The May Day twin blasts on the Bangalore-Guwahati Express has brought to the fore the weak identity verification process in the Railways, which unauthorised travel agents and touts seem to be taking advantage of.
Railway officials helping in the probe into the blasts came across a passenger who had booked his tatkal ticket with false information, including an inactive mobile number. Whether the passenger boarded the train at any point is being looked into. But officials in the Chennai Division of Southern Railway say such instances of document falsification were nothing new.
According to an official, since the advent of online bookings, it has become “highly cumbersome” to crack down on unauthorised travel agents. “They earn their profits mostly through tatkal bookings,” an official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. About 55 per cent of all bookings on a day are now done through the tatkal system. Given the short time window online to get the tickets, all sorts of unscrupulous means are employed.
In the existing process, passengers have the option of providing any one of the 10 listed documents as proof of identity for the tatkal e-ticket. However, the system does not have a mechanism to filter out those providing fake credentials at this stage.
Instead, random checks are done by officials after booking. “We select trains with greater rush and check randomly. For example, we select a booking and call the mobile number given thrice. If there is no answer, we freeze the PNR number,” says another official.
The same method is employed for verifying the ID given online. However, officials point out the random checks could authenticate only Central government IDs. “Say, if it is your State driving licence, we could hardly do anything to cross-check as we do not have access to such data on our systems. The only mode of verification is by Travelling Ticket Examiner ,” the official points out.
Startlingly, the coaches on which the blasts took place were unmanned by TTEs. Officials agree that given the acute shortage of ticket examiners, it is possible for one to travel on a train with false credentials.
To crack down on touts, the IRCTC monitors IP addresses of users. If more than two user IDs are open from a single IP address, the third account will automatically log out. But a travel agent says circumventing this “obstacle” is easy with mobile tethering for the Internet now possible. “We connect our 3G connections on mobile to the six computers we have. When the window opens for tatkal, we book simultaneously.”