October 10, 2009

Railways, Technology and Ethics

Filed under: Lessons,Technology,Transport — loggers @ 8:38 pm

Disclaimer: None of the brands mentioned have actually paid us. This is free advertising for them.

Railway ticket booking has become a lot easier these days, thanks to the IRCTC and websites such as Yatra. As a result we’ve relied on the railways to travel the eastern part of the country. Rail travel is also safer relative to roadways as local goons and Maoists/Naxalites often target vehicles on highways, especially in northern Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar. This strategy has allowed us to see a number of railway stations which we’ve found to be clean and well-equipped. However, major stations, such as Howrah, still suffer from heavy congestion (one of us remarked, “This resembles a refugee camp”) and security at all stations remains a major concern as they are extremely porous.

We took the Purshottam Express from Bhubaneswar to Jamshedpur. The train, which was supposed to leave Bhubaneswar at 11.30pm was delayed by an hour. Due to arrive at 6.30am, we only reached at 8am. The attendant, who had assured us that he would wake us up in time for Tatanagar station, seemed content in his sleep as we exited the train. Utterly disoriented, we searched for the exit. Meters before the exit, we were stopped by a drowsy railway official who wanted to see tickets of the journey we had just performed. We realized that after the 2am ticket check and due to the hasty exit in the morning, we had forgotten our tickets in the train.

When on the wrong side of the law, defense via reason is an ideal form of offense. We proceeded to explain to the uninterested official the circumstances under which we had exited the train. We also asked for his permission to show him the soft copy of our ticket on the mobile phone or the netbook but he refused citing the INR 300/person fine as the only acceptable settlement mechanism.

As is common in India, onlookers circumscribed us for their dose of early morning entertainment. Few of the gentlemen tried to negotiate on our behalf. We even suggested to the platform TC (Ticket Collector) that 2 of us would bond with him while the third would run to a nearby cyber café and print the ticket. He rejected this offer too and proposed that we pay INR 300 at least. For that sum, he would let us go. This was the loophole in his case. We demanded that we be taken to the station manager’s cabin for what would be a hearing of sorts.

Upon arrival at the cabin, we presented our case to the manager who deployed a third, apparently independent officer to examine our e-tickets. The netbook was pulled out. The Netconnect was plugged in. Now, only internet connectivity could save us from furthering the confrontation. Towers were on our side – the device worked. The officer looked at the ticket and recommended that we be set free.

Lesson: Requesting a transfer of proceedings to the station manager was a risk. Groupism (which would work against us) of railway officials was a strong possibility. Paying INR 300 and exiting the station was the easy option but we knew that our case was flawless. We decided to stick to the facts and emerged victorious on a high moral ground.

Many of our laws are archaic, and render such settlement impossible. Not too long ago, we succumbed to a similar temptation. An upright minority is the only hope for a nation where corruption is a social norm. Pontificating high horses are more comfortable than rocky rail rides.



  1. This is very interesting Naman. You daddy sent me the link. Well Done. I can see a book coming out of it only if you take your notes more carefully.

    Now take a leap in time a few years ahead. Imagine a family in your place. A man and his wife with a 9 year old kid. I am sure they would love to pay this guy Rs 300 rather than going for a hearing by a top official.

    Your success will depend on what solutions you could suggest out of these day-to-day problems of an Indian citizen..

    Comment by Vijay Rana — October 11, 2009 @ 2:55 pm | Reply

  2. my dear why not use the word bribe . do u like tata – i think now u r some where or in patna . urs observation abt howrah is perfect . its a legacy of great bengal famine of 1942 . station and plateforms are great sheltar for in biharipan gareeb – guraba .

    Comment by JUGNU SHARDEYA — October 11, 2009 @ 8:14 pm | Reply

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