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Monday, January 1, 2018

Train travel ~ window seat; booking of tatkal and more !!

It's an indelible part of history. On June 7 in 1893, a young lawyer from India was travelling from Durban to Pretoria for work. He bought a first class ticked and got himself a seat in the first class compartment. A European entered the apartment and upon seeing the young man who looked like a "coolie", called the railway authorities and asked that he be removed from the compartment.  The Indian man refused. For this protest, he was thrown off the train with his bag and baggage at Pietermaritzburg railway station.

How much do you relish travelling by Railways ~ and would that change in any way, if you are to be denied the ‘window’ seat ?  .. .. fortunately unlike air travel, co-passengers not on window seat too, can have unrestrained view from out of the window.  Almost 3 decades ago, when I boarded a train (travelling on transfer) many of my friends came to the Central Railway Station to see me off, that is etched in my memory.  Those days, it was a tradition to ‘see people off’ and ‘receive people’ coming from other places. 

Indian Railways is fascinating all the time ~ IR  is divided for administrative convenience into several regional railways.  In 2010, Kolkata Metro was given the status of the 17th zone of Indian Railways. Additionally, Konkan Railway has the administrative status of a zone of IR, but is not normally considered a zone for operational purposes.  A change in the station code of Mumbai Central, which will come into effect on February 1, 2018, has led to huge confusion among passengers planning to book tickets from this station to various destinations in western India and New Delhi.

The railways has decided to change the station code of Mumbai Central from BCT to MMCT from February 1, 2018. Since reservations can be made four months in advance, those booking tickets for trains departing on this date were unable to get Mumbai Central as the originating or destination station. This led to chaos and social media was abuzz with rumours that Mumbai Central station would be shut for long-distance trains from February 1 onward.

Rumours are always abuzz.  There has been news that Indian Railways is reportedly planning to charge 50-100 extra on the booking of lower berths as there is a high demand for these berths. The move, similar to airlines charging extra for window seats, is aimed at  senior citizens and those in need. At present, passengers can select the berths while booking their tickets on the Indian Railways website. .. .. and that takes us to booking tickets.

Booking (reserving) tickets was a great ordeal till that day when Railways computerized their reservation ~ it was a technological marvel when one in the Moore Market Reservation complex, one could stand in any of the long queues and book ticket for anywhere to anywhere !  - that was to change for better with the introduction of Online booking facility.

Now people book tickets from home, office and even when travelling using mobile apps and websites like IRCTC ~ still the ‘tatkal’ ticket would remain elusive for many.  If you are among the frustrated ones not able to book tatkal ticket,  Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has an answer now as to why a passenger booking through his account hardly gets a ticket confirmed under Tatkal but an agent always does.

Assistant Programmer of CBI Ajay Garg, who joined the organisation in 2012, has been arrested by the agency for developing an illicit software named Neo which allowed him to book 800-1,000 tickets at one go. The arrest has once again exposed the scam that had plagued the India Railways booking system due to which a passenger hardly ever is able to confirm tickets under Tatkal.  Garg and his agents were running this racket for the past one year and were looting public money.  Reports state that having worked with the IRCTC as a developer from 2007-2011, Garg had full knowledge of the functioning of the website along with the loopholes and vulnerabilities in the software. This helped him loot the Railways and the common man alike.

A case has been registered against Garg and others on allegations of criminal conspiracy, offences related to unauthorised access and damage to compute/computer system and running unauthorised business of procuring and supplying railway tickets, and criminal misconduct. Garg also distributed this software to railway ticket booking agents and travel operators for a hefty sum, said a CBI official in a statement. Investigations further revealed that Garg and his men amassed huge wealth from this and also received money from dealers through bitcoins and hawala networks. According to the CBI, "Raids in 14 places including Delhi, Mumbai and Jaunpur have led to the recovery of almost Rs 89.42 lakh in cash, gold jewellery estimated at Rs 61.29 lakh including two gold bars weighing 1kg each, 15 laptops among other equipment."  The accused were produced before the court and have been sent to police custody till January 5.

Every system, every programme, every website has a weakness.  While it normally takes around 120 seconds to generate a PNR, Garg's software was able to generate a number of them extremely fast. The software could bypass IRCTC captcha, bank OTP and form, providing proxy IP addresses and multiple user IDs passwords, PTI reports. Cyber-security is a major concern everywhere as outdated software and programs running in a number of organisations across various sectors have made it an easy target for hacking.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

28th Dec 2017.

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