Concerns fly as Southern Railway collects phone numbers from passengers

Passengers alleged that they were asked to provide their 10-digit mobile numbers, which were manually recorded by commercial staff at ticket counters saying it was mandatory.
Representational Image
Representational Image

CHENNAI: From July 1, Southern Railway has been collecting mobile numbers from unreserved passengers in Chennai who come to get their season tickets issued or renewed at the counters, sparking privacy concerns. Earlier, mobile numbers were only collected from reserved passengers, both online and offline, to send text alerts. For the first time, this information has been demanded from unreserved commuters, a section of whom strongly opposed the move.

Passengers alleged that they were asked to provide their 10-digit mobile numbers, which were manually recorded by commercial staff at ticket counters saying it was mandatory. Members of railway users’ consultative committees criticised the move, saying it was another instance of acting on “verbal” instructions from the railway board without any official order. They contended that collecting such basic details at the counters without proper explanation violates passengers’ privacy.

However, the official spokesperson of Southern Railway said the purpose of this exercise was to gather basic information from passengers who avail of season tickets at subsidised prices. The official did not respond to privacy concerns.

A majority of Chennai’s working population reaches the city from Chengalpattu, Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur, Ranipet, and Vellore by train services. With nearly 660 daily services, the Chennai division transports over 11.5 lakh passengers every day.

Clarify reason for collecting phone number details: Assn

More than 7 lakh passengers use season tickets in these sections, with the highest number of first-class season tickets issued in the Chennai Beach - Chengalpattu section. The season tickets are issued for up to 160 km in Chennai division.

K Baskar from Tiruvallur Rail Passengers Association described it as another instance of unreserved passengers being mistreated by the railways. “The officials should have issued a proper order explaining the reasons for collecting mobile numbers, along with strict guidelines to protect passengers’ data.” He recalled that Tiruchy division insisted for e-payment for reserving tickets at counters and refused to accept cash.

R Pandiaraja, member of Zonal Rail Users Consultative Committee asked, “The railways must explain why they insist on collecting this information.”

A Southern Railway official said, “Season tickets are non-transferable. The mobile number is basic information and there is nothing unusual about collecting it.”

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