'quotas' can be tagged on the charts, and data publicly available for up to a year, to enable public scrutiny. The suggestion for biometric responsibility has much merit also. Justice must be seen to be delivered, especially when it is so easily possible.



In Reply to Gyan Mitra 5 years ago

Gyan Mitra ji, thank you for writing in, and yes, more transparency from IR on this vexatious subject of quotas is expected.

We have to keep the pressure on. This corrupt inertia of decades will not change that easily. Please spread this article far and wide/thanks/VM


5 years ago

i want to mail to rti so i want that form to be mailed.


5 years ago

I am reporting from ground zero of the issue (@ paharganj) and have spend the entire day investigating the cause behind the corrupt practices and have heard enough to report that there are officials at the New Delhi Railways reservation that promote corruption, @ Paharganj. There are 11 agent-shops, 7 of whom have relatives inside the reservation counter ,...just across the street.

Waiting almost 2 hours at the rail reservation counter, I was vigilant to the modus operandi, and was surprised to see the special 'agents only counters", (handwritten notes of paper pasted on windows) ...

Brokers that charge 3 times the normal fare.. and confirmed tickets available ONLY thru agents is the regular norm.

As part of my regular travel every two weeks, I am left with no choice other than to take a flight back and even though 'Rajdhani" is the most economical and convenient mode of transport, am afraid corruption is cutting through my pockets, where I end up every time taking an expensive flight back, .... I an early resolve is not made, am afraid I might succumb to paying the bribe ...........

Writing from a cyber cafe @ ground zero .....................



In Reply to Namewithheld 5 years ago

Thank you - your pithy comments are indeed of interest, and I hope the railway authorities are reading this, too.



5 years ago

Railway bookings are the most wasteful and irresponsible systems goings - I've had the "misfortune" of needing to book multiple journeys this summer, and it was a right royal mess. Super high waiting lists for months, and on the actual train, all WL/ RC cleared and empty seats too. But one can't wait until the last minute (2 hours before journey) for charting and then find out "mila ki nahin" - hence either cancel and fly or go through the agent/ tout route.. End result - the railways losing tons of revenue and passengers all pissed off. Even something basic like a premium for lower berths would bring massive revenue to the railways - but no, they'd rather reserve those for the railways quotas!



In Reply to Nimish 5 years ago

Got an input from a friend in Thailand - where, despite the country being a monarchy, there are no "quotas". And lower berths command an official premium.


In Reply to malq 5 years ago

Malaysia/ Singapore also have an official premium for lower berths, and you're not allowed to use the lower berth even if it's empty due to the crisp linen being ruffled and the loss of revenue


In Reply to Nimish 5 years ago

Another big mess is the lack of clarity on how the Tatkal WL is handled vs. the General WL. Given both are cleared at the time of charting, and someone on General WL for 3 months, and another on Tatkal WL for a few hours, it's not clear exactly how the WL are cleared. This is another area that needs cleaning up from the railways.


In Reply to Nimish 5 years ago

what i could figure out is that the discretion is at zone level, so some give preference to tatkal before general & others give preference to general before tatkal & yet others go one tatkal, one general, one tatkal, etc.
also, when extra coach is added, rules are different & each zone may again choose any of these options are invent new ones!!!
bottomline is - innovation in bureaucracy is dangerous...


In Reply to Nimish 5 years ago

To add more chaos - there was a news article this week saying that if an extra coach is added then seats in that coach will have first preference to tatkal and general waiting list will get chance only if tatkal waiting list is cleared.

Hieghts of absrudity. A person waiting since 100 - 90 days will still not be given a chance cause some random guy can get say 100 WL in tatkal and still get his ticket confirmed.


5 years ago

even more absurd was this - NDLS-PURI purushottam express has 5 seats in GN quota in 2A for people planning the entire journey (which means even the first booking for family of 6 may get RAC/WL). in fact this train is quite preferred by people as it runs 2 night & 1 day in either direction. out of 1 2A coach, 41 seats are allocated to all other quotas - just ridiculous...



In Reply to param 5 years ago

Dear Param - thank you for writing in - an RTI application for this specific train may be of help?

Good luck/rgds/VM

Sensex, Nifty up ahead of RBI policy review: Friday Closing Report

Trend on the Nifty may change if the support of 5,045 is broken

Hopes of a rate cut by the RBI pushed the market higher today. Yesterday we had mentioned that if the Nifty closes in the negative today, we may see the benchmark slipping to the level of 5,000 and then finding its next support at 4,970. Today the Nifty managed to make a high of 5,146 which is its best intraday high since 4 May 2012. The index now has to keep itself above 5,045, else we may see it going down to the level of 4,900. The benchmark may go up to the level of 5,280, if it stays above 5,045. The National Stock Exchange (NSE) saw a volume of 51.95 crore shares.


The market opened on a firm note tracking positive global cues. US stocks closed higher overnight on reports that central banks are planning a coordinated initiative if the 17th June Greek elections cause chaos in the global markets. Back home, the Nifty opened trade at 5,070, up 15 points, ad the Sensex gained 23 points to begin the trading session at 16,701.

While the opening figure on the Sensex was its intraday low, the Nifty touched that mark a short while later with the index at 5,069. But aggressive across-the-board buying soon saw all the sectoral indices trading in the positive in early trade.

The market continued to extend its gains in subsequent trade as investors are still hopeful of an interest rate cut by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in its mid-quarter monetary review on Monday.

A positive opening of the key European markets helped the benchmarks continue their upmove in the post-noon session. The indices went on the hit the day’s high shortly after 2.30pm. At this point the Nifty touched 5,146 and the Sensex climbed to 16,968.

