A new Algorithm being developed by CRIS to predict chances of Ticket Confirmation

The Railways is creating a complex algorithm for its ticket-booking software that will predict the probability of waitlisted tickets getting confirmed at the time of booking. The algorithm will take into account 13 years’ worth of historical data to arrive at a “robust workable model,” officials said.

NEW DELHI: The Railways may not be able to provide confirmed berths to all those who book tickets, but it will soon start predicting on its website if waitlisted tickets have any chance of getting confirmed at all.

Mining its own historical data of passenger operations and booking patterns for the first time, the Railways is creating a complex algorithm for its ticket-booking software that will predict the probability of waitlisted tickets getting confirmed at the time of booking.

Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, who came up with the idea, has ordered that the new predictive service along with a revamped, more user-friendly ticket-booking website and a mobile app be ready by the end of this year, sources said.

The job of devising the algorithm, which will involve writing the code from scratch, has been assigned to the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS), the IT & Software arm of the Indian Railways, which also runs the ticket-booking website IRCTC.co.in.

“It is an exciting project and we will be delivering it shortly. The algorithm will analyse past trends of passenger bookings and help predict probabilities as accurately as possible,” Vandana Nanda, Managing Director, CRIS, told.

The algorithm will take into account 13 years’ worth of historical data to arrive at a “robust workable model,” officials said.

One of the major challenges, though, is that peak seasons and booking patterns of trains change every year based on the Hindu festival calendar.

For instance, Diwali, Dussehra, Durga Puja and Chhath holiday periods, which see a deluge of passenger traffic, take place on different days every year.

Engineers are trying to figure out how to factor that in for the algorithm to work.

“The disclaimer would be that the percentage of probability of confirmation shown is merely indicative,” said an official.

Until now, private players have tried offering predictability service without any affiliation with Railways. Officials said none of them is reliable as they do not have the scale, wherewithal or the database the Railways has for “such a complex algorithm to work”.

“Once the Railways officially starts indicating chances of confirmation, smaller private services will phase out,” said a senior Railway official.

Berths in all long-distance trains get filled within minutes of the ticket windows are open at 8am, 120 days prior to the date of the journey. Nearly 13 lakh tickets are booked every day against a reserved accommodation of 10.5 lakh berths across classes.

This follows lengthy waiting lists, which keep decreasing as and when cancellations take place, but without any official way of knowing if the waitlisted tickets stand any chance of getting confirmed.

 

ICICI Bank priority customers to get IRCTC Executive Lounge access at Visakhapatnam Railway Station

VISAKHAPATNAM: Travel Food Services (TFS) has done an alliance with ICICI Bank for providing lounge access to its priority customers on Visakhapatnam railway station. The services at Travel Club Lounge are complimentary to the RUBYX and CORAL range of cards. Located on the platform number 1 and providing the travellers with a host of services, this lounge operates 24X7. The lounge can accommodate over 50 passengers at a given time.

The luxury lounge at Visakhapatnam Railway Station by IRCTC is less talked and not many people know about this service. Opened on 14th December last year, this lounge is the answer to all the waiting situations and hunger cravings on the Railway Station. Located on the first floor on the platform number one and providing the travellers with a lot of services, this lounge operates 24*7 and is first of its kind in India.

The IRCTC Executive Lounge at the railway station in India has been opened by TFS include facilities like a shower area, buffet, recliners, entertainment, live cooking, snacks, tea & coffee and cold beverages. The lounge also offers a wide selection of popular newspapers and magazines. Complimentary Wifi and hygienic/clean toilet facilities are available for travellers, alongside paid facilities like shower rooms, recliners, etc.

Speaking about the executive lounge, Gaurav Dewan, COO, TFS said, “TFS is always in search of excellence and committed to transforming the F&B experience of travellers. Our intent is to give the travellers a memory of India to cherish, in the little transition time between or before travel. Considering the volume travellers and the distances involved in travelling across a large country like India, travellers would definitely look forward to a place to spend a couple of hours where they can relax, rejuvenate and recharge themselves.”

Fully air conditioned hall with access to free WiFi is what attracts one and there is absolutely no discrimination in the passenger class. Collaborated by the Indian Railways, this luxury lounge is handled by the IRCTC.

The rate for initial entry (for 2 hours) into the lounge is Rs.150 + tax. Subsequently for every hour an additional Rs. 50 will be charged. The buffet breakfast is charged at Rs.150 + tax with a variety to choose from. The lunch and dinner buffet is priced at Rs.250 + tax.

Options of hot and cold beverages are available for travellers while they can feast on the vast menu of vegetarian and non-vegetarian breakfast and buffets. This lounge serves almost everything from soups and sweets to juices, Chinese and Indian cuisine along with an all day snack bar where local Andhra flavour is also made available.

Along with the delicious food, travellers can also relax on recliners for which they have to pay Rs.400 + tax and Rs 250 is charged for every extra hour. A spa is also maintained in the lounge managed by O2 with fixed timings. Train information display, television, toilets and baths, newspaper and magazines are additional benefits of the lounge.

Serving its customers quality food and services, the lounge has managed to get some regular customers and the feedback they get from the customers is always good. Visakhapatnam is the first to get this luxury lounge in the country while Howrah will  soon have one too.

The motto of Travel Food Services Pvt.Ltd. (the service provider) is to transform the traveller’s experience by providing luxury services. This is the India’s largest F&B retail service Provider with operations in India & Abroad. This company is based in all the major units of India like, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi, Mangalore etc . IRCTC plans to provide airport-like services at the Railway Station as well and we are very impressed!

Clueless of Rule – Ignorance on Ticket Cancellation rules filling Railway coffers?

SECUNDERABAD: The surge in online sale of railway tickets has Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) laughing all the way to the bank. The reason: Many tech-savvy passengers, who go for e-tickets, are not aware of the cancellation policies and end up losing on their refunds altogether.

If South Central Railway (SCR) sources are to be believed, passengers tend to cancel their e-tickets at the last moment, unaware of the fact that cancellations have to be done within the stipulated time to be eligible for refunds.

Two years back, the Indian Railways tweaked the refund rules, doubling the cancellation charges and making it mandatory to cancel at least 48 hours prior to departure. “Many still don’t know that cancellation is not done at e-ticket counters and has to be done online only and that too at least 48 hours in advance. Many e-ticket purchasers hence suffer heavy losses on account of their ignorance,” a senior railway official told. “The cancellation and refund rules were revised to plug the scope of misuse after cases of touts selling railway tickets in black surfaced,” said an employee of IRCTC, which is responsible for issuing refunds against e-ticket cancellations.

According to SCR sources, the zone witnesses a spike in cancellations of e-tickets mostly during the festive season -between September and December -as many passengers book both railway and air tickets to beat the rush. When their flight reservations get confirmed, they cancel their railway tickets at the last minute.

The destinations, for which e-tickets are primarily booked and cancelled in SCR zone, include Delhi, Bangalore, Howrah, Chennai and Visakhapatnam, among others.

Chinese Wireless Router Hacks Indian Railway’s IRCTC Website

A pack of hackers have spread their wings across the entire country, bringing down many important websites for gaining publicity or making a quick buck. Only recently the website to have been attacked by them is none other than that of the Indian Railways.

Railways Protection Force (RPF) holds that the main hacker is extremely clever, who has sound technological knowledge, otherwise it was extremely difficult to hack a site with such a full-proof security plan as that IRCTC has put in  place.  The investigation being conducted has led RPF to arrest a ticket broker from Durg, who was in possession of some Chinese hacking equipment.

During interrogation, the hacker cum ticket broker admitted how easily he could book tickets within just 10 minutes of the booking website opening up. He also revealed that they used to load all the data into a specific software, with the help of which they could get confirmed tickets by making use of Fake IDs.

The RPF investigation says that the hackers used to create Fake IDs on private ticket booking platforms registered with IRCTC. With the help of this, they used to hack the IRCTC website for few minutes daily and book confirmed tickets. Not just to book tickets to and from Raipur, but the hackers would break into the entire data of confirmed tickets for all of Eastern Railways.

Despite the failure of IRCTC to secure their ticket booking portal, higher Railway officials are  unwilling to take responsibility about the frequent breaches made into the so called ‘full proof’ software. This is not the first time that the site has been hacked but the officials are in denial mode. It was only after the secret investigation department of RPF came out with a reports about the vulnerability of the website to hacking that the matter has come out in the public.

RPF has directed the railway officials of Bhilai and Raipur to further investigate the matter and get the wireless routers checked by experts, however, the officials have still not been able to appoint any specialist to do a security audit. It may be noted that these are not just simple WiFi routers, but they have been helping hackers break in for quiet some time and the China made routers are allegedly helping in exposing the website to web criminals.

Lab Reports confirm that Food served on ‘Tejas Express’ did not cause Food Poisoning

IRCTC confirm that the laboratory results prove that food served on the train wasn’t contaminated

MUMBAI: Ten days after a case of suspected food poisoning aboard the Goa-Mumbai Tejas Express led to admission of 20-odd passengers in a Chiplun hospital, Delhi-based FDA has conducted tests and given a clean chit to the breakfast and soup served to them.

Sources said that the food samples have passed all parameters set by FDA, reiterating the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation’s (IRCTC’s) stand that food served onboard the Tejas Express was not the problem.

A three-member committee appointed by the railways to probe the incident of suspected food poisoning in the train has given a clean chit to railway authorities, saying the “quality of food served in the train to passengers was satisfactory. Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) had sent the food samples for testing at laboratory in Mumbai.

The very next day of the train incident, IRCTC, Delhi, came out in defence of its service and said that the smell of vomit from a few members of the group touring Himachal Pradesh and Kolkata triggered an onslaught of vomiting among fellow-passengers. The train left Goa at 9am on October 15 and the suspected food poisoning incident occurred at around 12 noon, after which there was an unscheduled halt at Chiplun.

An official said, “The food was safe and IRCTC has passed all FDA standards for now, and we empathise with the plight of passengers who suffered that day. We suspect that the food touring groups ate the night before was the cause of food poisoning but there is no way to know that for sure. However tests have proved that at least the food served on Tejas on October 15 was not in any way contaminated.”

The test were conducted by Municipal Health Laboratory of the BMC as per the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). The report concludes that all the food items conforms to Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 (Food Products standards and food additives) Regulations 2011.” The food report, finalised on October 23, has been authenticated by BMC’s food analyst Santosh Jathar.

When contacted, IRCTC Mumbai general manager Arvind Malkahede said, “I cannot tell you what the test says for now, but I can confirm that the report of the test has come on Wednesday. We at IRCTC will be presenting the result of the test along with our internal report on the incident in a day or two.”

Revamp of IRCTC Website on cards, new App to make Ticket Bookings easier, faster!

NEW DELHI: In a bid to ensure smooth ticket-bookings on IRCTC, the Indian Railway is planning to revamp its website and launch new Android-based IRCTC mobile App. Railway’s new website will be passenger-friendly, clutter-free with easier log-in and navigation and will not have the problem of getting timed out during booking of a ticket.

In the new website, the Railways will introduce several new features that include display of confirmed tickets and dates. It is also planning to start a mechanism to send SMS alerts to passengers about arrival and departure of trains on a real-time basis.

The report also said that the text alerts will be sent to passengers’ mobile phones during the journey about any delay, cause of delay and the time the train will take to reach the next station and its final destination. The new features will be added with the help of Indian Space Research Organisation to inform rail passengers on exact location of the train by using satellites.

Indian Railways’ move has come in the back of various reports complaining about the current website’s slow response while booking Tatkal tickets during peak hours. Earlier in July, the Railways had launched an integrated mobile application- Rail SAARTHI. The app was launched to cater to various passenger requirements, including ticket booking, inquiry, on-board cleaning and ordering meal on a single platform.

While launching this app, then Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had said that there was a need for an integrated application which could give a single window interface for these services.

The Rail SAARTHI (synergised advanced application rail travel help and information) such as safety for women, complaint facility and suggestion for improvement, he had said. One can also book air ticket through the App and give feedback.

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Indian Railways to partner FSSAI to improve Food Safety in Trains

Third party safety audit on the cards, says CEO of food safety body!

NEW DELHI: The Railways and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) will work together to ensure improved safety standards of the food being served in trains. The food regulator said it will also get a third party safety audit done soon.

“Our role will be to partner with the Railways and bring in systemic changes and improvements. Therefore, we will be getting a third party food safety audit done soon. This is not going to be an accounts or a performance audit, but a food safety audit which will help us understand the gaps within their systems in terms food safety,” Pawan Agarwal, CEO, FSSAI told.

The Railways was in the news recently when an incident in the high-profile Tejas Express was reported wherein 24-26 people were hospitalised after “food poisoning”. The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), however, denied any food quality issues in its preliminary probe report. Incidentally, CAG in its report, earlier had also termed the food served in trains as “unfit” for human consumption.

In the new catering policy, IRCTC has called for zones of the Indian Railways or IRCTC to ensure good quality and hygienic food to passengers.

However, ensuring quality processes across the supply chain for food served is a huge challenge, given that Railways has over 7,000 stations and moves over 2.2 crore passengers every day.

IRCTC serves about four-five lakh meals a day in about 350 trains where it has pantry cars. It will be modernising its base kitchens at 12 locations — where the proposed meal production is expected to be 5.7 lakh a day.

Third party audit of mobile units and base kitchen is to be undertaken by zonal railway periodically, by hiring an independent agency in accordance with Catering Policy 2017.

As regards the premium Tejas Express, which runs between Mumbai and Goa, catering services are optional for passengers and are factored in the fare. However, if a passenger asks for catering services at a later stage, an extra ₹50 per cent per service is levied, in addition to the cost of catering charges.

To spruce up its catering quality, IRCTC plans to set up new kitchens and upgrade the existing ones, which will be owned, operated and managed by it, and it shall be fully accountable for all issues pertaining to the base kitchens and quality of food.

All four base kitchens under departmental operation of Zonal Railways (Nagpur, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, Mumbai Central and Balharshah) and all kitchen units — refreshment rooms at A1 and A category stations, Jan Ahaar, Cell Kitchens shall be handed over to IRCTC on ‘as is where is basis’.

It also plans to introduce station based e-catering, pre-cooked food (‘ready to eat’ meals) , operation of centralised Catering Service Monitoring Cell for prompt redressal of passenger grievances relating to catering.

Huge challenge

However, carrying out a third party safety audit, though desirable, remains a huge challenge with the Railways managing a wide network of catering services spread over 131 base kitchens, 7,957 static catering units, 358 mobile catering units, 164 departmental refreshment rooms, 86 food plazas and 69 fast food units.

Finance Ministry may reimburse IRCTC for loss from Service Charge waiver on e-Tickets

NEW DELHI: The finance ministry plans to reimburse the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation’s (IRCTC) for losses incurred from waiving off service charges on online tickets.

Compensation of around Rs 80-100 crore, which is the actual cost and not the margins borne by IRCTC, is likely to be offered. IRCTC has quoted costs of Rs 600 crore per year including actual costs plus margin.

IRCTC is hoping the ministry’s gesture will wipe out financial glitches ahead of it’s IPO.

“In the earlier model, of the Rs 600 crore IRCTC used to collect as service charges annually, 50 percent used to go to the railways and the balance was retained by IRCTC. However, since processes are now mostly computerised, cost of operations has reduced,” a ministry of railways official told the paper.

The service charges at Rs 20, Rs 40, Rs 80, and Rs 120 for the tickets, were waived off in November last year after demonetisation. Till date, it is unclear whether the ministry will bear the cost of online ticketing services for every year. Customers cannot be levied with the service charge till March 2018.

Apart from IRCTC, the government plans to list three other railway PSUs — Indian Railways Finance Corporation, IRCON International and RITES — within this year.
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Zonal Railways asked to withdraw Catering Staff engaged in non-core activities such as those related to Cultural and Sports

NEW DELHI: All zonal railways have been asked to withdraw their catering staff engaged in non-core activities such as those related to cultural and sporting functions, according to a directive of the Railway Board issued today.

“All zonal railways should withdraw catering staff engaged in non-core activities like VIP catering, special catering, catering at the railway club or other semi-official catering activities like those related to Women’s Welfare Organisation, cultural and sporting functions and other such activities,” the directive, a copy of which is with PTI, read.

The Board has asked zonal railways to engage private caterers for such purposes.

“The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has also been directed to refrain from stretching their limited resources for such non-core catering activities,” it said.

With the implementation of the Catering Policy 2017, most of the catering units and related activities have been transferred to the IRCTC.

Zonal railways should curtail their role in the area of catering and Group D staff thus rendered surplus should be immediately redeployed against existing vacancies within the commercial and operating departments, the order read.
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No Service Charge on Train e-Ticket till March 2018: Railways

The government had waived service charges after demonetisation in November last year to encourage digital modes of booking. As per the revenue collection of the last financial year, about Rs 540 crore of IRCTC’s revenue of over Rs 1,500 crore came from ticket bookings.

NEW DELHI: Rail passengers will continue to enjoy service charge exemption on tickets booked online till March 2018.

The government had waived service charges after demonetisation in November last year to encourage digital modes of booking.

The facility had been extended to June 30 and then September 30. Service charges on booking train tickets online through IRCTC ranges from Rs 20 to 40 per ticket.

