Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has showered praise on the Railways for improving it is fiscal management, but he seems to have ignored the jugglery being employed by the department to fill its coffers.
At a time when the government is going out of its way to encourage cashless transactions, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) is charging extra money from passengers buying tickets on its website.
Booking ticket from the IRCTC website is costing customers Rs 100-Rs 150 more than buying it from ticket windows. Furthermore, the passengers are also being charged extra money for cancellation of tickets.
In order to understand the difference of fares between IRCTC website and Indian Railway portal, we initiated the process of booking a ticket from Lucknow to Delhi on 28 November and inquired about the fares on this route on the Indian Railway's website.
The website was showing a fare of Rs 676 for a chair car ticket in Swarna Jayanti Shatabdi Express from Lucknow to Delhi. The same ticket was being sold at the IRCTC portal at Rs 674. Although the base fare was Rs 2 less on IRCTC website, the total amount charged was Rs 1,250. In contrast, the booking amount shown for the same ticket on the Indian Railway website was only Rs 970, a difference of Rs 280.
This is the harsh reality of cashless transactions in the railway system.
The arithmetic of this difference in fares is equally intriguing. While IRCTC levies a service tax of Rs 46, the amount shown on the Indian Railway website is only Rs 34. Besides, IRCTC is charging an additional "dynamic fee" of Rs 270 for any booking on the Swarna Jayanti Express. No such fee is mentioned in the Indian Railway website. The IRCTC website warns passengers that "dynamic fee" can be increased anytime.
The Indian Railways website is meant only for latest information on fares. Whereas the IRCTC is a company owned by the railway department. Its website asks customers to open accounts before booking a ticket. However, the online booking is considerably expensive than manual booking.
Usually, the passengers buying online tickets do not bother to inquire the rates of the same bookings on ticket windows. The online buyers are under pressure to confirm their berth and end up paying more.
The irony of the government promoting digital economy is evident in this case. There are no swipe machines on ticket windows. Therefore, people have no option but to pay cash. Far from getting any incentive, those opting for cashless transactions are paying the extra cost of doing so.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu