Do you remember the last time you were asked to produce your train or platform ticket as you walked out of the Madurai railway station? Have you bumped into a Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE) on a passenger train or an unreserved coach of an express train in recent times?
TTEs and Railway union leaders say that no checking is done on passenger trains and on platforms these days. Ever since the new rail fares came into force on January 23, passenger trains or unreserved coaches of Express trains are no longer manned by TTEs.
The authorities have apparently dispensed with the ticket checking squad to make up for the shortage of TTEs, who are now entrusted with the collection of the difference in fare from every passenger who had booked tickets before the fare hike was announced.
Consequently, ticket checking in unreserved coaches and compartments of passenger trains, and at platforms, has ceased. Luggage that has not been booked also goes unchecked, according to railway sources.
Sources point out that if luggage is not booked or ticketless travel is not contained, it means leakage of revenue for the railways.
While no penalty is collected for such violation nowadays, the Madurai Railway division collected Rs.25 lakh per month as penalty in the past.
According to Railway Board norms, one TTE should be posted for every two sleeper coaches. In case of air conditioned coaches, a TTE could be given responsibility for ticket checking in more than two coaches. Says the Divisional Railway Employees' Union secretary, R. Sankaranarayanan,
“With the introduction of several new trains, additional coaches and running of special trains on festivals and vacations, the TTEs could not cater to the increased workload given their limited strength.”
“In the past, every TTE was forced to man three to four coaches. But as the workload increased, this became practically impossible. The TTEs now face the burden of checking the IDs of passengers travelling in all reserved compartments. Any failure to perform the assigned tasks will result in punishment for us,” a TTE said. The TTEs have refused to take on the additional workload fearing punitive action. This has led to many reserved compartments going unmanned. As a result, onboard checking of tickets is not being done. This has led to fraudulent claims for refund of ticket fare by unscrupulous passengers, who make the false claim under “not travelled.”
Southern Railway Mazdoor Union divisional secretary J.M. Rafi points out that after the officials detected huge revenue leakage on account of fraudulent refund claims, the general checking squad was disbanded and the TTEs were put on duty on reserved compartments.
In addition to many reserved coaches of express trains, the coaches of passenger trains are now unmanned. Regular travellers have now understood that TTEs are not present on unreserved coaches and passenger trains.
“Ticketless travel has increased on passenger trains in the last few days. There is no fear among passengers as they know that no one will check them either in the train or on the platform. However, the drop in window earnings on this account is not very visible, as more and more bus passengers are preferring train travel due to increase in bus fares,” adds Mr. Rafi.
Around 25 passenger trains run in the Madurai division on various routes. Mr. Sankaranarayanan says that each TTE in the general checking squad was earlier collecting at least Rs.35,000 as penalty per month from ticketless travellers and those carrying luggage in excess of the permitted limit without booking.
Apart from the revenue loss, the absence of TTEs is drawing the attention of anti-social elements.
“By virtue of my experience in the squad, I have developed an intuitive knowledge to identify the ticketless traveller among hundreds of genuine passengers. Likewise, we can also identify anti-social elements by reading their body language,” says a senior TTE,
The absence of TTEs emboldens unauthorised vendors to board trains. They sell eatables and beverages. “With no proper monitoring, an anti-social element can even enter the coaches in the guise of an unauthorised vendor and steal the baggage of a passenger.
They can also mastermind a robbery by identifying potential passengers carrying valuables,” warns the TTE.