In a September 29 missive to the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), the ticketing agency of the railways, the Railway Board directed that the benefits be extended till March next year.

Senior railway officials say that almost 33% of the IRCTC revenue comes from the service charge collected on online bookings. As per the revenue collection of the last financial year, about Rs 540 crore of IRCTC’s revenue of over Rs 1,500 crore came from ticket bookings.

An amount of around Rs 184 crore has not been realised from passengers on account of service charge and service tax thereon on reserved tickets booked online from November 23, 2016 to February 28, 2017, according to railways data.

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No bar on any Banks’ Cards for Payment; can use mAadhaar as ID Proof during Rail Travel: IRCTC

NEW DELHI: Amidst reports of IRCTC barring certain banks from using its payment gateway for debit card transactions, the railways’ tourism and catering arm issued a statement denying the reports.

The IRCTC has said options to pay through payment gateway using debit/credit card and internet banking are open for all banks.

“No debit or credit card of any bank has been restricted by the IRCTC for acceptance on any of the gateway,” it said.

Debit and credit cards of any Indian bank powered by Master or Visa, can be accepted in any of the seven gateways on the site, the statement clarified.

However, it said the IRCTC has provides a value-added service of direct integration to some banks which would allow speedy transactions and reconciliations.

“Since direct integration comes at an added cost to the IRCTC, these banks were asked to share a part of their transaction charges with IRCTC,” it said.

A senior official of the IRCTC said that it was not possible for it to bear cost of individual linkage to bank websites.

“IRCTC had asked banks to share the revenue earned from online tickets because of these value-added services but some banks refused,” he said.

The IRCTC has said that if banks are willing to give the facility of zero transaction charges on their debit cards to rail ticket customers then it will give them the facility of direct debit card integration also.

The statement has further said that banks should abide by the RBI guidelines regarding transaction charges on debit cards by charging only 0.25 per cent on transactions of up to Rs 1,000 and a maximum of 0.5 per cent on transactions of values between Rs 1,000 and Rs 2,000.

Now, You Can Use mAadhaar As Identity Proof During Rail Travel

A mobile-based application, mAadhaar, developed by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) will now serve as one of the prescribed identity proofs for rail travel purposes, the government said on Wednesday. “m-Aadhaar when shown by the passenger on his/her mobile after entering the password should be accepted as proof of identity for undertaking journey in any reserved class over Indian Railways,” according to a notification from the Ministry of Railways. The use of mAadhaar as an identity proof will be valid across any reserved class, it added.

mAadhaar carries demographic information like name, date of birth, gender and address of a person along with the photograph and is linked with the Aadhaar number. To use the mAadhaar or ‘mobile Aadhaar’ app, users need to register their mobile number with UIDAI. Once the process is complete, they can download their details on the app.

The app comes with a biometric lock and unlock feature to secure the personal data. Once a user enables the lock system, the app remains locked till the person chooses to either unlock it (which is temporary) or disable the locking system. It also has a “TOTP (Time-Based One-Time Password) generation” process which can be used instead of SMS-based OTP (one-time password).

Users can update their Aadhaar profile data too and registered mobile number is a must for using the app. In case your mobile number is not registered, visit the nearest Aadhaar Enrolment Centre or Mobile Update End Point. A QR code facility and password protected eKYC data are among the additional features provided in the app.

The mAadhaar app is currently available for Android users only.

IRCTC Clarifies On Payment Via Credit Cards, Debit Cards: 5 Things To Know

The railway ministry was clarifying on media reports which said IRCTC had barred certain banks from using its payment gateway for debit card transactions.

IRCTC or Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation is accepting payments via cards from all banks. This was said by the Ministry of Railways in a post on microblogging site Twitter. IRCTC is an arm of the Indian Railways. The railway ministry said: “No debit or credit card of any bank has been restricted by the IRCTC for acceptance on any of the gateway… Debit/Credit cards of all banks are accepted on any payment gateway. No truth in news of having blocked any card of any bank.” The ministry was clarifying on media reports which said IRCTC had barred certain banks from using its payment gateway for debit card transactions.

Here are five things to know about IRCTC

The railway ministry said that it had not imposed any restrictions and debit/credit cards of all Indian banks were accepted.

“To use any Debit/Credit Card on Payment page, select ‘Payment Gateway/Credit/Debit Cards’ and use any Payment Gateway,” IRCTC said on its website – irctc.co.in.

IRCTC or Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation also said it has provided seven payment gateways for accepting domestic debit and credit cards and direct integration to some banks as value added service to for the convenience of its passengers.

In a circular issued on Friday, the Railways also said that direct integration with banks has additional costs. IRCTC had earlier asked banks to share a part of the transaction charge with the Railways but later on forfeited its share of the transaction charge and asked banks to pass on the benefits to the customer.

IRCTC has seven gateways to accept digital payments. These are ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank, Citi Bank, Axis Bank, Paytm, PayU and ITZ Cash. Payment gateway of American Express Bank is integrated for Amex Card and of Kotak Bank for accepting Rupay Cards. IRCTC also accepts international Debit/Credit cards through the payment gateway of M/s Atom, IRCTC said.

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PayU partners with IRCTC, lends online payment services to users

NEW DELHI: Payment gateway provider PayU on Monday announced its collaborations with the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) to provide users a safe and secure option to pay for rail tickets booked via the IRCTC website.

PayU will now be available as a payment option under the Multiple Payment Services or MPS option on the IRCTC website at the payment stage of booking an e-ticket. Clicking on this option will enable users to make a safe and secure transaction via various payment options like internet banking, debit/credit card and e-wallet.

“Our payment gateway operates around 80 percent of the e-commerce business in India today, and this collaboration with IRCTC is aligned with our vision to simplify the payment experience for the growing digital savvy consumers as well as the merchants. Undoubtedly, this is a very large and prestigious mandate for us. IRCTC’s biggest strength, its traffic, combined with the success rate of our payment gateway, which is the best in the industry today, is a great match and has a huge potential to enhance the digital transactions landscape and contribute towards making India a cashless/less cash economy,” said Rahul Kothari, Enterprise Business Head, PayU India.

Indian Railways permits m-Aadhaar as ID proof for Travellers

NEW DELHI: The Ministry of Railways said today it has decided to allow m- Aadhaar, a digital version of the Aadhaar card, as proof of identity for travellers in any reserved class.

The m- Aadhaar is a mobile app launched by the Unique Identification Authority of India on which a person can download his/her Aadhaar card.

It can, however, be downloaded only on the mobile number to which Aadhaar has been linked.

To show Aadhaar, a passenger has to open the app and enter his/her password.

“m- Aadhaar when shown by the passenger on his/her mobile after entering the password should be accepted as a proof of identity for undertaking journey in any reserved class over Indian Railways,” the ministry said in a statement.

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Railway Minister gives 48-hour Deadline for Railway Staff to stop overcharging, seeking tips

Piyush Goyal writes letter to all Zonal Railways across India, asking them to make sure that the new rules are followed strictly.

NEW DELHI: Railway Minister Piyush Goyal has ordered that the practice of Railways staff seeking tips from passengers and overcharging for food should be stopped within 48 hours.

Letters have been sent out to all zonal railways across India, asking them to make sure that the new rules are followed.

The Railway authorities have earlier tried to do away with the practice of the catering staff overcharging the passengers, by giving a strict deadline. Giving tips, however, has never before figured in policy intervention.

After the directive, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) immediately contacted its catering contractors to convey an ultimatum.

Railways’ catering inspectors will check from Monday across trains to check if the old practices are still being followed. Social media platforms will be checked to see if passengers are complaining of being overcharging or about the staff asking for tips.

For overcharging of meals, most passengers are unaware of the actual rates and end up spending extra for a meal.

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RVNL to flag-off Stake Sale in five PSUs; divestment in RITES may also happen this fiscal

Govt kicks off 25% divestment in 5 Railway units with first sale in RVNL

NEW DELHI: The Centre plans to offload as much as 25 per cent of its stake in subsidiaries of the Railways even in the face of stiff opposition to any stake dilution in entities owned by the transport giant.

The Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) has already begun scouting for a registrar to manage a proposed 25 per cent disinvestment in Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd. September 21 is the deadline for submission of applications.

DIPAM officials said a similar quantum of equity will also be offloaded in the other Railway subsidiaries that have been approved for disinvestment, including IRCON International Ltd, Indian Railway Finance Corp. Ltd, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corp. Ltd (IRCTC), and RITES Ltd.

“RVNL is a test case. But 25 per cent stake will be sold in all the five rail PSUs. This will not only ensure better revenues, but also help improve the functioning of the firms and get them more resources,” said an official, adding that it is also to achieve the SEBI-set minimum public holding norm of 25 per cent for listed companies.

Following a Budget announcement, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs had in April approved the listing of the five PSUs through public offer of shares up to 25 per cent although the “actual disinvestment of each CPSE along with the mode of raising resources has been delegated for decision on a case-to-case basis to the Alternative Mechanism”.

DIPAM officials said the Centre was keen on offloading stakes in at least RVNL and RITES this fiscal. At present, the Centre owns 100 per cent stake in all these five rail PSUs.

For this fiscal, the Centre plans to raise ₹72,500 crore from stake sales; ₹46,500 crore from minority stake sales. Till now, it has received ₹9,960.12 crore from disinvestment in PSUs including NTPC and the stake sale in L&T through Specified Undertaking of Unit Trust of India. DIPAM is expected to soon issue requests for proposal for the remaining rail PSUs as well.

The move to sell stakes in Railway arms coincides with Piyush Goyal taking over as the new Cabinet Minister of Railways.

Centre eyes Rs.2,500 crore from selling 15% stake in NLC India

With the government successfully raising about ₹9,100 crore by selling a stake in NTPC Ltd through an Offer for Sale (OFS), it is now looking at selling a 15% stake in another power producer NLC India Ltd, two people aware of the developments said.

An OFS is likely this month, said one of the two people cited above, requesting anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to reporters. The sale could fetch the government as much as ₹2,500 crore at current market prices, he added.

“They are now eyeing NLC India as the next company to bring to the market for an OFS. The stake sale could be launched in the second half of September,” he said.

As of market close on Tuesday, NLC India’s shares were priced at Rs.100 on BSE, giving the company a market capitalization of ₹16,777 crore.

The government currently owns 89.32% in NLC India. A 15% stake sale would help the government pare its stake to below 75%.

A spokesperson for the ministry of finance declined to comment on the stake sale plan.

NLC’s offer for sale is part of government’s ambitious divestment target of ₹72,500 crore for this fiscal.

As part of the plan, the government selected seven publicly-traded companies where it would look at divesting its stake through an offer for sale. These include power sector firms NTPC, NLC India Ltd, NHPC Ltd, Power Finance Corp Ltd and Rural Electrification Corp Ltd. Other companies in the list include Steel Authority of India Ltd and refiner Indian Oil Corp. Ltd

The stake sales in these firms are likely to fetch the government more than ₹30,000 crore.

On 29 August, the government launched the OFS for around 5% stake in thermal power producer NTPC, with an option to retain oversubscription for another 5%. The government eventually received bids for 7% stake.

Earlier in April, the government managed to raise around ₹2,700 crore through a 11.36% stake sale in hydropower producer NHPC Ltd through the OFS route.

Divestments have helped the government raise around ₹17,000 crore in the current fiscal year.

The ambitious divestment plan will also see the initial public offerings of several public sector undertakings.

In April, it was reported that two state-owned insurance firms New India Assurance Co. Ltd (NIA) and General Insurance Corp. of India Ltd (GIC) had hired investment banks for their respective IPOs. Both firms filed their respective draft IPO documents in early August alongwith Rail PSUs.

Other state-owned firms that have been cleared for IPOs include three defence ministry enterprises—Bharat Dynamics Ltd, Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd and Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd;MSTC Ltd and Mishra Dhatu Nigam Ltd, controlled by the steel ministry; and North Eastern Electric Power Corp. Ltd, which is under the power ministry.

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IRCTC launches international tours for Lanka, Russia

The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd. (A Govt. of India Enterprise) under Ministry of Railways is one of the biggest e-commerce website across Asia.

The company with its innovative offers under various arms including Catering, E-Ticketing is also offerings various International Tour Packages through its tourism arm. These packages are based on Leisure and Pilgrimage theme.

Ramayana Yatra Sri Lanka: Buoyed by the steadily increasing popularity of these international offerings of IRCTC in the last financial year, a unique Ramayana themed tour having six fixed departure originating Delhi, IGI Airport has been introduced with 25 seats in each of the fixed departures covering significant destinations, including the Ashok Vatika, Sita Mata Temple, Bhakta Hanuman Temple, Anjaniar Temple, Vibhishana Temple, Munavari and Sri Munneswaram Devasthanam.

This five night-six day tour package will be operated twice in the month of September on 7 and 20, once each in the month of October and on November 7 and 18 respectively.

In addition two departures have specially been planned on December 2 and 16 to tap the potential tourist season.

This tour shall also be covering other popular locations in Sri Lanka such as the Pennawalla Elephant Orphanage, Ramboda waterwall, Nuwara Eliya hill station, Gregory Lake, Kandy Tooth Temple and Colombo city tour.

The per person price on double occupancy has been capped at Rs.50,500/- including flight tickets, meals, sightseeing, pick-up/drop, accommodation in three-star hotels, VISA, insurance and all government applicable taxes, IRCTC tour manager and tour guide.

Charming Russia: The Miniratna Company will also be offering international tour to Russia covering St.Petersburg and Moscow for the duration of five nights and six days, having three nights stay at the Heritage City?St.Petersburg and the remaining two nights stay at the Capital city ? Moscow departing ex-Delhi on September 13, 2017.

The tour will be a good opportunity for the prospective tourists to enjoy Cruise ride on the Neva River, Sightseeing of Winter palace, Peter and Paul Fortress, Petroff Palace. To connect to Moscow after the sightseeing of Saint Petersburg, tourists will be offered an opportunity to travel on SAPSAN ? Bullet Train.

The world famous Moscow Circus, sightseeing of Lenin?s Tomb, St. Basil?s Cathedral will also be amongst the highlights of the said tour amounting to Rs.98450/- per person, which is said to be the cheapest in the market with the given inclusions.

Along with the above international tour offerings one fixed departure of Thailand covering Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya with stay of two nights at each destination. Tour of Dubai & Abudhabi for 4 nights have also been introduced Ex Delhi.

For online bookings and details interested tourists can visit www.irctctourism.com or any of the IRCTC Offices across India.

Railways to block doubtful IP Addresses from foreign locations to curb eTouts

As touts keep pace with tech, Railways seeks smarter ways to curb them. On-boarding a CCISO (Certified Chief Information Security Officer) is vital for critical IS Governance, security risk management, controls, and audit, leave alone the vulnerability program management and operations practice in a strategic manner.

NEW DELHI: As online train ticket booking increases, the Railways is facing a new challenge – eTouts.

eTouts use virtual tools to buy tickets before genuine passengers do. Touts book mass tickets – not for private use – but for business, shrinking the number of tickets genuine passengers have access to. Later they sell these tickets at a premium, making an illegal profit.

This has led the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) to explore smarter ways to nab such tech savvy eTouts. The options explored include blocking shady IP addresses from foreign locales for a few minutes at peak traffic on its website and design software that can enable it to identify and block e-touting attempts real-time on a continuous basis.

Besides, the Railway Police has called for an update in the law to formally include e-touting in its policy lexicon.

“Every morning, as the ticket booking starts, the first 30 minutes are meant for private use only. This means both at railway counters where tickets are booked physically and through online windows, passengers can book a maximum of 10 tickets per month for private use,” said RP Pawar, RPF Zonal Training Centre, Central Railway.

Almost 60 per cent of reserved train tickets are sold online.

IP addresses

Railway agents share their IP addresses with IRCTC, which allows IRCTC to block ticket booking from those IP addresses. “But, agents often use private IP addresses, other than those shared with IRCTC for their clients,” Pawar told. “Our biggest worry in the reserved passenger bookings are people who are able to block others at the peak time. Some are able to create multiple identities, and have developed some software through which they are able to block others from accessing Passenger Reservation software. We are trying hard to get their footprints…But it’s a continuous process, as they keep changing the software. We need a solution from the cyber security experts,” said IRCTC’s CMD AK Manocha, who recently demitted office.

Manocha feels one option could be to block booking from foreign locations for five or 10 minutes during peak time when the booking per minute grows exponentially from 1,500-2,000 to 14,000-18,000.

Railways police officials have arrested eTouts in the past, but admit practical difficulties. They have sought updation in the Railway Act, which at present does not define eTouting separately.

“Earlier, as soon as the agents bought tickets during the time period when they were not supposed to, we could prove it as they had the booking slips. But now, we are not able to prove. So, we seize their computer, laptops, mobiles, whatever information is there. Subsequently we try to convince the court,” explained Pawar.

In his previous posting at Hubli, Pawar had seized computers, laptops, mobiles of eTouts to prove ‘unlawful possession’ in the Court. But unless, the Railway Act clearly spells out the course of action allowed to nab eTouts, Railway policemen feel they could be charged with misuse of law by courts.

During April-June 2017, 307 touts, 59,115 unauthorised vendors and 7 illegal ticketing agencies were prosecuted, according to Railways data shared in Parliament.

