BHUBANESWAR: Have you been finding it difficult to get confirmed railway tickets on the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) website? That’s because touts have gone online too. With the volume of e-ticketing soaring by the day, unscrupulous touts, posing as agents, have moved to online ticket booking and grabbed more and more space by using the loopholes in the system.
The Railway Protection Force (RPF) at the East Coast Railway (ECoR) has stumbled upon network of individual touts who not only use fake IDs to book tickets but also fleece travellers by charging a premium.
A Cuttack-based tout was arrested on Monday and from his possession, tickets worth `1 lakh were seized by RPF which kept a surveillance on his activities. Biswajit Biswal, the 24-year-old tout, was nabbed after RPF deployed decoys to book tickets through him. When his premises were searched at Seikh Bazar, the sleuths found more than 50 tickets from him.
If sources are to be believed, RPF has kept a watch on such touts across the divisions in ECoR zone as their activities have increased over the years. In October last, the RPF caught hold of another tout in Srikakulam and from his possession, tickets worth `60,407 were recovered. The agency has already prepared a suspect list of touts and is keeping a watch on their activities in Bhubaneswar, Puri and Sambalpur.
“We are keeping a watch on transaction details of the suspicious elements to ascertain their activities. Cyber experts are also engaged to track the internet protocol address of the IDs,” IG, RPF-cum-Chief Security Commissioner Atul Pathak said.
Since IRCTC e-ticketing system has been kept simple to facilitate easy booking, touts have taken advantage of it. Currently, there is no ceiling on number of tickets authorised agents can book but personal users can book only 10 tickets a month. However, creation of personal IDs is so simple that unscrupulous elements take advantage to exploit travellers.
According to Assistant Commissioner, Security, RPF Aditya Awasthi, the touts have been creating dozens of fake IDs to book tickets. Biswal, for example, was found to be operating at least 10 IDs to book tickets.
Since ID creation on IRCTC does not require submission of any identity proof documents, the touts have been submitting fake address and contacts to keep enforcement agencies at bay. One tout in Srikakulam submitted a public thoroughfare as his address in the online form.
When RPF first screened some agents, Awasthi said, it found that they had exhausted all their 10 booking-a-month limit which aroused suspicion.
That’s not all. Some of these touts have been found to be using software which allows ‘autofill’ (automatic filling-up of online reservation forms). During booking in Tatkal categories, the touts use the software to gain time advantage while a passenger trying to book tickets from his home is left in the lurch.
Statistics available with Indian Railway shows that at least 61 per cent of reserved tickets are currently booked online. On April 1, 2015, the highest sale of reserved tickets - a whopping 22.52 lakh - was recorded. Of these, 13.63 lakh (61 per cent) tickets were booked online. Interestingly, 91 per cent of the online tickets were by personal users.
In the last few years, the number of touts arrested for illegal booking has dropped - from 2,347 in 2012 to 1801 in 2014. But an average train traveller using IRCTC website continues to find the booking a challenge, thanks to the growing number of touts who have vanished from booking counters and gone online.