In your interest.
Online Personal Finance Magazine
No beating about the bush.
You can easily get refund of a train ticket bought through the Railways passenger reservation system or PRS, either online or through a ticket window. There may be some delay in refund for tickets bought from private re-sellers
If there is one technology based product in India, which showcases domestic Indian skillsets as well as has a history of being able to very deftly and adroitly avoid falling into the trap of lop-sided foreign solutions, then it has to be the Indian Railway's Passenger Reservation System, or PRS for short. Handling between 1.5 to 2.25 million separate transactions per day, each transaction being for anything from one to six passengers, covering over 2,500 trains with over 50 different classes of travel and no count on quotas, concessions and more - the PRS has set a benchmark all over the world, which some of us who have worked on databases as well as other technologies can only begin to understand.
But surely do we appreciate and feel proud of as Indians. Just imagine the complexities? I wish Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and Aadhaar had been handed over to Indian Railways, it would not have been the mess it is now, and the information would have stayed on in India.
That it gets stick from a variety of segments, from passengers to competitors to simply jealous entities, is par for the course when something is Indian and successful. Especially from Indians, and very especially from ex-pat Indian origin types, sadly, but true. Very bluntly, I do wish the Indian Railways would take time out to propagate this one aspect of technology, if for not only blowing their own bugle, but then also to be able to build some self-confidence in millions of other Indians who are daily subjected to all sorts of perception management tricks on forcing Indians to believe that they can not compete with the world.
Having said that, there are multiple problems faced by people using the PRS, not all of which are the fault of the service provider Indian Railways. Fact remains, things have only become better, and given the pace of lack of change mostly elsewhere, this is like being able to send a manned space mission to Mars from India.
Which does not in any way reduce the reality that yes, many people appear to and do have problems when seeking refunds, though here again, Indian railways score better than most other cash-handling utilities and services in India. Try getting a refund from an airline, for example? Also, for the 700-1000 million transactions per annum, refunds are a very small number.
Still, you bought a ticket, and now want a refund?
Obviously, when the numbers are so vast, this is not going to happen without checks and balances. We are assuming here that you want a refund in most cases for cancellations done well before departure time, at least four-six hours. What happens, then, when you need a refund for a railway ticket bought using the PRS?
1) Ticket bought for cash over the counter - refund is as fast as the queue will permit, subject to the complex rules regarding cancellation of refunds. It is good to learn about the rules before heading for a refund. They can be found written on the wall, in time-tables, and online.
2) Ticket bought online from IRCTC - My experience has been that for dozens of bookings a year, and about half of them resulting in cancellations, I have not had a single bad experience. Few times that there was some confusion, due to missing a train or other issues, there was nothing that a couple of emails did not resolve. Every paisa paid online is refunded, subjected to the rules prevailing - including service tax refunds.
3) Tickets bought through other private websites - These are the complicated and troublesome episodes, because here we have additional rules and fine print from the private website. I will be very frank, but the fine print with these private websites appears to keep changing all the time, and there is not much that an external agency can do to help since these terms and conditions are seldom available in printed hard copy form anywhere.
Which, in a way, is the solution we would expect from Indian Railways too - that they incorporate terms and conditions from private re-sellers on Indian Railways pages, both online and hard-copy. And that these terms and conditions, especially for refunds, be changed only after due information to the Indian Railways.
At the end of the day, I, as a railway passenger, am a customer of the primary vendor, Indian Railways. Any problems created and not resolved by their intermediaries with us as customers will only reflect badly on them.
And that is why many of us appear to blame Indian Railways when the real issue often lies with other vendors or providers. From crowds outside railway stations to sanitation to food to ticket refunds.
Clarity and accountability set by Indian Railways for all issues pertaining to PRS would be of great help not just for customers but also for the name and fame of Indian Railways too.
PS: What about refunds for tickets unused because of missed trains and connections?
Fear not, Indian Railways have pre-empted pretty much every contingency here, and from "Ticket Deposit Receipt" system both online and across the counter, to writing a letter, there is a rule and there is a refund. Look for it, send an email, ask around - and it will happen. Some extreme cases that I have resolved in my own experience include -
# child chewing up tickets before boarding the train.
# child floating the ticket away as "boat" in water gutter near platform.
# fell asleep on platform bench and train departed without me.
# whole group of school-children penalised for misspelling names.
There are good human beings at Indian Railways, it is just that they expect you to take some time out to read and understand their rules and regulations, too. Fair enough?
(Veeresh Malik started and sold a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing. He is also involved in helping small and midsize family-run businesses re-invent themselves.)