Pawar felt that a solution could be in linking Aadhaar, telephone number, bank accounts, all of which can be traced. Manocha echoed that the solution could lie in linking ticket booking to Aadhaar, or passport, or verifiable identities.

 

 

 

Moving ahead with disinvestment strategy, IRCTC, IRFC, IRCON could soon start the disinvestment process

NEW DELHI: The central government is pressing ahead with its disinvestment strategy and the target for the current financial year, Rs 72,000 crore, is well within reach, say sources. While the plan for putting public-sector banks, insurance and telecom firms on the block is on track, the government is likely to take up the stake sale of power, railways and strategic investments in a few companies first, according to officials involved in the process. Rural Electrification Corporation, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation, Indian Railway Finance Corporation and IRCON International, along with Engineers India, Larsen & Toubro, and ITC could soon get a nod for starting the disinvestment process.

“The disinvestment process is in course of meeting its target,” an official responded when asked if the government is confident of achieving the disinvestment target for the current financial year. “It is a ‘process’ and keeping track of the market conditions and the economy are some of the parameters kept in mind among many others when a company is taken up for disinvestment.”

The Union Budget 2017-18 has set a target to generate Rs 72,500 crore through disinvestment against the Rs 45,500 crore it mobilised in 2016-17. However, there is a caveat, of market conditions. “The entire process of CPSE disinvestment is operated in an environment which cannot be predicted. The actual realisation from the CPSE disinvestment depends on the prevailing market conditions and as per the policy and commitment, the government looks for the right opportunity for disinvestment transactions and moves ahead in a prudent manner,” said Arjun Ram Meghwal, minister of state for finance, in the Lok Sabha.

High Court directs IRCTC to re-assess the Bids received for setting up Water Plants

NEW DELHI: While observing that the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) acted in a “capricious manner” by rejecting a company’s claim for a tender to select a developer for setting up and operating water plants, the Delhi High Court (HC) has directed the corporation to reevaluate the bids and take a final decision in the matter.

The directions came after the ABC Beverages Private Limited filed a petition in the court, stating that its claim for the tender was rejected just because a notarial stamp on certain documents was missing. The tender was then given to the Surya Infrastructure Private Limited, despite certain lapses.

A Bench of Justices Ravindra Bhat and SP Garg held that “the rejection was meted out in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner, since Surya was made aware of similar discrepancies for their correction, after the submission of bids”.

“The distinction sought to be made between the filings in the petitioner’s documents and those of Surya, in the opinion of the court, is artificial,” the Bench said in a judgment, pronounced on July 28.

The court held that, at least, in the case of the petitioner, only the notary stamp was missing, which does not undermine the effectiveness of the documents. In the case of the winner, however, requisite documents were not on record, which was ignored by the tender committee, stating that these were merely “ancillary”, documents, given that the registration number of the company was disclosed.

“By not giving due and equal consideration to the petitioner while considering their technical bid, as was given to other bidders, the IRCTC has acted in a capricious manner resulting in discrimination. The court is of the opinion that the rejection of the petitioner’s bid in the circumstances was unjustified,” the Bench ruled.

Rather than setting aside the entire tender process, however, the court held that the course would be to correct the decision making and open the financial bid of the petitioner (ABC Beverages) and decide as to who shall be awarded the contract. The court then directed the procedure to be completed within three weeks.

Railways to end flip-flop journey of Catering Policy, orders nation-wide Crackdown on Train Food that’s not up to mark

NEW DELHI: In a crackdown on poor food dished out in long-distance trains, Railway Board has asked senior officials of Zonal Railways to carry out extensive checks on the quality of food, prices and hygiene.

The move comes after passengers began complaining regularly about deteriorating quality of food served on trains.

While Zonal Railway authorities launched a massive drive to check food quality and overpricing recently, the railway board’s strict directive sent on July 26 to all zonal railways to check ‘serious lapses’ is now being viewed seriously, sources said.

A zonal Railway has had an instance of poor food served on trains, including the most recent one a week ago where a cockroach was found in canteen food. All the railway zones put together receive close to 200 complaints each day on social media alone.

Given the scenario, general managers have been asked to pay personal attention to the issue, oversee checks and send a report after the ‘rigorous drive’.

“In view of large-scale lapses reported in hygiene, over charging and poor quality of food, the minister of railways has directed a 3-week joint inspection drive. It requires personal attention of the GM. All base kitchens, Jan Ahars, refreshment rooms on railway premises as well as outside should be inspected by officers of all levels, including chief commercial managers,” read the letter.

While the railway board has advised authorities to dole out strict punishment against unauthorized hawkers and defaulting contractors, insiders believe that the food quality issue is largely due to the privatization of food catering and slack in checks by Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).

“Almost all stalls at the railway stations, except one or two Jan Ahar stalls, are managed by IRCTC, which is basically outsourced to private caterers. However, there are no checks on food or even water bottles,” said a top source.

The Railway Board has also asked zonal authorities to collect food and water samples for testing. “The samples must be collected and sent for analysis at officially approved labs. The drive should be taken up with all seriousness so that that there is a visible improvement in the Indian Railways catering and a message goes to all the contractors that any slackness will not be tolerated at any level,” the letter said.

A flip-flop journey so far!

Ever since the Railways was set up, catering on trains and at railway stations was entrusted to private contractors. The selection of vendors from among the numerous applicants was done by a panel very similar to a job interview.” However, there was no transparency in the process and the same contractors kept getting the contracts repeatedly, said a top catering official while explaining about the Railway Catering Policy.

Finally, in 2000, the Railways decided to change the selection process by bringing about transparency. “Only the highest bidder and the most qualified technical bidder would be given the contract under the changed policy,” he said. The contractors went to court against this new selection process. It took till 2005 for the verdict to delivered in favour of the Railways. In the meanwhile, the contractors continued to serve food.

“The catering contract for Railways was entrusted to the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation in 2006 and this continued up to 2010. The Corporation also hired contractors to carry out the job, but it was done in a transparent manner,” he said.

In 2010, the then Railway Minister Mamta Banerjee wanted IRCTC to hire at least 60,000 catering staff and run the whole catering business within the Railways without contracting it outside, the official said. “IRCTC expressed its inability to manage the show by hiring such large numbers and Railways took back the catering responsibility,” he said.

Food complaints

Complaints have flooded the Railways in the last six years over the poor quality of food served on trains and at stations. Social media was used by passengers to lodge complaints even with the Railway Ministry. The Ministry announced in the 2016-2017 Railway budget that IRCTC will take over catering responsibility in a phased manner.

The new catering policy announced in February 2017 states that the food will be prepared at state-of-the art base kitchens and distributed through service providers from the hospitality industry. Cooking and distribution have been delinked to professionalise it.

IRCTC to take over Catering Services in all Trains by year end

NEW DELHI: Catering services in all trains with pantry cars will be handed over to IRCTC by the year-end in order to improve onboard food quality, according to Railways.

Besides passengers in seven Rajdhani and six Shatabdi trains will have an option for e-catering facility.

IRCTC will be given responsibility of managing catering services in all trains with pantry cars be December end, Railway Board Member (Traffic) Mohd Jamshed said here today.

Till now, the zonal railways were managing catering services in majority trains as per the catering policy 2010.

There are about 350 trains including Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto which are equipped with pantry cars.

With a view to improve catering services at rail premises, Railways will also conduct third party audit at pantry cars, base kitchens and food stalls to ensure best practice.

“We have hired two reputed companies to do the third party audits at food stalls and pantry cars,” Jamshed said.

Railways has also undertaken a three-week drive to inspect food quality and hygienic condition at base kitchens.

The Railways formulated catering policy in 2005 and according to the policy, IRCTC, the tourism and catering wing of the Railways, was given catering responsibility for all trains.

In 2010, the then Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee announced the policy in which catering responsibility was taken away from the IRCTC and zonal railways were asked to look food services.

However, since complaints against food quality were increasing constantly, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu decided to go for a new catering policy aiming to improve food services at rail premises.

The new catering policy was announced in February under which IRCTC was given catering responsibility with stringent guidelines.

The new policy envisages separation of cooking and distribution of food.

Jamshed said now options have been given to passengers in a few Shatabdi, Rajdhani and Duronto trains to opt out of the catering services while booking tickets.

Catering services are mandatory in premier services like Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains and the catering cost is included in the ticket.

Seeking to explore the possibility of making mandatory catering services optional on trains, Railways had earlier announced in June last year to undertake the scheme on Nizamuddin-Mumbai August Kranti Rajdhani Express and Pune- Secunderabad Shatabdi Express.

Passengers have to specifically opt out from the mandatory food option and catering charges will be excluded from the ticket fare.

Catering charges ranging from Rs 175 to Rs 340 will be deducted from the total fare if the passenger opts out from the mandatory food options.

IRCTC to install 1,100 water vending machines at Railway Stations

NEW DELHI: The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) plans to install 1,100 water vending machines at 450 stations in 2017-2018 as part of its efforts to ensure clean drinking water at low cost in rail premises across the country.

A glass of 300 ml water dispensed through these machines will cost just Re 1.

The railway ministry in a series of tweets today said these water vending machines (WVMs) will provide clean drinking water at low cost, and that the initiative will help in generating employment for around 2,000 people.

At present, there are 1,106 WVMs at 345 stations in the country, the ministry said.

The project of setting up WVMs was initiated in 2015 with an objective of providing potable water at nominal rates.

Water is dispensed through the provision of Reverse Osmosis (RO) in these machines. The WVMs are operated round-the-clock either manually or via automatic mode.

The water dispensed through these machines will be much cheaper than bottled mineral water, the ministry said.

While a glass of half a litre water will cost Rs 3, a litre will be available Rs 5, two litres for Rs 8 and a can for Rs 20.

Indian Railways’ “Rail Saarthi” shows why the Government should not be building Apps

NEW DELHI: Yesterday, the Indian Railways announced the integration of all of its app based services into a single app called Rail Saarthi. At present the Indian Railways has 8 apps for different functions:

  1. IRCTC Rail Connect for train ticketing, which is used for booking around 100,000 tickets daily, generating a revenue of Rs 9.65 crores.
  2. IRCTC Air for air ticketing
  3. IRCTC Tourism for booking packages
  4. IRCTC Food-On-Track for meal booking
  5. UTS for unreserved ticketing, which is used for around 14,400 tickets daily, and revenue of Rs 6.8 lakhs.
  6. COMS for complaint management
  7. Coach Mitra for “clean my coach”.
  8. NTES for Passenger enquiry system, with “nearly” real-time data on the status of trains.

Now you would imagine that creating a consolidated application would be about integrating all of these services into a single app. It makes no sense to have a different application for each service, especially since people with low cost phones tend to limit the number of applications they download.

Here’s the thing: we checked, and Rail Saarthi is NOT an application with all of these services in a single app. It’s just a menu that redirects users to each of these eight applications, and then adds a few things like integrating the Railways’ social media handles, so that you can tweet complaints to them. On trying to register for the application, we were redirected to the Google Play store to download either of two apps: UTS for Rail Saarthi and IRCTC Rail Connect for Rail Saarthi. These are two completely new apps, different from UTS and Rail Connect. Incidentally, registration for the Rail Connect for Rail Saarthi app did not work: the app crashed.

So we’re left with a situation where, instead of having one App for 8 services, we now have 8 apps, one Rail Saarthi App, and then individual apps for different services that are linked to Rail Saarthi.

The point of doing this: I don’t know. The cost of all of this? Rs 7 crores.

Some user comments (on the Google Play Store):

 

Indian Railways serving food unfit for Humans: says CAG Report

CAG blames Railways for poor quality food, low hygiene!

NEW DELHI: A Comptroller and Auditor General audit report on the catering services in the Indian Railways, to be tabled in Parliament on Friday, has observed that food articles unsuitable for human consumption, contaminated foodstuff, recycled foodstuff, packaged and bottled items past their shelf life and unauthorised brands of water bottles were offered for sale at stations.

The audit has found fault with frequent changes in catering policy of the railways that have created a state of uncertainty in management of catering services provided to the passengers. An inspection has revealed cleanliness and hygiene are not being maintained, bills are not being given for the food items served in mobile units in trains, besides several deficiencies in food quality.

During the joint inspection of the CAG team and the railways at selected 74 stations and 80 trains, the audit noticed that cleanliness and hygiene were not being maintained at catering units at stations and in trains.

“Unpurified water straight from tap was used in preparation of beverages, waste bins were not found covered, not emptied regularly and not washed, food stuff were not covered to protect them from flies, insects and dust, rats and cockroaches were found in trains etc,” the audit observed.

Neither were bills provided to passengers for food items served in trains, nor printed menu cards with tariff for the list of items sold in the mobile units were available with waiters and catering managers in any of the trains inspected.

“Food stuff served was less than the prescribed quantity, unapproved packaged drinking water was sold,” the report has said and pointed out that prices of food articles sold in railway premises was significantly higher than the open market.

“Articles unsuitable for human consumption, contaminated foodstuff, recycled foodstuff, shelf life expired packaged and bottled items, unauthorised brands of water bottles, etc., were offered for sale on stations,” CAG noted.

The report says the mess has been created due to frequent policy changes and the failure of the Indian Railways to take effective steps to bridge the gap to provide necessary infrastructure in terms of base kitchens, static catering units, and automatic vending machines etc.

“Blueprint for provision of catering services was not prepared in seven Zonal Railways. The policy of progressive switch over from gas burners to electric power equipment in pantry cars to avoid the occurrence of fire accidents in trains was not followed while manufacturing the pantry cars in Integral Coach Factory, Perambur,” the report said.

Modifications in any form is not permitted in Tatkal Ticket: IRCTC

NEW DELHI: IRCTC through its website offers online Tatkal reservation facility for the benefit of passengers. Tatkal facility helps passengers plan their journey at the last moment. Under the Tatkal online booking facility, customers can go to IRCTC website and book tickets on ‘first come first served’ basis by paying Tatkal charges. After reports on social media and some websites that Tatkal booking and cancellation rules will change from July 1, 2017, Indian Railways has issued a clarification, saying that there has been no changes. “It has been noticed that a news item is in circulation in various social media platforms, WhatsApp groups, and some websites which mentions that Indian Railways is introducing several changes and new facilities with effect from 1st July, 2017. This news is totally incorrect and baseless,” the Railways said in a statement on June 30.

In this context, the Railways also reiterated the existing Tatkal reservation and cancellation rules.

The booking timings for Tatkal tickets were changed in 2015 with booking for AC classes opening at 10:00 AM and for Non-AC classes at 11:00 AM (one day in advance of actual date of journey excluding date of journey). There has no change in these timings and the same arrangement is continuing, the Railways said.

Again, there is no change in the refund rules of Tatkal tickets, the Railways said. Under the existing rule, no refund is granted on cancellation of confirmed Tatkal tickets/duplicate Tatkal tickets. This rule continues to be in operation.

Here are other things to know about the Tatkal reservation rules:

A maximum of four passengers per PNR can be booked on Tatkal e-tickets.

Tatkal charges per passenger are in addition to normal tickets.

Premium Tatkal Facility: From October 2014, in select trains, a premium tatkal facility was introduced and tickets are sold on dynamic pricing. Fares go up depending on percentage of berths sold subject to a maximum cap.

No concession is allowed in Tatkal booking.

Modification of ticket in any form is not permitted in Tatkal ticket.

The Tatkal charges have been fixed as a percentage of fare at the rate of 10 per cent of basic fare for second class and 30 per cent of basic fare for all other classes subject to minimum and maximum as given here below, according to the IRCTC website.

Class of Travel Minimum Tatkal charges (in Rs.) Maximum Tatkal charges (in Rs.) Minimum distance for charge (in km)
Second (sitting) 10 15 100
Sleeper 100 200 500
AC Chair Car 125 225 250
AC 3 Tier 300 400 500
AC 2 Tier 400 500 500
Executive 400 500 250

Listing of Rail PSUs on track; IRCTC, IRCON and IRFC could be taken to Bourses within the next three months

DIPAM plans to mop-up Rs 25,000 Crore in April-Sept. Merchant bankers are already said to have been appointed for IRCTC, IRCON and IRFC

NEW DELHI / MUMBAI: In a bid to come close to an ambitious divestment target of Rs 72,500 crore for 2017-18, the Narendra Modi government aims to top at least Rs 25,000 crore in stake sales for April-September, the highest-ever for the first half of any year. The listing plans of three railway public sector undertakings — Indian Railway Finance Corporation (IRFC), Indian Railway Construction Company (IRCON), and Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) — are on track despite concerns over IRCTC giving an exemption from service charge on online tickets.

For April-June so far, the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM), has already garnered around Rs 6,600 crore. This comes from selling part of the stake that the government holds in Larsen & Toubro (L&T) in Specified Undertaking of Unit Trust of India (SUUTI), a five per cent stake sale in NALCO, and share buyback by IndianOil.

This means that for July-September, the Centre wants to mop-up around Rs 18,400 crore. The previous highest disinvestment proceeds for the first half of a year was around Rs 21,000 crore in 2016-17.

“In April-June, all the preparations have been put in place for stake sales, like issuing bids for appointing merchant bankers and legal advisors. Hence, in the second half onwards, you can expect a lot of action in terms of shares being offloaded in the exchanges,” said a senior government official.