The benchmarks settled marginally off the highs with the Nifty gaining 84 points (1.67%) at 5,139 and the Sensex surging 272 points (1.63%) to end the trading session at 16,950.

The advance-decline ratio on the NSE was positive at 939:671.

While the broader markets also settled higher, they underperformed the Sensex today. The BSE Mid-cap index gained 0.57% and the BSE Small-cap index rose 0.46%.

Today’s upmove saw all sectoral indices settling in the green. The leaders were BSE Auto (up 2.57%); BSE Bankex (up 2.19%); BSE Realty (up 1.78%); BSE Capital Goods (up 1.54%) and BSE Fast Moving Consumer Goods (up 1.43%).

Tata Motors (up 5.75%); ICICI Bank (up 3.11%); Coal India (up 2.72%); Hindalco Industries and Maruti Suzuki (up 2.70% each) were the top gainers on the Sensex today. The losers were Sterlite Industries (down 1.57%); Bajaj Auto (down 1.41%) and ONGC (down 0.67%).

The top gainers on the Nifty were Grasim Industries (up 5.75%); Tata Motors (up 5.65%); Ambuja Cements (up 4.10%); Reliance Infrastructure (up 3.69%) and ACC (up 3.37%).
The laggards on the index were Sterlite Ind (down 1.96%); Sesa Goa (down 1.33%); Bajaj Auto (down 0.77%) and ONGC (down 0.47%).

Markets in Asia closed in the green on news that central banks would look at additional initiatives to tackle the problems in Europe that could follow the Greek elections on Sunday. Meanwhile in M&A news, Hong Kong stock exchange said on Friday it has agreed to buy the London Metal Exchange (LME) in a deal valuing the commodities exchange at 1.4 billion pounds ($2.18 billion).

The Shanghai Composite gained 0.47%; the Hang Seng jumped 2.26%; the Jakarta Composite advanced 0.70%; the KLSE Composite climbed 0.53%; the Nikkei 225 added 0.01%; the Straits Times surged 1.34% and the Taiwan Weighted was up 1.14%. Bucking the trend, the KOSPI Composite declined 0.71%.

At the time of writing, the main European indices were trading with gains of 0.49% to 1.53% and the US stock futures were in the positive.

Back home, foreign institutional investors were net buyers of shares totalling Rs105.58 crore on Thursday while domestic institutional investors were net sellers of stocks amounting to Rs282.83 crore.

VA Tech Wabag has bagged an order worth Rs270 crore from Reliance Industries (RIL) to set up effluent treatment plants at Reliance’s Dahej and Hazira complexes. The contract envisages construction of a 32.4 million-litres-a-day effluent treatment plant with recycle facility for RIL’s proposed PTA and PET Dahej manufacturing unit at Gujarat and tertiary treatment plant for Reliance’s Hazira complex. VA Tech settled at Rs446.10 on the NSE, up 2.62% over its previous close.

Alembic Pharmaceuticals, on Friday said it along with US' Breckenridge Pharmaceutical Inc has settled patent case with Novartis for Rivastigmine Tartrate capsules used for treating dementia. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Novartis has granted the two companies a licence to market their generic capsules before the date of the patent expiry. Alembic jumped 4.07% to close at Rs53.70 on the NSE.

FMCG major Emami today said it is foraying into kids segment with the launch a talcum powder which has been specially developed for children in 5-12 age group. The Kolkata-based firm is currently test marketing the new brand “Boroplus Kids-Total Defense Talc” in Andhra Pradesh covering various cities including Hyderabad, Vijaywada, Vizag and Nellore. The stock settled at Rs488.50 on the NSE, up 0.63%.



Army rescue 400 people stranded on world's highest motorable road

The civilians, including women and children, in 150 vehicles were trapped since last evening in multiple landslides in a stretch of 10 km at Khardung La on the Leh-Nubra road

Leh: The Indian Army and police on Saturday rescued 400 civilians trapped in landslides at Khardung La Pass, the world's highest motorable road, reports PTI.

The civilians, including women and children, in 150 vehicles were trapped since last evening in multiple landslides in a stretch of 10 km at Khardung La on the Leh-Nubra road, Northern Command Army Spokesperson Rajesh Kalia said today.

The vehicles were trapped between South and North Pullu and the rescue operations were started last night. 120 people were administered oxygen as oxygen levels were low in the area, officials said.

Many of the stranded passengers had yesterday complained of mountain sickness.



Kranthi Kumar

5 years ago

I mean, "Ask A Question" image that appears on the left panel of the home page. The pop up window is coming, but unable to submit the question.

Kranthi Kumar

5 years ago

Dear Moneylife foundation,
You have been conducting regular progrms to educate the investors. But you are mostly limited to Mumbai, financial capitl of India.

I'm regular reader of your blogs and articles at office. After working in front of computer for 10 to 12 hours, its pain to open internet again after reaching home, so missing original videos.
Can you please think of providing the recorded versions of these educaiton programs in a DVD pack at nomincal rates. So that, maximum members can utilise them.

Also, the "Ask Question" window is not working on Internet Explorer 7.0 please check.



In Reply to Kranthi Kumar 5 years ago

Dear Kranthi Kumar, Thanks for posting the comment and giving your suggestions. We are looking into the issue. As per supporting IE 7 is concerned, we would urge you to upgrade as this product is no longer supported by Microsoft and may cause harm to your PC. (you may want to refer to MS site Regards, Moneylife Digital Team

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