For the entire year, the government is putting a strong pipeline of companies in place. It is planning to offload 10 per cent stake in NHPC, NTPC, Power Finance Corporation and Steel Authority of India, 15 per cent in NLC, five per cent in Rural Electrification Corporation and three per cent in IndianOil through offer-for-sale. At least three of these could happen before October 1, it is is learnt from sources aware of DIPAM’s plans.

There are also a number of initial public offerings being planned for state-owned rail, defence and insurance companies, including IRCTC, IRCON, IRFC, RVNL, Garden Reach Shipbuilders, Mazagaon Dock Shipbuilders, Bharat Dynamics, New India Assurance, General Insurance, National Insurance, Oriental Insurance and United India Insurance.

Of these, merchant bankers are already said to have been appointed for IRCTC, IRCON and IRFC. Which means that these could be taken to the bourses within the next three months. Also, either one or both of New India Assurance and General Insurance could also make their market debuts soon.

The Centre also plans to launch a fourth tranche of its existing central public sector enterprise exchange traded fund (CPSE ETF), as well as announce a new CPSE ETF soon. The existing ETF, managed by Reliance Mutual Fund, and has so far garnered Rs 11,500 crore for the exchequer in three tranches since March 2014. Its fourth tranche is expected to be available for subscription by investors in July or August.

The Centre will also continue selling part of the stake it holds in Axis Bank, L&T, and ITC through SUUTI this year. Cash-rich public-sector undertakings (PSUs) are expected to continue buying back stake as well.

Out of the total FY2017-18 target of Rs 72,500 crore, Rs 46,500 crore is expected to come in from minority stake sales, buybacks, mergers, public listings and through the CPSE ETF route. Rs 15,000 crore is budgeted to come in from strategic sale in PSUs and in SUUTI. The remaining Rs 11,000 crore is expected to come from the earlier-announced plans to list five state-owned general insurance companies.

According to sources close to the development, bid managers have been appointed for all the three companies and the government is likely to take a call on IRCTC’s service charge. Service charges on online train tickets were exempted from November 23, 2016, to March 31 this year to boost the digital mode of transactions among passengers. This was later extended to June 30. “We are of the belief that the government is likely to withdraw this incentive after June 30, because the company is about to be listed. This would affect the valuation of the company,” said a senior railway official close to the development.

PayTM launches PNR Status Tracker for Rail Tickets

NEW DELHI: PayTM has launched an online service on its rail-booking platform to enable customers to check their PNR Status instantly after booking train tickets on its platform.

More than 30 million Indians travel using the Indian Railways on a daily basis. This is the country’s single largest group of travellers. The PNR Status service on Paytm will offer this group a single platform to book and track train tickets, Paytm said.

Abhishek Rajan, Vice President, PayTM said “Our new PNR Status service is aimed at extending the trusted and convenient PayTM experience to waitlisted rail travellers booking tickets with us. This is the first of many exciting features that we have planned for this year in our endeavor to build the most compelling booking experience for rail travellers.”

Earlier this month, PayTM had announced that it is booking over 1 million train tickets in a month and has become India’s largest platform for train tickets booking after IRCTC. It stated it has also witnessed growth in its travel vertical, with more than 10 million tickets sold in FY 2017.

360-day advance Rail Booking period for Foreigners

NEW DELHI: Now, foreign tourists can book train tickets 360 days in advance from abroad instead of the present 120 days.

The Indian Railways would announce the facility this week. Aiming to attract more foreigners and NRI travellers, railways have undertaken steps to facilitate easy booking of tickets for them.

However, foreigners would be allowed to book tickets only in first AC, second AC and executive class of mail express trains and in Rajdhani, Shatabdi, Gatimaan and Tejastrains 360 days in advance as the facility is not available for sleeper and third AC.

Foreigners are also not allowed to book tickets in Suvidha trains that cater to last minute travel planners.

The aim is to provide adequate time to foreigners and NRIs to plan their holidays well in advance, said a senior Railway Ministry official.

He said the advance reservation period has been extended to 360 days for foreigners/NRIs and they can book their tickets online using credit or debit cards without depending on travel agents.

They are required to give visa details, passport and international mobile numbers while booking online through the IRCTC ticketing site.

IRCTC, a railways PSU, would levy Rs 200 per ticket as service charge.

In case of cancellations, existing rules would be applied after deducting flat Rs 50 from the total fare.

Besides announcing the facility for foreigners, railways would also launch an integrated mobile application for passengers shortly.

The app will offer facilities of booking tickets, retiring rooms, taxis, porters, ordering food and inquiry service among others.

Movies on Mumbai-Goa Tejas Express no longer Ad-free on Konkan Route

Railways will earn ₹18 lakh a year through Ads. A contractor, who will be hired for three months, will also be allowed to charge passengers ₹30 for a pair of earphones.

MUMBAI: Rs18 lakh in one year — that’s how much the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) plans to earn solely through advertisement revenue generated from the high-speed Tejas Express.

The IRCTC plans to hire a contractor, who will make arrangements to stream free movies, documentaries, programmes and songs on the train’s display screens. Earlier, these were ad-free. However, this is set to change.

“The licencee will be permitted to display advertisements,” reads a tender document.

The contractor, who will be hired for three months, will also be allowed to charge passengers Rs30 for a pair of earphones.

IRCTC, an undertaking of Indian Railways, aims to earn an annual revenue of Rs18 lakh from this service.

Designed and manufactured by the Kapurthala-based rail coach factory, the Tejas Express has several unique features such as automatic doors, infotainment screens for each passenger and tea-coffee machines, which have contributed to its popularity among commuters.

Since railway minister Suresh Prabhu flagged off the Mumbai-Karmali train on May 21, it has been fully booked on each trip.

Despite its comparatively higher fares — Rs1,200 for a chair car and Rs2,600 for an executive car — commuters opt for it over other premium trains such as the Rajdhani and Shatabdi expresses.

An IRCTC spokesperson confirmed that a contractor would be appointed, but added that the contract had not yet been finalised.

IRCTC offers mVisa payment solution for Travellers

NEW DELHI: Rail travellers can now book tickets by mVisa payment method which allows them to scan a Quick Response (QR) code and pay through smartphones. mVisa is a card-less solution which facilitates payment by scanning the QR code displayed at the merchant website/outlet or from the merchants mobile. Users can securely link their visa debit, credit or prepaid account to the mVisa application on their smartphones and make their travel bookings by simply scanning their mVisa QR code on the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation website. IRCTC, a subsidiary of the Indian Railways, is offering a promotion offer until September 4 that will give Rs 50 cashback to consumers booking their tickets through mVisa scan and pay on the IRCTC website.

The mVisa QR Code is a form of a bar code that has your unique seller identity embedded securely embedded in it (Merchant id, Account no.). Your customer will just need to scan this QR code with the scanner built in the mVisa app to start the payment process.

“The key to our success as India’s largest e-commerce organisation has been our ability to embrace new technologies that help us drive consumer engagement across our platform,” IRCTC CMD AK Manocha said today. India is currently one of the major smartphone markets in the world, with over a billion smartphones expected to be sold in the next five years. “Considering the phenomenal penetration of smartphones in India, moving to a mobile based payment solution such as mVisa was thus a natural choice for IRCTC,” Manocha said.

The increasing popularity and adoption of mobile devices presents a huge opportunity for the growth of mobile-based digital commerce. The mVisa payment solution on IRCTC can potentially empower millions of consumers spread across Indian cities, towns and villages, to make payments using just their smartphones from the comfort of their homes.

So, from now onwards, whenever you are planning to book train tickets with great discount offers, IRCTC have something flat Rs 50 cashback on your train ticket booking through irctc.co.in via credit, debit, pre-paid Visa cards or else using your classic, platinum, signature gold or visa infinite cards to grab this offer. The redemption period of the offer is upto 23rd August 2017.

Steps To Redeem Rs 50 Cashback On Train Ticket Using m-Visa Card
  • Visit irctc.in.co
  • Register or login to the website.
  • Enter Your Train details like Train Name, Boarding and Destination place.
  • Now select your journey date and also in which class you want to book your ticket.
  • Now proceed to the transaction age.
  • No login to your Bank’s mobile app.
  • Select scan and pay option.
  • Scan the QR code displayed on the screen.
  • Pay the amount using a visa card.
  • Your train ticket booking is done, Cashback of Rs 50 will be credited to your bank account within 30 days of the successful transaction.
Terms And Conditions
  • Get Rs 50 cashback when you book your train ticket on irctc.in.co by using your m-visa card only.
  • The cashback offer is only applicable when you book your ticket during offer period of 24th April to 23rd August 2017.
  • This offer is applicable only on online booking and valid for first 5 Lakh scan and pay transactions via visa card.
  • This offer cannot be clubbed with any of the other offers of irctc.
  • A customer can book the unlimited ticket as there are no monthly limits for availing this offer.
  • In the case of any doubt or payment/cashback related issues call on IRCTC Toll-free number- 011-3934000 or mail to care@irctc.in

Railways to introduce ‘buy Bus Tickets from IRCTC, pay later’ service option with ePaylater

Enjoy ‘buy tickets now and pay later’ option on all trains. A service charge of 3.5 per cent will be levied on such tickets and the customer will have to pay the ticket amount within 14 days of the purchase of the ticket.

NEW DELHI: In a first, railway passengers can now purchase tickets without having to pay immediately. Railways has introduced the ‘buy tickets now and pay later’ facility to provide the customers with a better experience, an IRCTC official said.

This facility of buying tickets without immediately payment is available only for purchase of e-tickets from the IRCTC website. To enjoy this service, the ticket will have to be booked at least five days ahead of the journey. Passengers can opt for this facility in all trains and across different classes, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) Ltd official told .

A service charge of 3.5 per cent will be levied on such tickets and the customer will have to pay the ticket amount within 14 days of the purchase of the ticket. To avail this service, it is mandatory for passengers to provide their name, email ID, mobile number, PAN card or Aadhaar details.

IRCTC spokesperson Sandip Dutta said, “The purpose of this service is not to earn money, but to provide better facility to passengers. It is kind of a short-term loan that we will give to the passengers.” Dutta added that IRCTC has collaborated with a Mumbai-based firm ePayLater for providing the new service option.

Explaining how IRCTC would ensure that customers pay the ticket amount within 14 days, Dutta said, “The way a credit card is issued after evaluating the CIBIL score of a customer, same procedure will be followed. ePayLater will first check the transaction history of the passenger on the basis of personal details provided by the customer. Ticket will be assigned under the new service only after we are satisfied with the person’s previous transaction history.” The selection of the user is done using data science and analytics. Only those customers who have a good past transaction and payment history will be given the option to pay later. This is similar to taking a short period credit or using a credit card where you repay within a period of time. ePayLater expects to capture at least 5 % of the 6 lakhs transactions per day on IRCTC in next six months.

The officicial added that once the customer gets approval to use the feature, they will be sent an OTP (one time password) to enable them to use the service.

Funding

ePayLater was started in 2015  and has tied up with merchants such as PVR, Crownit, VaerOrganic, IndustryBuying, Power2SME, Tolexo, Bizong and Bizzgain. In June last year, the company raised $2mn in seed round funding from high net individuals.

Competition

Another company Simpl also gives users the buy now and pay later option. Simpl, however, has two billing cycles 1st and 16th of each month. The company has more than 30 merchant partners including NYKAA, JustRide, Faasos , BookMyShow, FreshMenu, Holachef , Voonik etc. Both the companies charge merchant partners a fee for each transaction to make revenues. However, in the case of late payments, Simpl claims it charges a penalty of up to Rs 250 while ePayLater charges a flat Rs 20 or a penalty rate of 36% per annum for the number of days the amount is overdue.

IRCTC working on a plan to increase Annual Sales of Rail Neer water bottles

NEW DELHI: Indian Railways is working on a plan to increase annual sales of Rail Neer, the national transporter’s packaged drinking water brand, to Rs 600 crore from the present sales of Rs 150 crore in next three years and make it among the top packaged drinking water brands revenue-wise.

Neer is currently being sold only at railway stations and there too railways have been able to meet only 20% of the entire demand. Indian Railways is now ramping up the production to meet the total demand and also making it available outside the stations.

Rail Neer is owned by IRCTC, the catering arm of Indian Railways. IRCTC operates six Neer plants across the country and the plan is to set up six more including though public private partnership model. These plants would be built across the country with an expected investment of Rs 100 crore. There are six operational Rail Neer plants located at Danapur (Bihar), Nangloi (Delhi), Palur (Tamil Nadu), Ambernath (Maharashtra), Amethi (Uttar Pradesh) and Parassala (Kerala).

“The plan is to make it a mass brand by selling it in open market too, but the first priority is to serve the captive market that in itself is massive. The brand enjoys huge trust among rail commuters. So, the brand value is already very high and which we can monetise,” a senior rail official said.

The packaged water brand has all India’s 7000 railway stations and over 1,000 passenger trains as the captive market. The other brands are only allowed to be sold at stations and trains because of unavailability of Neer.

“The revenue segment of IRCTC has been reduced after the service charge on rail tickets was waived off. There’s an annual loss of almost Rs 500 crore because of waving off service charge which could be partially made up through increasing the availability of Neer,” the official said. IRCTC makes almost Rs 1.5 on per bottle sale of Neer. A 1-litre bottle of Neer costs Rs 15 and half a litre one costs Rs 10. Almost 10% of IRCTC’s total revenue comes from Rail Neer. The government is currently planning to list the railway corporation, for which the announcement was made it the last budget.

Railways pushes for a partial rollback of the Service Charge waiver on IRCTC Tickets

NEW DELHI: Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) and Indian Railways are pushing for a partial rollback of the service charges waiver given on train tickets earlier to boost digital transactions after the government’s demonetisation move. According to sources, Indian Railways has already initiated talks with the finance ministry over this.

On November 23 last year, the government had waived the service charge, while a free insurance scheme was also implemented on December 9. An annual waiver of service charge will lead to a loss of about Rs 500 crore on the revenue of IRCTC, while the company is likely to suffer an additional outgo of Rs 36-40 crore, if free insurance scheme is extended annually. The ministry of railways has written several letters to the finance ministry to compensate for these losses.

On March 31, the Narendra Modi government had extended these digital sops till June 30. “We are now pushing even harder for compensation from finance ministry. If the finance ministry again wants to extend the scheme after June 30, we are telling that at least some part of IRCTC’s revenue should be restored. That means at least 70 per cent of the previous service charge,” said an official source close to the development.

Before the offer was rolled out, IRCTC used to charge Rs 40 per ticket for bookings in air-conditioned classes and Rs 20 per ticket in sleeper class. For IRCTC, this has been a major revenue source, as the company posted Rs 551 crore in income from railway ticketing in 2015-16, up from Rs 256 crore in 2014-15. Out of its monthly share on service charge, 50 per cent used to go to the railways’ kitty. This comes at a time when IRCTC is one among the 11 state-run companies, in which the government wants to sell its shares this fiscal.

In order to minimize its losses the company has now started seeking from banks a higher security deposit and also half of their transaction fees to minimize its losses.  As per the new policy by IRCTC, new banks which want to integrate with it for payment gateways should pay Rs 20 lakh as security deposit, while existing banks should pay Rs 10 lakh. This has led to a tiff between the company and the banks. “We have asked the ministry to intervene in this matter or to take it up with banks,” said an IRCTC official, in terms of anonymity.

Interestingly, IRCTC through its website and mobile app has now introduced pay-on-delivery as one of the payment options for its customers. Delivering tickets at the consumer’s doorstep by offering the pay-on-delivery option will facilitate those consumers who book through travel agents to move to online medium. The service will be available in more than 600 cities covering more than 4000 pin codes and would be initially available five days before the departure date. The customer will have to do a one time registration for availing PoD as a payment option. Customer will have to tender either AADHAAR or PANCARD to avail this payment option. Payment on Delivery Charges shall be Rs.90 for transaction up to Rs 5,000 and Rs 120 for transactions valuing more than Rs 5,000.

POINTERS

1. An annual waiver of service charge will lead to a loss of about Rs 500 crore on the revenue of IRCTC
2. The company is likely to suffer an additional outgo of Rs 36-40 crore, if free insurance scheme is extended annually.
3. IRCTC used to charge Rs 40 per ticket for bookings in air-conditioned classes and Rs 20 per ticket in sleeper class.
4.  The company had posted Rs 551 crore in income from railway ticketing in 2015-16, up from Rs 256 crore in 2014-15.

IXIGO – How This Travel Portal is Giving IRCTC a Tough Competition

Online travel agencies are making a killing for years now with varied services like train and airline ticketing and even customer-friendly hotel deals, giving IRCTC a tough competition.

But, of late, with the mushrooming of several such sites, customers are becoming confused while comparing deals to avail travel and accommodation services according to their budgets.

With an aim to spare travelers the hassles for searching on multiple sites, Aloke Bajpai, CEO and co-founder, Ixigo came up with the idea to launch an aggregator that will work with all travel agencies.

Set up in 2007, the portal allows consumers to choose an agency from the kitty based on discount deals and content that best suits them. “We wanted to simplify the process by aggregating all the data in one place. In 2011, we started building on the content based on travel pages of numerous travel sites. This is still a significant traffic generator for us,” he explained.

Trains Were An Ignored Category By The Online Travel Agents

Bajpai feels train ticketing was a category ignored by online travel agents and nobody was trying to solve the non-transactional problem.

“In IRCTC, you can buy a ticket, but it is not easy as so many things are involved before and after a transaction. You cannot rest till your PNR is confirmed. We started by solving those problems one-by-one and now we are actually the most popular train app in the country. So, we have twice as many monthly active users as any other train information app and even more users than IRCTC for that matter,” he asserted.

For trains, PNR prediction is a very popular feature, the company is getting 60,000- 70,000 PNRs a day on their app, which also means 2 million PNR per month on an average.  He highlighted that the PNR feature helped the company make their algorithm better.

“So right now at PNR prediction, we are 93 per cent accurate. If we continue to do so, we can keep growing without spending much money because a lot of growth is also coming organically. Our judicious use of the social media allows us to go viral on the platform without paying anything,” he explained.

For Three Years The Company Spent Zero Money In Marketing

Recalling his rough journey, Bajpai said, “2008-2009 was a difficult period, where even thought of letting go 20 people who worked with us. The only alternative was to come up with means to survive. It was really about survival, but having lived through those difficult times we learnt how to market without money.”

For three years the company spent zero money in marketing. “We have largely grown organically without spending much money on marketing. Basically our team was very supportive and they were ready to work on half salary and it actually worked because we kept on growing,” he added.

Transaction errors on Railways e-ticket site up 22%

MUMBAI: The number of failed transactions on the railway’s ticket-booking website has gone up by 22% in 2016-17 over the previous year. This comes at a time when the government has been pushing for cashless transactions.

A reply to a query put up under the Right to Information Act issued by Mratunjay Tewari, Jt.GM (Information Technology) of Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), states that the number of failed transactions touched nearly 1.02 crore in 2016-17 as compared to 83.64 lakh in 2015-16. About 55% of the total railway ticket bookings are done through the online booking system.

A few regular users of the ticket booking website said that the railways need more advanced technology to ensure that the number of failed transactions is reduced to zero.

Dombivli resident Rakesh Daftary, who procured this information under the Act, said that he had reserved three berths from Kalyan to Coimbatore. “I encountered three failed transactions due to which money was deducted from my bank account, but no ticket was booked,” Daftary said.

Money deducted on failed transactions is credited back to the user’s account in three or four days.

Mira Road resident Sohail Ahmed said his son booked a ticket which turned out to be a failed transaction. “After that, we could not book a ticket at once as there wasn’t enough balance in the account.”

IRCTC’s public relations officer Sandeep Datta said, “We are aware of the problem and working on introducing a better system.” He suggested that passengers load money in the IRCTC wallet to “ensure almost no failed transactions.”

However, Daftary asked why such problems do not crop up while booking flight tickets, for instance.

Maharajas’ Express to run on 2 New Tour Circuits for Domestic Travellers – Offers Pay-for-One, Get-one-Free

NEW DELHI: The Indian Railway PSU, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd (IRCTC) has decided to start two new circuits of their flagship luxury train Maharajas’ Express, this year. These two new trips have been named as “Southern Sojourn” and “Southern Jewels” which will cover prominent destinations in West and South India. The Southern Sojourn will cover Goa, Hampi, Mysore, Ernakulam, Kumarakom and Trivandrum. The Southern Jewels will cover Chettinad, Mahabalipuram, Mysore, Hampi and Goa.

Maharajas’ Express is known for recreating the royal journeys of yesteryears.  Though the regular trip of these two new journeys will take place in September 2017 for this year, however two new tour circuits with a view to cater especially to domestic travellers are being planned during monsoon period of June/July 2017.

Tariff in Indian Rupees has been introduced for the Monsoon Special itineraries. Lucrative offers to attract domestic travellers have also been planned. On the booking of first adult on twin sharing at full cost, the second adult sharing the same cabin will be on Complimentary Basis. Moreover, a guest booking a Deluxe Cabin gets a chance to upgrade to a Junior Suite by paying only 50 % of the difference in tariff between Junior Suite and Deluxe Cabin.

For the very first time part journey has been introduced in the Monsoon Special itineraries of Maharajas’ Express. Passengers are allowed to avail part of the total journey on a fixed price of  USD 500 / 33250.00 per day per person on twin sharing basis. On single occupancy basis the charges would be USD 800 / 53200.00. The prices are exclusive of taxes and limited to a maximum of 2 nights 3 days

The Southern SojournMonsoon Special shall start from Mumbai on 24th June 2017 & stop at Goa, Hampi, Mysore, Cochin, Alleppey before terminating at Trivandrum. The Southern JewelsMonsoon Special shall depart from Trivandrum on 1st July 2017 and terminate at Mumbai covering Chettinad, Mahabalipuram, Mysore, Hampi and Goa. Each journey shall be of 8 Days/7 Nights duration.

The regular trip of Southern Sojourn will start from Mumbai on 9 Sep 2017 and Southern Jewels will start from Trivandrum on 16 Sep 2017.

In addition to visits to monuments and sight-seeing at each destination under these trips, the guests shall have an opportunity to enjoy traditional cultural performances at Cochin, visit a Coir Factory and enjoy a cruise with lunch at Alleppey, savour traditional Chettinad Cuisine demo and much more on these fabulous journeys.

The booking and other details for this train can either be done online on the official website of Maharajas’ Express at http://www.the-maharajas.com or on the official website of IRCTC http://www.irctc.co.in and http://www.irctctourism.com. The details can be obtained on Official Mobile No +91 9717635915 or +91 9717640678  or +91 9717639033 on working days and queries can be made at maharajas@irctc.com. In addition the bookings can be done through authorised agents. List of authorised agents can be accessed at

http://www.the-maharajas.com/maharajas/maharajas-express-agents.html

For Guests booking online or directly through phone, a special facility is being offered free of cost in the form of redeemable voucher of USD 250 (approx Rs. 16000/-) for each individual guest. Although the vouchers cannot be encashed they can be redeemed against all off-board optionals, liquor bills, on-board boutique purchases and laundry bills.

Maharajas’ Express commenced its operations in 2010, and since then the train has become the Leading Luxury Train of the World with comparisons to the Royal Scotsman and the Eastern and Oriental Express. The train is the recipient of the coveted Leading Luxury Train of the World Award for the last five years in a row since 2012.

The 23 coach long Maharajas’ Express, with a capacity of 88 guests, is a cut above other luxury trains in each aspect – the cabin experience, onboard dining, the excursions and events organized for guests. The train has state of the art features with on-board water filtration plant, spacious cabin sizes with no bunk beds, two bars cum lounges, two restaurants and of course a well trained on-board team to cater to global expectations.

Railways formulating Policy to promote Tourism through Rail Connectivity

Policy aims at a hassle-free and seamless movement of people across different tourist places

NEW DELHI: The Railways is formulating a policy to promote tourism by connecting tourist spots across the country through trains.

The policy, a first-of-its-kind exercise by the Railways, aims at hassle-free and seamless movement of people across different tourist places.

Seeking suggestions from stakeholders, the public and other bodies concerned, the public transporter has circulated a draft tourism policy.

“Tourism will be one of the frontline activities with the railways and the scope will be increased by focusing on domestic and international tourists and by making value- addition to tourism products, especially designed for this segment,” the draft says.

Since tourist trains have special fares, the Railways can position itself to generate substantial revenue focusing on international and domestic tourists by launching more such services.

The infrastructure on railways can be leveraged for launching a diverse range of products and services to ensure bright business prospects with adequate profitability.

The aim is to operate more trains connecting tourist destinations and also by providing special train services ranging from luxury to budget sections, a Railway Ministry official involved with tourism and catering said.

Currently, many tourist spots have limited connectivity.

The Railways will offer Luxury Tourist Trains, Semi- Luxury Tourist Trains, Buddhist Special Train, Bharat Darshan Trains and Astha Circuit Trains, to attract domestic and international tourists.

It will also offer State Tirth Trains, Flexi-package Tourist Trains, Ordinary Tourist Trains, Hill Tourist Trains, Steam Tourist Trains, Value-added Tour package and a Foreign Tourist Quota.

IRCTC, the tourism arm of the Railways, will position itself as a onestop shop for all the requirements of both domestic and international tourists.

The draft tourism policy has been posted on the official website of the Indian Railways.

Only 35 of 11 crore eligible rail passengers claimed insurance

According to IRCTC, a total of 3,64,06,918 passengers had voluntarily opted for this travel insurance scheme between September 1 and December 9 by paying a premium of 92 paise

NEW DELHI: The rail travel insurance scheme, being operated by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) along with three private insurance firms, is for the moment a tidy affair for the railways. Out of a little under 11 crore rail passengers who were eligible for the insurance, only a minuscule number of 35 passengers applied for compensation.

According to IRCTC, a total of 3,64,06,918 passengers (3.64 crore) had voluntarily opted for this travel insurance scheme between September 1 and December 9 by paying a premium of 92 paise. From December 10, the Railway Ministry, as part of its plans to encourage cashless and digital transactions, made the scheme free for all passengers who managed to book a confirmed ticket on the IRCTC website.

IRCTC sees about 6.5 lakh confirmed tickets booked on its site every day, and for the 111 days between December 10 and March 31, the total number of confirmed passengers added up to 7.21 crores. Of them, as per numbers made available by IRCTC, a total of seven claims were upheld, and the payout in these seven claims added to Rs 61,95, 217. Four claims have been rejected so far, IRCTC said in reply to an RTI plea.

The four rejections included the name of Rampravesh Singh, one of the 146 passengers who died on November 20 last year when the 19321 Indore-Patna Express derailed at Pukhrayan near Kanpur. Usha Sharma, who was injured in the Kanpur accident, saw her claim being rejected since she too, like Singh, had boarded the train from a station before the one mandated for boarding as per her ticket.

Passenger Yadava Reddy had his claim rejected as he was injured when he fell while on an escalator after he had alighted from his train on January 17. Mohammad Sayed, who died on December 20, was also denied compensation as his post-mortem report showed that he died of ‘acute coronary insufficiency’ and not any railway-related incident, IRCTC said in its RTI reply.

Cabinet clears decks for Listing of 11 CPSEs; including five PSUs under the Railway Ministry

NEW DELHI: The Cabinet has approved listing of 11 central public sector enterprises, including five PSUs under the railway ministry and four defence companies.

“The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has given its approval for listing of 11 CPSEs (Central Public Sector Enterprises) on stock exchanges,” an official statement said.

The PSUs under the railway ministry that will launch initial public offerings (IPO) are Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd, IRCON International Ltd, Indian Railway Finance Corporation (IRFC) Ltd, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) and RITES Ltd.

The defence ministry PSUs to be listed on bourses include Bharat Dynamics Ltd, Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd and Mishra Dhatu Nigam Ltd.

Also, MSTC under the administrative control of the steel ministry, and power PSU North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) are also up for disinvestment through IPO route.

The statement said listing of CPSEs will be through public offer of shares up to 25 per cent of Government of India’s shareholding, which may include offer of fresh shares for raising of resources from market.

“However, actual disinvestment in respect of each CPSE along with the mode of raising resources has been delegated for decision on a case to case basis to the Alternative Mechanism, headed by the Finance Minister,” it added.

The CCEA has also approved reservation of shares for eligible employees of 11 CPSEs as per SEBI norms.

“With a view to ensure wider participation by small investors in the CPSEs’ disinvestment programme, a price discount up to 5 per cent on the issue price has also been approved for the retail investors and eligible employees of 11 CPSEs participating in this offer,” it added.

Once the book value of 11 CPSEs is discovered through the listing process, it will facilitate raising of resources by these companies at comparable cost and hence, achieve higher growth through their expansion/diversification. This will also be reflected in the performance at the sectoral level and overall economic growth, the statement added.

Listing of CPSEs will also promote ‘people’s ownership’ by encouraging public participation in CPSEs and will also also trigger multilayered oversight mechanism, which not only enhance shareholders’ value but also promotes corporate governance norms in such companies.

“With general public becoming the shareholder in the company through the listing route, the management is open to public scrutiny and thus become more accountable to its shareholders, as per the extant disclosure norms and compliance for listed CPSEs,” the statement added.

In the 2017-18 budget, the government set a target of Rs 46,500 crore to be mobilised through minority stake sale and Rs 15,000 crore from strategic disinvestment.

Railways to rope in self-help groups to provide local cuisine on trains

Passengers of all trains originating can avail the facility of SHG cooked food through e-catering

NEW DELHI: Railways has roped in self-help groups (SHGs) for providing local cuisines in running trains through station-based e-catering service.

Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC), the catering arm of railways, has empanelled nine SHGs to provide authentic regional food cooked in hygienic conditions at 10 stations including Adra, Secunderabad, Vijayawada, Mysore, Ernakulam and Vishakhapatnam.

Passengers of all trains originating/stopping at these stations can avail of the facility of SHG cooked food through e-catering.

Currently, 11 lakh meals are served in a day at running trains across the country out of which private caterers provide majority of meals.

Railways had launched the station-based e-catering facility last year to widen the scope of catering options for train travellers.

The local cuisine scheme has been launched to encourage self-help groups to participate in the public transporter’s catering system and also to provide multiple options for passengers to avail on the train journey, a senior Railway Ministry official said.

To begin with, nine SHGs have come forward to provide popular local cuisine at 10 stations and it is expected that more and more SHGs would join the scheme, he said.

Railways has announced a new catering policy with the aim of providing quality food at rail premises and reduce the number of complaints against the existing catering system.

Railways receives about 25 complaints against food quality in a day which are being addressed, the official said.

The new catering policy envisages separation of cooking from distribution of food on trains and encourages e-catering system.

Involvement of SHGs in e-catering provides scope for employment generation and proliferation of the scheme is expected in the days to come.

IRCTC hits 44% growth in its Net Profit for the FY 2015-16

NEW DELHI: The net profit of Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC) has grown to ₹ 189 crore in Financial Year 2015-16 as against ₹ 131 crore in Financial Year 2014-15. It is a growth of 44%.

During the year 2015-16, a total of ₹ 24,023 crore has been collected towards the sale of train tickets through IRCTC portal.

The revenue is generated from the following activities:- (i) Service charges on internet tickets (ii) Sales of Rail Neer packaged water (iii) Sales of on-board catering services. (iv) License fee from outsourced catering vendors. (v) Revenue from tourism services.

This Press Release is based on the information given by the Minister of State for Railways Shri Rajen Gohain in a written reply to a question in Rajya Sabha on 24.03.2017 (Friday).

IRCTC’s ‘VIKALP’ Scheme is Revolutionary – 8 Things you need to know about VIKALP

As of now, while some trains are running with additional passengers, there are some trains which are running empty. And the irony is that, in most of the cases, both of these trains are running in the same direction. To avoid such situation, Indian Railways has announced a new scheme called ‘VIKALP’, which can prove to be beneficial for all wait-listed passengers. At the same time, it can optimally utilise Railways’ resources as well.

Here are 8 facts about VIKALP scheme which every train traveller should be aware of:

  1. Assume you have a wait-listed ticket for a train called Lucknow Mail which goes from New Delhi to Lucknow, every day at 10 PM. The Chart has been prepared, and your ticket shows wait-listed # 32. Under VIKALP scheme, your ticket can be allocated to the next available train, which is going towards Lucknow from Delhi, and leaves after 10 PM.
  2. Hence, without paying anything extra, your ticket can be upgraded or moved to another class under VIKALP. Assuming that you have a Sleeper class ticket for Lucknow Mail, which is wait-listed. Under VIKALP, your ticket can be upgraded to AC Superfast Express which leaves at 11.30 PM for Lucknow. You are not required to pay anything additional for the upgrade.
  3. Hence, theoretically speaking, any ticket which is waitlisted can now be used to travel in premium trains like Shatabdi or Rajdhani, without any extra cost.
  4. VIKALP Scheme is only for those tickets which have been booked via IRCTC website. As soon as the chart is prepared, and if your ticket is wait-listed, you will get an SMS, informing about activation of VIKALP option, and your new train, coach and berth numbers would be shared.
  5. You have the option to either choose VIKALP option, and travel in another train, or cancel the existing ticket. In case of cancellation, the normal rules apply for wait-listed trains.
  6. Once you opt for the VIKALP option, you can always upgrade to another higher class in the new train, by paying the difference of cost. For example, you had a AC 3 ticket, but under VIKALP, you got a sleeper class berth in a new train. Now, ocne you say yes to VIKALP, you can always upgrade to AC 3 in the new train by paying the difference of amount (in case berths are available). But the default allocation of ticket in a new train under VIKALP shall be free of cost, and included in the cost of the original ticket.
  7. Now, after you say yes to VIKALP, and then you decide to cancel, then the cancellation shall be treated for a confirmed berth on the new train, not on the basis of wait-listed ticket on the old train.
  8. Only those passengers whose tickets are wait-listed even after preparation of chart would be eligible for VIKALP option. And, once you have said yes to VIKALP, you cannot board the original train, for which your ticket was issued in waiting list.

Also Read: http://www.railnews.in/sms-complaint-number-for-indian-railways-passengers/

Explaining the rationale behind VIKALP, a senior Railway official said, “We aim to achieve the twin objectives of providing confirmed accommodation to waitlisted passengers and ensure optimal utilization of available accommodation by this scheme.”

Pan-India roll out of VIKALP shall start from April 1st. However, Indian Railways had been running the scheme on a pilot basis on few routes such as Delhi-Lucknow, Delhi-Jammu and Delhi-Mumbai, since November 1st.

Also Read Related News HEREhttp://www.railnews.in/railways-expands-vikalp-scheme-for-waitlisted-passengers-w-e-f-1st-apr-2017-presently-available-for-etickets-only/

Railway Minister chairs Round Table Conference to Improve the Quality of Catering Services on Indian Railways

NEW DELHI: Minister of Railways Shri Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu chaired the Round Table Conference on improving the Quality of Catering Services provided over Indian Railways. Chairman, Railway Board, Shri A. K. Mital, Member Traffic Railway Board Shri Mohd Jamshed, other Railway Board Members, Representatives from the Food and beverage industry, other Govt. agencies viz FDA, QCI, NABCB, Food craft institute etc., SHGs and IRCTC were also present on the occasion.

Speaking on the occasion, Shri Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu said, “The whole idea behind Round Table Conference is to take along the experts of the field. We have the responsibility of implementing policies for which we require experts and professionals to provide best services. Railways is a big entity. All Socio Economic aspects are being covered by Railways. Reach of Railways is very large from education to sports to biodiversity. Railways is immensely benefitted from these Round table Conferences by experts from different fields. Indian Railways want to get your ideas. The criterions of the policy are transparency, participative, durable and friendly to passengers and good quality. He also said that, All these activity should result in win win policy. Railways should think of solutions in Indian Context and have roadmap for future. Indian Railways is also open for professional in catering sector throughout India.

Background:

Indian Railways provide 11 lakh meals (approx) to passengers every day. The catering service in Railways is provided either through departmentally managed catering arrangements or through private licenses – Pantry Cars, Train Side Vending, E-Catering and through static units such as Food Plaza, Fast Food Units, AVMs etc.

Approximately 90% of mobile unit and 96% of static units are operated through private licenses.  The licenses are given to the highest technically eligible bidder.  The license model generates high license fee, however, there have been number of complaints by the end users i.e. passenger on account of poor quality, inadequate quantity, over-charging, staff misbehavior etc. In order to achieve the objective of improving quality of catering services in Indian Railways and establishing good governance standard railways proposes to tackle the problems identified through unbundling of catering services by distinguishing between food preparation and food distribution and by partnering with reputed players in the food and beverage industry.

Agenda of round table conference

●       Brief on current state of catering services over Indian Railways

●       Presentation  by IRCTC entailing the road map that it proposes to follow in order to address the issues of catering services over Indian Railways.

●       Mechanism in which Railways and IRCTC shall partner with reputed players in the food and beverage industry to improve the quality of catering service and enhance customer satisfaction.

●       Proliferation of e-catering by integration of reputed food chain.

●       Infusing modern technology in food preparation and food distribution by working out the complete supply chain model.

●       Evolving mechanism to actively engage end users i.e. rail passengers in up-gradation of catering services through a robust feedback system. The feedback of passengers shall be linked to the performance report of the Agency managing the catering services.

●       Discussion on new catering policy 2017

Participants

●       Representatives from the Food and beverage industry

●       Representatives of other Govt. agencies viz FDA, QCI, NABCB, Food craft institute etc.

●       Representatives from SHGs.

●       Railway board members and officials.

●       IRCTC

Outcome

●       To integrate and collate the ideas emerging out of this immersive session and crafting an action plan to implement them.

●       To come up with suggestions/feedback to ensure provision and availability of quality, hygienic and wholesome food to passengers on Indian Railways

●       New Catering Policy segregates making of food and distribution of food. Railways wishes to set up base kitchens in different locations at a distance of two to three hours so that train may pick up warm food. The distribution of food shall be looked by experts in Hospitality. Railways shall also devise foolproof system of catering because some black sheep spoil the entire exercise.

Manpasand Beverages eyes Railways for healthy growth in revenue

NEW DELHI: The fruit juices company Manpasand Beverages Ltd is eyeing a healthy growth in its revenue in the coming months through Indian Railways as the company gears up to expand its presence in all stations pan India in the coming fiscal year.

Manpasand’s flagship brand, Mango Sip, is available extensive in all major formats of IRCTC. The company is now focusing on aggressively expanding the presence of Fruits Up brand across entire Indian Railways network. Under Fruits Up brand, the company will offer various travel sizes packs of the brand’s premium fruit juices as well as carbonated fruit drinks in different flavours.

“Manpas and Beverages has a long-standing association with Indian Railways via Mango Sip, which is available across all major formats of IRCTC. Recently, we have also started supplying one of our new brands, Fruits Up, in key stations and have received positive feedback from the consumers about the product. We have also tied up with IRCTC’s online catering service and our products, Mango Sip and Fruits Up, will be available soon via e-catering. We are working towards expanding our presence in more stations across India in the coming year. Given the penetration of Indian Railways, we hope that our association with them will enhance the visibility of all our products among a wider range of customers.”

Manpas and Beverages is empanelled with the IRCTC for direct selling to vendors approved by the later. The company’s Mango Sip and Fruits Up brands are available at catering units at stations and mobile units of the Indian Railways.

The company, which aims to leverage on a strong supply-led growth in the coming days, is setting up four new plants in the next 12-18 months period to increase its capacity.

Centre invites i-bankers to help manage share sale in IRCTC, IRCON, IRFC

Union Finance minister Arun Jaitley said the shares of railway public sector enterprises like IRCTC, IRFC and IRCON will be listed in the stock exchanges. The Centre is considering divesting a portion of the paid-up equity share capital through an IPO and has sought expression of interest from investment bankers by 16 March

NEW DELHI: The finance ministry on Monday invited proposals from investment bankers to help the government sell shares in three railway enterprises.

The three companies controlled by the railway ministry are Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corp. (IRCTC), IRCON International Ltd and Indian Railway Finance Corp. Ltd (IRFC).

In advertisements published in newspapers on Monday, the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM), under the finance ministry, sought proposals from investment bankers by 16 March to manage the initial public offerings and advise the government in listing the stocks.

While IRCTC has been a pioneer in e-commerce in India and handles almost 60% of railway ticket bookings, IRFC is the sole financier of railway projects by sourcing low-cost funds from the market. IRCON, the infrastructure and engineering arm of the railways, also builds projects overseas for governments and private parties.

IRFC has railway assets worth Rs1,37,038 crore till March 2016. IRCON which has operations in several states of India and overseas including Malaysia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, UK, Algeria and Sri Lanka has net worth of around Rs3,530 crore in 2015-16. Similarly, IRCTC which provides online ticketing service for Indian Railways along with catering in trains and rail neer has a Rs1,500 crore turnover.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley, in his budget speech on 1 February, said their listing will foster greater public accountability and unlock the true value of these companies.

Under the disinvestment policy, public sector enterprises (PSEs) having a positive net-worth, no accumulated losses and having earned profits in three preceding consecutive years are required to achieve 25% public holding.

A former railway board chairman speaking under condition of anonymity said the railways had already appointed SBI Capitals Markets Ltd to do a study for listing of these PSUs and the work would overlap now. He said the move is going to impact railways severely, especially IRFC, because it’s the biggest funding agency for the national monopoly carrier.

The government has set an ambitious Rs72,500-crore disinvestment target for 2017-18, against the revised estimate of Rs45,500 crore for 2016-17.

It has so far collected Rs27,917 crore through stake sales in public sector units in 2016-17, implying it aims to sell stakes (in state-owned companies) worth around Rs17,583 crore by 31 March.

The cabinet committee on economic affairs (CCEA) last month approved the public listing of five state-owned non-life insurance companies and reduction of the government’s stake in them to 75% from 100%.

Oriental Insurance Co., National Insurance Co., New India Assurance, United India Insurance and national reinsurer General Insurance Corp. of India, or GIC Re, are the five companies that will be listed on the stock exchanges.

The government will pare its stakes in these companies either through the sale of new shares or an offer for sale or through a combination of both, Jaitley said at a press conference on 1 February.

The government has also put in place a revised mechanism to ensure time-bound listing of identified PSEs on the stock exchanges.

Now the administrative department concerned and DIPAM will draw up a list of eligible PSEs for listing within a month from the finalization of audited accounts of the last financial year.

In cases of listing through a sale of government of India’s stake, CCEA approval for listing of identified PSEs will be obtained by DIPAM.

An inter-ministerial group will be constituted for the appointment of advisers to guide the process of disinvestment.

The process for the appointment of advisers for the transaction, including merchant bankers and legal advisers, will be completed within a period of eight weeks from the date of the constitution of the inter-ministerial group.

The total process—till the stock is listed on the stock market—will be completed within 165 days of the administrative department agreeing to an initial public offering, or IPO.

New IRCTC Catering Policy to separate Cooking, Distribution in Railways

NEW DELHI: Railways will announce a new policy for its catering services which shall separate the functioning of its cooking and food distribution onboard.

The new catering policy to be announced by Railway minister Suresh Prabhu envisages fulfilling aspirations of public regarding healthy and hygienic food as it was flooded with complaints against food quality.

While the food will be prepared at the state-of-the-art base kitchens, it would be distributed through service providers from hospitality industry, according to the new policy which aims to attract reputed food-chain players from the market.

The new policy replacing the seven-year-old one gives back the IRCTC, a railways PSU, onboard catering responsibility for majority of trains including all the new ones.

The Railways PSU was relieved from the responsibility through the current policy effected by the then Railway minister Mamata Banerjee in 2010.

“IRCTC would begin to manage catering service in a phased manner. IRCTC would unbundle catering service by creating distribution primarily between food preparation and its distribution,” Prabhu had announced in the 2016 Rail Budget.

Railway catering policy-2017 also empowers the IRCTC to fix menu and tariff in consultation with Railway Board.

In order to achieve social objective, the policy allows 33 per cent sub quota for women in allotment of stalls at all stations.

“Besides, self-help groups will also be empaneled in catering services to promote employment opportunities in various regions,” Railway Ministry sources said, adding “milk stalls would be alloted at all stations through open tender.” Stringent guidelines have been incorporated in the policy to set up base kitchens at major junctions and also to restrict IRCTC from outsourcing private licensees outrightly.

Perpetual renewal of food stalls at stations has been done away with and the new policy envisages that tenure of stalls shall be of five years only.

The new policy, which encourages e-catering system, was finalised after taking suggestions from all stakeholders.

Gist of New Catering Policy 2017

Mobile Units and Base Kitchens:

●       IRCTC shall manage catering service on all mobile units including catering services on all new trains/ trains started on short notice. Pantry car contracts awarded by zonal railways shall also be reassigned to IRCTC.

●       Meals for all mobile units will be picked up from the nominated kitchens, owned operated and managed by IRCTC. IRCTC shall develop different archetypes of kitchens keeping in view supply of food and usage assessed.

○       All four Base Kitchens under departmental operation of Zonal Railways (Nagpur, CSTM, BCT and Balharshah) and all kitchen units i.e. Refreshment Rooms at A1 and A category stations, Jan Ahaar, Cell Kitchens shall be handed over to IRCTC on ‘as is where is basis’.  Besides IRCTC may set up its own Kitchens at additional stations if required.

○       Kitchen structures/ land/space will be handed over by Zonal Railways to IRCTC, for a period of 10 years extendable for another period of 5 years, on a token license fee of Re.1/- (Re. one) per sqft. p.a. subject to minimum of Rs.100/- p.a.

○       IRCTC shall develop the Business model for the kitchens so that they can expand and enhance the service.

○       IRCTC shall prepare and submit a detailed concession agreement for setting up/development of the kitchens for approval of Railway Board.

○       IRCTC shall not outrightly outsource or issue licenses for provision of catering services to private licensees.

○       IRCTC shall determine the menu of standard meals and A-la-carte items. The standard meals served in trains shall be within the fixed tariff approved by Railway Board.

●       IRCTC may involve/empanel Self Help groups for providing catering related services.

 Static Units

●       Zonal Railways will manage static units (catering/milk stalls, trolleys etc.) except base kitchens and kitchen units to be handed over to IRCTC. IRCTC shall be responsible for catering services in static unit viz., Food Plazas, Food Courts and Fast Food Units.

●       Allotment of all Minor Catering units at all category of stations to be done through open tender.

●       For the first time, it has been envisaged that Allotment of Special Minor Units (reserved category) at all category stations will be done through open tendering system within the similar reserved category. The technical eligibility criteria has been simplified

●       Allotment of Milk Stalls at all stations shall be done through open tender system as against calling application.

●       For Milk Stalls, in addition to dairy cooperative federations/members of NCDFI bodies/agencies registered/certified by FSSAI for sale of milk and milk products have been made eligible to participate at all category of stations.

●       Provision of perpetual renewal has been done away with. Now it has been envisaged that tenure of all static units (except kitchen units and Food Plaza) shall be 5 years only.

●       For smooth implementation of renewal, ceiling limit on holding of minor units including milk stalls, computation of units has been defined.

●       33% sub quota for women in allotment of each category of minor catering units at all category of stations has been provided.

Finance Ministry kick-starts listing process of 3 Rail PSUs

IRCTC, IRFC, IRCON listing process begins. Bankers scramble for IRCTC mandate. The high interest could lead to fierce bidding among bankers and see them quote low fees.The government is considering divesting a portion of the paid-up equity share capital through an IPO and has sought Expression of Interest (EoI) from merchant bankers by 16th March.

NEW DELHI: Within three weeks of Budget announcement, the Finance Ministry today started the process of listing three rail PSUs – IRCTC, IRFC and IRCON. The government is considering divesting a portion of the paid-up equity share capital through an IPO and has sought Expression of Interest (EoI) from merchant bankers by March 16.

Investment bankers are scrambling to grab the mandate for the proposed initial public offering (IPO) of Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), which sells railway tickets online. The government had invited bankers to make presentations, which saw participation of both foreign and domestic banks. “The issue could generate a lot of foreign investor interest due to the company’s strong position in the domestic e-commerce space,” said a banker, explaining their interest around the IPO.

The Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) is scouting for merchant bankers to manage the initial public offering (IPO) of the three PSUs, which is under the administrative control of the Rail Ministry. The government currently holds 100 percent stake in these three companies. In his 2017-18 Budget speech, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the government will put in place a revised mechanism and procedure to ensure time-bound listing of identified CPSEs on stock exchanges as the it will foster greater public accountability and unlock their true value.

The government currently holds 100% stake in these three companies. In his 2017-18 budget speech, finance minister Arun Jaitley said that the government will put in place a revised mechanism and procedure to ensure time-bound listing of identified CPSEs on stock exchanges as the it will foster greater public accountability and unlock their true value.

“The shares of Railway public sector enterprises (PSEs) like IRCTC, IRFC and IRCON will be listed in the stock exchanges,” Jaitley had said in his speech. The government intends to raise Rs 72,500 crore through disinvestment of PSUs in the next fiscal. Of this, Rs 46,500 crore would be raised through disinvestment of minority stake and Rs 11,000 crore through strategic sale.

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Service Charge waiver on e-Tickets may hamper IRCTC’s listing

Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation’s (IRCTC) plan to see itself listed on the stock exchange might hit a roadblock as the waiver of service charge by the government on online ticket booking could lead to losses making the stock unattractive to investors.

In the 2017 Union Budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced the waiver on service charge for digital payments allowed in the wake of demonetisation will continue. However, rail officials and market experts are of the opinion that there will be no takers of the shares of the company if this continues. A top rail ministry official said that listing potential of the company will go down since it will not be profitable if the service charge waiver continues.

The matter will be discussed when the road map for listing Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation is prepared. A railway official said that they had expected the waiver to be temporary but now it appears to be permanent. This will impact the company and there will be little interest from investors.

Earlier this month, Railway Financial Commissioner Shahzad Shah had said the railways is not prepared for listing. He had also said the removal of service charge was a major setback to Indian Railways. Various concessions on rail tickets have pinched the pockets of this sector. And, now with one more dispensation, Railways will have to worry about its business.

PayTM emerge as India’s biggest private B2C player in Rail Ticket bookings

PayTM has announced that over 10mn travel tickets were booked on the company’s platform; Over $500mn in annualized GMV. The company has claims to have emerged as India’s biggest private B2C player in train tickets segment within months of launch.

NEW DELHI: PayTM’s online rail booking platform is doing more ticket bookings than any other private online B2C player in India, second only to the IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation) official website.

The company launched online train ticket bookings in partnership with IRCTC in September this year to complete the full range of air, road and rail booking solutions available on PayTM.

While the PayTM Wallet is accepted on the IRCTC platform, the company also powers the payment gateway on IRCTC’s App.

Given that over 30 million Indians use the Indian Railways to travel every day, this move will play a major role in making cashless transactions a way of life across all geographies and demographic profiles in India.

“We are thrilled to partner with IRCTC for online rail bookings and bring the trusted PayTM experience to India’s single largest group of travelers. We are encouraged by the response received for rail ticket bookings on PayTM App. Emerging as the country’s biggest private B2C player in online rail ticket bookings is a big step towards our goal of building India’s largest travel ticketing platform,” said VP PayTM, Abhishek Rajan.

PayTM is the first horizontal e-commerce major to enter into Travel business, a domain that has hitherto been dominated by vertical players. The company has chosen Bengaluru as the base of operations for its Travel Marketplace.

NFR, IRCTC jointly launch Astha Circuit Tourist Train for NE

GUWAHATI: The North East Frontier Railway and Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) have jointly launched the ‘Astha Circuit Tourist Train’ for the people of North East.

“This train was launched to fulfil the budget promise. The special train will start from Kamakhya for Puri and Bhubaneswar with stoppage at Kolkata and back to Kamakhya. For the first time, this type of special dedicated tourist train is being originated from the NF Railway,” Pranav Jyoti Sharma, Chief Public Relations Officer of NFR said in a press statement.

The proposed train would take travellers to a mix of popular pilgrimage destinations across the eastern part of the country at cheapest available rates and would be managed by IRCTC.

“This is a very unique concept where a dedicated tourist train will be originating from Kamakhya for the very first time in the history of NF Railway,” Sharma said.

The ‘Astha Circuit Tourist Train’ would take tourists to a mix of various popular religious destinations, covering Gangasagar, Sri Swamy Narayan Temple, Kalighat, Birla Temple, Sri Jagannath Temple, Konark Temple and Lingaraj Temple.

The duration of the tour from Kamakhya and back would be six nights and seven days, at a cost of Rs 850 per person per day, plus taxes.

Per person cost for the entire trip would be Rs 6,161 (all inclusive) including breakfast, lunch, dinner, sleeper class accommodation and visit to various temples through local transport.

The train would start from Kamakhya on February 17 and would end at Kamakhya on February 23, the statement said.

The train would have various boarding stations including Kamakhya, Alipurduar, New CoochBehar, New Jalpaiguri, Malda, New Farakka, Pakur, Rampurhat and Bolpur.

De-boarding stations would be Rampurhat, Pakur, New Farakka, Malda Town, New Jalpaiguri, New CoochBehar and Alipurduar.

Tourists who intend to avail the services may book tickets online from www.irctctourism.com, through registered e-ticket agents or from any office of the IRCTC.

Such tourist trains were also being planned from other parts of the country to Assam and nearby areas, the statement said.

Tax Collection at Source in GST regime would be a major dampener for IRCTC’s foray into e-Commerce Biz.

e-Commerce firms to deduct Tax Collection at Source under GST. This has lead Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal come together to pick on GST, flag concerns over tax laws.

NEW DELHI: Tax Collection at Source recommended in the GST regime which is only for e-commerce companies, has been a major pain point for online marketplaces who see it as the single biggest hurdle in their quest for growth. Experts says that the law will increase the compliance burden on e-Commerce operators as they will have to deduct 2 per cent TCS and deposit it with the government.

Under Tax Collection at Source, e-Commerce marketplaces will have to deduct a portion of the amount payable to sellers on their platform and remit it to the government.

The draft model GST law is due to be finalised at the end of this month. There is a significant difference to the whole ecosystem. There are hundreds and thousands of sellers online and a lot of them are entrepreneurs, some of them are offline retailers and major e-Commerce Cos have come a long way in creating the ecosystem. However the e-Commerce industry believes GST is one of the most foward-looking tax initiatives and will have a transformative impact on the sector. This is apart from the Tax Collection at Source issue. Even Flipkart, SnapDeal, Amazon estimates that at current scale, Rs.400 crore per annum of capital will be locked into the system that will not be accessible to sellers and will eat into the working capital of the sellers and will deter them from coming online and listing with them.

e-Commerce industry says that Tax Collection at Source clause is discriminatory towards online sellers and the same does not exist in the offline retail segment. Also, in the online world, it covers those operating under a marketplace model and does not cover those with an inventory model. The companies contended that the clause, therefore, is detrimental towards e-commerce companies that have brought in billions of dollars of investment.

e-Commerce still accounts for two percent of consumption and is poised to grow from $20 billion to $350 billion in 10 years. By 2021, the Indian e-Commerce industry is expected to have 1.3 million online sellers with 70 per cent of them coming from smaller towns, creating 10 million new jobs.

Fast Facts: e-Commerce and GST:
  • Under GST, all marketplaces and all sellers on such MPs will anyways furnish detailed monthly information returns covering all transactions.
  • TCS has been proposed under the mistaken assumption that the robust information provided monthly will not suffice for detecting tax evasion.
  • The reality is different – the monthly returns submitted to GST-N are designed to detect any tax evasion by flagging any mis-match in details provided by the seller and the marketplace. These details can be traced down to the individual transaction level.
  • Hence, the objective of using TCS to capture information on e-commerce transactions is mis-guided.
  • Trying to capture the same information additionally through TCS is actually counter-productive – two sets of data will now need to be reconciled, creating additional work and slowing down the entire process.

According to experts, this would mean that a similar amount will have to be levied on inter-state movement of goods, taking the total TCS deduction to 2 per cent although burden on consumers will not increase. In case of return of goods by the consumer, the e-Commerce companies will not have to deduct TCS as there is no actual sale. The draft model GST law does not provide any definition of ‘aggregators’, saying that the government would later come out with a notification specifying which type of businesses would be covered under the term. Aggregators mainly include Ola, Uber and UrbanClap which work as platforms for providing transport and other services. The TCS provision will not apply to aggregators.

e-Commerce companies will also have to file returns on the TCS deductions. The model law has defined ‘electronic commerce’ as supply of goods or services, including digital products, over electronic network. ‘Electronic commerce operator’ would mean those persons who own, operate or manage digital or electronic facility or platform for electronic commerce.

IRCTC listing, CPSE ETFs to help Centre meet Disinvestment Targets

With CPSE exchange-traded fund getting huge response, the central government is confident of meeting divestment target of Rs 72,500 crore. It’s time to know about CPSE Exchange Traded Fund

NEW DELHI: After failing to meet the divestment target once again in 2016-17 – the seventh consecutive year to miss the target – the government is confident about raising Rs 72,500 crore in 2017-18 through disinvestment of public sector enterprises (PSEs).

The confidence stems from the positive response to the second tranche of CPSE Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) which managed to raise over Rs 9,600 crore last month.

The CPSE ETF is a fund that holds shares of ten central PSUs with maximum weight allocated to ONGC, Coal India, IOC and GAIL. Jaitley’s disinvestment exercise will target stake sale in three railway units—IRCTC, IRFC and IRCON, along with relying on the ETFs for disinvestment in major CPSEs. In the current fiscal, the government managed to raise only 66% of the revised estimate target of Rs 45,500 crore.

Often disinvestment initiatives undertaken by the government have been marked by economic expediency rather than being geared towards setting PSUs free from governmental interference. This is evidenced by the massive failure of the government in meeting its strategic disinvestment (when the government divests equity along with management control) target for the current fiscal by a huge gap of Rs 15,000 crore. Against its inflated target of Rs 20,500 crore from strategic disinvestment, the government was barely able to raise Rs 5,500 crore.

Even the 14th Finance Commission has pointed out to the tendency of the Centre in divesting stake in PSUs without granting functional autonomy, saying that the process of disinvestment over the years has been generally ad-hoc, based on the limited approach of short-term fiscal gains to cover the budgetary revenue gaps to the extent feasible, depending on market circumstances.

Economists have argued for bolder reforms in privatisation of PSUs. A January report by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (INIPFP) titled, ‘Public Sector Undertakings – Bharat’s Other Ratnas’ has advocated that Maharatna PSUs should be granted greater autonomy and should be commercialised.

The report chalks out a 10-year plan to divest 50% PSU assets amounting to roughly $250 million. These funds it suggests could then be parked in a strategic investment fund to leverage private funding of the same amount. This will help India in investing an additional $50 billion per year in public infrastructure for the next 10 years.

“It should be remembered that the PSUs which were strategically divested under the previous NDA government have done exceedingly well, thereby enhancing efficiency and improving the return on assets…Ad hoc expediency based on yearly targets is not going to work,” the report said.

All you wanted to know about… CPSE Exchange Traded Fund

Every Budget, the Government sets itself an ambitious target for raising cash from selling its equity stakes in PSUs. This target is more often missed than met. Two years ago, the Modi government hit upon the bright idea of selling these stakes through a specially constructed fund — CPSE Exchange Traded Fund or ETF. While the first CPSE ETF was floated in March 2014, a second tranche is set to open this week. The fund is managed by Reliance Nippon Life AMC.

What is it?

An ETF is a mutual fund whose portfolio exactly duplicates an existing index. So, the CPSE ETF holds the same basket of stocks, in the same proportion as the Nifty CPSE Index. You can expect its returns to very closely mirror the performance of this index.

Ten central PSUs make up the portfolio of the Nifty CPSE ETF. Of these, ONGC (24.3 per cent weight), Coal India (20.5 per cent), IOC (17.9 per cent) and GAIL (11.1 per cent) take up the lion’s share, while Power Finance Corp, Rural Electrification Corp, Container Corp chip in with about 5 per cent each and Bharat Electronics, Oil India and Engineers India account for 2-4 per cent. These have been shortlisted for their high dividend pay-outs. The subscriptions will be used by Reliance MF to buy equity stakes from the Centre, in the same proportion. During the offer, the CPSE ETF is available at a 5 per cent discount to prevailing market prices. But if you miss this window, the ETF is listed on the stock exchanges and you can buy or sell units in the secondary market, at the latest quoted price.

Why is it important?

When the Centre floats its disinvestment offers one at a time, the investor response is often dependent on market conditions. So if markets are soaring and the sector to which the PSU belongs is favoured, the offer gets lapped up. But if markets are downbeat the offer bombs, prompting LIC or another state institution to do the rescue act.

When the Centre disinvests through the ETF route, a bunch of PSUs can be disinvested at one shot. The offer can be timed to good market conditions with a high decibel marketing campaign. While one-off disinvestment offers so far this year have raised Rs. 400 crore to Rs. 3000 crore, the CPSE ETF expects to mop up between Rs. 5000 and Rs. 6000 crore. This can help the government inch closer to its disinvestment target of Rs. 56,500 crore for the year. A healthy mop up from disinvestment will mean lower burden on tax payers.

Why should I care?

If you’re a big fan of state-run firms, the CPSE ETF offer is a good opportunity to buy a basket of them. With a price earnings ratio of about 11 times, compared to the Nifty index’s 22 times, the CPSE basket is inexpensive too. Investors who bought into the first tranche of the CPSE ETF have made a 54 per cent return on their buy price. They also received bonus units.

But then, past performance is no guarantee of future returns. PSUs do suffer from constant government intervention in their business and pricing decisions. With nearly 74 per cent of its portfolio dedicated to energy stocks, the CPSE basket is heavily reliant on the commodity and economic cycle. With the top three stocks chipping in with over 15 per cent each, it’s a concentrated portfolio to own.

The bottomline

An investment can work out splendidly for either the seller or the buyer. So if the Government wins, you lose. And vice-versa.

IRCTC revenues 82% more than that of Flipkart; Earns Rs.24022 Crore in FY 2015-16

IRCTC recorded a revenue of Rs 24,022 crores in FY 15-16 (was Rs. 20,620 crores a year before). For the sake of comparison, Flipkart recorded a revenue of Rs. 13,177 crores in FY15-16. And note that IRCTC numbers are only from ticket bookings and not other services like its e-Commerce service etc.

While we can continue the monopolistic argument, the reality is that every damn sector is facing stiff competition and IRCTC growth is no small achievement.

In an effort to contain ballooning loses from low passenger fares on trains, Indian officials are now planning a e-commerce push inspired by the nation’s biggest online marketplace by sales. The plan involves aggressively selling Ad space on the railways’ e-ticketing site as well as listing its online division on the stock exchange.

IRCTC is aggressively trying to exploit its site. The Company’s growth will come from there. IRCTC have been asked by the government to grow like Flipkart. Earlier, the officials at IRCTC were shortlisting consultancies to prepare for IRCTC’s market debut.

Flipkart’s rise — from a small startup selling books in 2007 to one of the world’s most widely-watched online players — has been meteoric. The company racked up sales worth more than $1 billion last year, growing at a pace much faster than its rivals Amazon and eBay.

What is clear, though, is that the e-commerce push is the latest effort to turn around profits at India’s vast state-run train network, known more for running behind schedule than for its cutting edge-technology. Last month, for instance, the IRCTC partnered with Domino’s to offer pizzas on trains. And in 2014 it opened its own e-store to sell phones, shirts and shoes online.

The new online thrust has helped offset losses from passenger freight, which typically drag down overall profits.

Railway Board has a lot of things to do before Listing IRCTC, IRFC & IRCON

NEW DELHI: Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley may have announced the government’s intention to list the three railway public sector undertakings (PSUs) — IRCTC, IRFC and IRCON — but a closer look at the financials of the three throws open some challenges. Sources in the Rail Bhawan said Jaitley’s announcement to list the three rail PSU in 2017-18 came as a “surprise to many” including those in the railway board, the apex decision making body.

When asked to explain the impact of such a move, experts were divided. “The budget has outlined the intentions regarding the PSUs. The intentions are all well-meaning and a step in the right direction,” Abhaya Agarwal, partner, infrastructure and PPP, EY told during a post-budget round table. Manish R Sharma, Partner, PWC underlined the fact that Indian Railway has not been in a “very good shape” as they have been losing a lot of traffic and hence their revenue. “The composition of freight traffic is also changing. Coal, the bread and butter of railways, has seen a shift to road transport. Capital needs to roll out as there are lots of projects that need to be completed,” Sharma said.

Another expert on railway finances gave a very realistic picture of things to come following the announcement made in the budget speech on listing of rail PSUs. “A formal proposal will be drafted and shared with the railway ministry. The railway ministry will forward the same to the railway board for discussions and feedback. All suggestions, inputs or objections, if any, will then be shared with the department concerned in the finance ministry. Once all aspects are discussed and finalized, a Cabinet note will be prepared and circulated for any final comments from all ministries before the subject is approved by the Union Cabinet. Post that, the listing etc. will happen,” the expert and a formal railway ministry official said adding all this could take anywhere between three to nine months.

Let’s briefly examine the three PSUs in question.

IRCON (Indian Railway Construction Company Limited): IRCON, established in 1976, is an engineering and construction company, specialized in transport infrastructure. It is a wholly owned entity of the Ministry of Railways. Its primary charter was the construction of railway projects in India and abroad. In the past two decades, IRCON has diversified into other transport and infrastructure segments and operates even outside India.

A closer look at IRCON’s financial highlights shows that its total income has been on a decline since 2012-13 till 2015-16. In FY13, IRCON International posted a total income of Rs 4,471 crore. But in FY16, its total income was reported at Rs 2,703 crore, a decline of almost 40 per cent over four financial years. This impacted the net profit too, according to the financial performance reported on its official website. In FY13, the company posted a net profit of Rs 730 crore. But four years later, in FY16, its net profit was at Rs 379 crore.

Explaining the decline in income and profitability, Mohan Tiwari, chairman and managing director, IRCON said this was primarily due to “completion of mega foreign projects”. “Your company recorded an operating turnover of Rs 2,403 crore during 2015-16. Foreign projects have accounted for 18 per cent of this turnover, which is 51 per cent less than the previous year’s contribution by such projects. There has been a corresponding fall in the profit before tax which stood at Rs 567 crore, registering a decline of 33 per cent approx.,” Tiwari stated in the company’s latest annual report. He went on to state that “The company is confident of surmounting the decline in the turnover and profitability with sizeable order book of more than Rs 17,000 crore.”

IRFC (Indian Railway Finance Corporation): As the name suggests, IRFC is a finance arm of the Indian Railway and raises financial resources for expansion and running through capital markets and other borrowings. Of the three, IRFC is perhaps in best of financial health. In 2015-16, it reached a landmark in asset financing with a cumulative funding to the rail sector crossing Rs 1.5 lakh crore.

During 2015-16, IRFC funded Rs 14,000 crore worth of acquisition of locomotives, passenger coaches and freight wagons.

Profit after Tax of the company registered an year-to-year growth of 11.92 per cent to Rs 848.69 crore for 2015-16 as against Rs 758.30 crore for 2014-15. “The higher year-to-year growth in PAT as compared to PBT, is attributed to higher incidence of Deferred Tax Liability, due to increase in effective corporate tax rate to 34.608 per cent from 33.99 per cent, leading to additional provision towards DTL to the tune of Rs 77 crore on account of revaluation of accumulated DTL pertaining to earlier years in the accounts for the year 2014-15,” the chairman Sanjoy Mookerjee explained in the company’s latest annual report.

Apart from profitability, IRFC continues to enjoy the highest credit rating from the three leading Credit Rating Agencies, According to Mookerjee, during FY16 the company was accorded highest possible ratings, both for its long term and short term domestic borrowings programme. For the long term domestic borrowings, the company was awarded “CRISIL AAA/Stable rating by CRISIL, “(ICRA) AAA” rating by ICRA and “CARE AAA” ratings by CARE. “Similarly, the company’s short term domestic borrowings were rated “A1+” by CRISIL, ICRA and CARE. Besides, the three prominent International Credit Rating Agencies namely Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and FITCH have awarded to IRFC “BBB-(Stable)”, “Baa3 (Positive)” and “BBB-(Stable)” respectively rating at par with the Sovereign. ,” he said in the report.

IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation): Recently, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had said that IRCTC, which is already one of the largest e-portals in India, could become as huge as the e-commerce giant Amazon. He had added that the website would start online selling hand-made products procured from rural women. Indeed, that being true, IRCTC, once listed, is expected to give healthy returns to its shareholders. Currently, 6 out of 10 rail tickets are booked online on IRCTC website. However, post demonetization first and later in his budget speech, Jaitley has proposed abolishing the service charge on tickets booked on IRCTC. This will be a major dampener for the company as one-third of its revenue come from Service Charge. IRCTC sold tickets worth Rs 24,022 crore in 2015-16, earning a revenue of Rs 1,506 crore. Service charge accounted for over one-third of IRCTC’s total earning in the year at Rs 551 crore.

“Going forward, IRCTC may have to depend on the sale of food, water, and licences issued to various food vendors to make up for the loss in revenue stream from Service Charge. This will be a challange for IRCTC and also to the investors post its listing,” said a former rail official.

Listing of IRCTC will be a Big-ticket item: Finance Minister

NEW DELHI: Government is aiming big ticket divestment through listing of railway PSU IRCTC.

“Listing of IRCTC will be a big time ticket item and will have huge consequences,” a release by RP Sanjiv Goenka group quoting Union Finance minister Arun Jaitley as saying said.

Jaitley was speaking today at an interaction with industry leaders conducted by Sanjiv Goenka.

Disinvestment proceeds are pegged at Rs 72,000 crore for FY2017-18 in the budget presented yesterday.

Listing of PSEs on stock exchanges needs the government ownership share to come down to 74 per cent, Jaitley said.

Jaitley mentioned that to implement Universal Basic Income Scheme, political maturity is needed to adopt this better alternative to subsidies and this is one step further in direct targeting of government subsidies by putting money directly in hands of the people, the release said further.

Jaitley highlighted reforms in electoral funding have been undertaken for the first time in India and a limit of Rs 2,000 on cash donations to political parties has been the recommendation of the Election Commission.

Railways taken by surprise over listing of its 3 PSUs

According to sources, the Railways officials were only asked if the ministry had any objection to the listing of some of its PSUs for better fund infusion and market competitiveness.

NEW DELHI: In the first merger of the Rail Budget with the General Budget on Wednesday, the Railways Ministry was reportedly caught unawares by the government’s announcement that three of its public sector units (PSUs) would be listed in the stock market.

Sources said the announcement came barely two days after the issue was first discussed at a meeting on Monday. With no indication that the future of its PSUs was up for discussion, the ministry did not send any Railway Board member for the meeting. A joint secretary-level officer and an additional member attended the meeting with NITI Aayog officials and Secretary, Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM).

According to sources, the Railways officials were only asked if the ministry had any objection to the listing of some of its PSUs for better fund infusion and market competitiveness. The need to energise the PSUs and bring them out of their “comfort zone” was discussed, said sources.

Taking the meeting as the first step, the ministry was under the impression that the process had just begun and it would get back with details, like a possible roadmap. The Railway Board, the ministry’s highest decision-making body, had not even discussed the issue yet.

But the government on Wednesday announced the listing of three of its PSUs — IRCON (Indian Railway Construction Company Limited), Indian Railway Finance Corporation, and Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation.

Sources said the Board will now discuss the issue, after which a proposal will be sent to DIPAM, before a Cabinet note is finally sent.

While the government has been seeking in-principle approval from the Railways to list these companies, the ministry was not too keen, and the government’s seriousness or urgency was never conveyed before Wednesday.

IRCON was listed earlier, but was voluntarily delisted in 2011. Among other things, it also does construction work in areas considered strategically sensitive. There is concern over sharing such information with equity investors.

Apart from this, the only takeaway for the Railways from the Budget is the creation of the Rs 1 lakh crore Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) for five years — Rs 20,000 crore per year — for critical safety upgrades. Railways has budgeted its share of Rs 5,000 crore in the annual corpus from its funds and has not built in any safety cess on tariff yet. The total budgetary support, including Rs 10,000 crore from the Central Road Fund’s diesel cess and additional Rs 5,000 crore towards RRSK, is Rs 55,000 crore.

A fare hike is likely next fiscal, said sources. In its financial statements in the Budget, Railways has indicated that next fiscal, it will carry only 0.2 per cent more passengers than this year while its earnings from the passenger segment will increase by 4.4 per cent. Sources said an overall impact of 7 per cent hike in fares has been deliberated.

In freight, Railways has projected a modest 6.5 per cent growth, carrying an estimated 1,165 million tonnes of goods in 2017-18.

Jaitley did not mention the Operating Ratio (OR) — a key indicator of the financial health of the transporter. Figures show that the Railways expects to close with an OR of 94.9 per cent this year — the worst in four years. And for next year, it expects the OR to be around 94.5 per cent, indicating that it does not expect business to be great.

The size of its total business, as per its own projections, will be around Rs 1.89 lakh crore, a 10 per cent jump from this year’s Rs 1.72 lakh crore. It will commission 3,500 km of railway tracks — the highest ever — with a capital expenditure of Rs 1.31 lakh crore.

The Railways got only a three-and-a-half minute mention in Jaitley’s speech, during which he mostly read out the ministry’s proposals. Officials said that from next year, Railways may feature even less in the Budget speech.

“The merger of the Railways Budget with the General Budget is a historic step. We have discontinued the colonial practice prevalent since 1924. This decision brings the Railways to the centrestage of the government’s fiscal policy and would facilitate multi-modal transport planning between Railways, highways and inland waterways. The functional autonomy of Railways will, however, continue,” said Jaitley.

“It is a growth-oriented Budget,” Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu later said. “The PM’s imprint is all over the Budget.”

Union Budget 2017-18: How will Railways mop up the Safety Surcharge?

NEW DELHI: Imposition of a safety surcharge while removing the online booking service charges, and disinvesting railway PSUs such as IRFC, IRCTC and IRCON are some of the key announcements made by the Finance Minister in the railways segment.

The Finance Minister has proposed a safety surcharge of Rs. 1 lakh crore over five years, which will be raised by the Indian Railways.

This move could push railways to up tariffs depending on the extent of seed funding to be provided by the Finance Ministry.

To promote online ticket booking, the Finance Minister has proposed that the service charge of IRCTC be waived.

The service charge on online ticket booking has already been waived after demonetisation. This means a loss of about Rs. 40 crore for the IRCTC, which the Ministry has sought from the Finance Ministry.

The plan size of the Indian Railways is expected to be Rs. 1,31,000 crore (2017-18 BE) against Rs. 1,21,000 crore (BE 2016-17). The proposed budgetary support for 2017-18 is Rs. 55,000 crore against Rs. 45,000 crore in the 2016-17 BE.

He added that the shares of railway public sector units such as IRFC, IRCTC and IRCON are to be listed on the stock exchanges.

On projects, the FM has said 25 station development projects would be awarded this fiscal.

The migration of Railways to accrual-based accounting will be done in 2019.

On the metro rail segment, the FM said there would be standardisation and indigenisation of hardware and software.

All coach related complaints and requirements can be put into a single window mechanism, to be announced by the Railway Ministry.

Pilot plants for environment-friendly disposal of solid waste and conversion of biodegradable waste to energy are being set up at New Delhi and Jaipur railway stations. Five more such solid waste management plants are now being taken up.

“Railways will implement end-to-end integrated transport solutions for select commodities through partnership with logistics players, who would provide both front and back-end connectivity. Rolling stock and practices will be customised to transport perishable goods, especially agricultural products,” added the Finance Minister in his speech.

Railways to print Rates Card of of Food served by IRCTC on Rail Tickets

NEW DELHI: Ever wondered why you pay Rs.120 for a veg thali on a train when the prescribed amount is Rs.50? Or for that matter, why you shell out Rs.10 for a cup of tea when the rate card says Rs.5? That’s because you are being cheating by the railways catering staff. They double the fixed price and sell food items to you at stations and on trains.

To stop the crook business and save passengers from being cheated, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has decided to print rates of food items on rail tickets. A railway official said, “Passengers were not only charged more but the quantity of food items would also be less. The rates of food items to be sold on trains were last revised in 2012, after 10 years.” This comes at a time when the railways is coming up with a new catering policy that will give the right of deciding menu and price to IRCTC.

“We came to know that the catering employees were charging more from passengers. For a veg thali they would ask for anything between Rs.80 and Rs.120 and Rs.140 for a non-veg thali,” the official added.

Passengers are unaware of the rate chart and end up paying more. They are rarely given a bill. “IRCTC has now decided to print rates of key items such as veg and non-veg thali, tea and coffee and water bottle on tickets so that passengers get to know the price. Besides, emails are being sent to customers apprising them about the rates,” the official added.

IRCTC base kitchens to be prepped to dish out around 15K meals a day

Pantry cars or the hot buffet cars, are expected to relinquish the responsibility of preparing meals to the base kitchens which would be located at major stations. The base kitchens, to be operated by Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), are envisaged to be mechanised and sophisticated for ensuring fresh and hygienic supply of foods on trains.

As per the plan devised by IRCTC officials, there would be three categories of base kitchens: mega, normal and mini. This would be decided on the basis of the number of meals required to be prepared for each passing train at the station.

More than 30 kitchens are slated to come up in the southern zone, which includes TN, Kerala and Karnataka. In TN, mega base kitchens are planned at Chennai, Katpadi, Jolarpet and Erode, with normal kitchens at Salem, Villupuram, Tiruchy  and Madurai.

To be spread over 5,000 square feet, mega base kitchen will have the capacity to prepare about 15,000 meals per day, while a normal kitchen churns out 10,000 meals per day.

An IRCTC official said base kitchens would ensure the preparation of food was standardised as it would be cooked in a controlled environment. “Besides ensuring all norms are adhered to, the entire chain right from production to distribution will be tracked by IT support systems, which will help in better monitoring over aspects such as hygiene,” the official said.

Digital push hits Railway Revenues

New Delhi: The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC), which handles online ticket bookings, is suffering a loss of about Rs 60 crore per month, following the government’s move to push digital transaction.

“The non-charging of service charge and insurance premium have had a disastrous effect on our revenues. We are suffering a loss of about Rs 55-60 crore per month because of the discontinuation of service charge and insurance premium payment. We have asked the railway ministry to compensate for the losses,” A.K. Manocha, chairman of the IRCTC, told.

The government had waived the service charge on tickets booked through the IRCTC website or app, to incentivise cashless transactions.

On November 23, the railway ministry had announced that service charge on the online booking would be discontinued till December 31 to promote digital payments under the demonetisation drive. The waiver was later extended till March 31, 2017.

The subsidiary of the Indian Railways charges Rs 20 on online booking of sleeper and second-class tickets, and Rs 40 for AC classes. The IRCTC earned Rs 551.49 crore as service charge in 2015-16.

The service charge on ticket is in no way connected to card payment, but is a fee for the services provided by the IRCTC.

The charge, approved by the Railway Board, is levied by the IRCTC to maintain its infrastructure and to bear the cost of the facility that it provides.

At present, the e-ticketing system caters to over 10 lakh passengers daily (comprising 58 per cent of total reserved passengers).

To encourage online booking, the Indian Railways had last month waived the insurance premium for passengers, a senior ministry official said.

The facility, which was announced in the railway budget of 2016-17, allows a passenger to get an insurance cover of up to Rs 10 lakh on booking a ticket through the IRCTC’s portal by paying a premium of 92 paise.

Manocha said, “There has been a surge in digital booking since demonetisation and this is further putting pressure on our revenues. We have sought compensation for the losses and a mechanism to address the issue as we think that the waiver would be extended beyond March.”

A Railway Board official said, “We have taken up the issue with the finance ministry as service charge is a major source of revenue for the IRCTC and it should be compensated for revenue loss.”

The revenue of the IRCTC witnessed a 31 per cent jump to about Rs 1,500 crore in 2015-16. Net profit rose 20 per cent to Rs 130 crore from Rs 108 crore in 2014-15. Ticket sales grew 9 per cent to 19.94 crore in the last fiscal. The IRCTC has to share 50 per cent of its total revenue from service charge with the Indian Railways as fees.

IRCTC can emulate Amazon, says Suresh Prabhu

Bengaluru: Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), one of the largest e-portals in India with millions of users logging in every day, will soon start selling hand-made products procured from rural women online, railway minister Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu said on Monday.

“Indian Railways is keen to engage society in its innovative works. While we have already involved a number of public communities and NGOs under our cleanliness drive, we are also encouraging self-help groups of rural women to manufacture products that the railways will sell online through its web portal. The products will range from traditional food to handicrafts, shawls and other ethnic dresses. We have already asked women from Kashmir and the northeast to be a part of our initiative, and will soon start selling their products,” Prabhu said during an interaction with 4,000 graduates and under-graduate students of Kristu Jayanti College.

Comparing IRCTC with online retail major Amazon, he said IRCTC can any day become as huge as Amazon, and in doing so help rural women become self-dependent and encourage commercialization of indigenous, hand-made products. “However, for attaining that level, we will never stoop low and sell doormats and shoes with the tricolour on them,” said Prabhu, alluding to the recent controversy over Amazon selling doormats featuring the Indian national flag on its Canada website.

The minister said the Rs 50 crore allocation made towards innovation in last year’s railway budget included the idea of e-commercialization of indigenous products, e-catering service, renovation of 400 stations and introduction of super-bullet trains. “We are trying to get more allocation for railways in the coming budget so that all this work can be done faster,” he said, adding that the government is trying to increase the allocation to railways to Rs 4 lakh crore in the next three years.

Stressing on complete electrification of railways to avoid use of diesel and curb pollution, he said the railways is trying to get 90% of its trains to run on electricity in a few months.

Railways to soon come up with new Catering Policy

In a move to enhance quality of food and better services on trains, the Indian Railways is planning to make several changes in its present catering policy. Sources told that Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu is likely to make the big announcement next week.

According to the new catering policy, the use of pantry cars would be limited to warming up pre-cooked food and there would be no actual cooking in the pantry cars anymore. Top sources in railways said that a draft of the catering policy has been finalised and according to the draft, there will be “no cooking or washing” in pantry cars. Senior railway officials said that the new catering policy also emphasises on ensuring that best hygienic standards are maintained in distribution and storage of food in trains.

“Pantry cars of all trains should be designed to ensure that pre-cooked and hygienically packed food is supplied from base kitchens with minimum handling in transferring the same to the passengers,” the policy states.

Railways has also decided to come up with special trolleys for distribution of food in order to provide quick, clean and hygienic services to train passengers. The policy states, “Suitable space should be earmarked in train coaches for stacking and service of meals and installation of catering equipments and trolleys. This will eliminate the usage of vestibules and area around the toilets presently being used for this purpose. It will ensure hygienic services. Light weight compact trolleys (specially designed) should be used in trains to ensure that food is not kept on the floor of the trains at the time of distribution.”

The new catering policy has been drafted by making major changes to the existing catering policy which was unveiled in 2010. The 2010 policy shifted management and monitoring of all catering services (except food courts and fast food units) from Indian Railways Catering & Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) to Zonal Railways. Interestingly, with the new catering policy, the railways has decided to give back most of the catering services to IRCTC.

A senior railway official, on condition of anonymity, said, “It has been decided to give back the catering services to IRCTC in a phased manner with unbundling catering services by creating a distinction primarily between food preparation and food distribution.” The official added that IRCTC can outsource some of its services to private agencies. The official further said that currently, only 20 per cent of the catering services in railways is managed by IRCTC.

IRCTC launches new Rail Connect App for Faster Booking of Train Tickets

New Delhi: In a bid to promote ease of ticketing through digital transactions, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu on Tuesday released the new passenger mobile application named ‘IRCTC Rail Connect app’.

“Currently e-ticketing system caters to over 10 lakh passengers daily (comprising 58 per cent of total reserved passengers). And to increase the ease to users, a new Android-based mobile application for reserved booking IRCTC Rail Connect has been developed,” Prabhu told reporters here.

Further, Prabhu inaugurated many non-fare initiatives and IRCTC mobile apps.

Explaining about the new mobile IRCTC app, Prabhu said: “Rail Connect has been developed to bring the power of next generation e-ticketing system like high performance and enhanced security.” The new mobile-based application will replace the old existing IRCTC connect app.

According to the Minister, the new application has features like 24/7 service with no time based checks, synchronisation of mobile app with NGET (Next Generation e-Ticketing) for ticket booking, simple and easy user interface and supports general, ladies, Tatkal and Premium-Tatkal quota.

The new application sports other features like advanced security of self-assigned PIN (Personal identification number) to login without entering username and password on each login.

Prabhu pointed-out that a new user registration and activation can now be directly done through the IRCTC Rail Connect.

The minister further said that the new application will be integrated with IRCTC e-wallet for faster and hassle free transactions.

“Through IRCTC Rail Connect app users can view and cancel old mobile app tickets also. The new app will provide payment gateway to over 40 banks to facilitate payments through net Banking, credit or debit cards and wallets like Paytm, PayU, Mobikwik,” Prabhu informed.

“The IRCTC Rail Connect will also be inter-connected with IRCTC AIR, Food on Track mobile apps to facilitate booking of air tickets and food through e-catering.”

IRCTC ties up with GSAs of Bangladesh

Buoyed with the success of internet ticketing and tourism verticals, IRCTC has recently tied up with the General Sales Agents (GSAs) of Bangladesh.

The GSA scheme for registration of travel agents from outside India will facilitate booking of e-tickets of Indian Railways through IRCTC’s website www.irctc.co.in to the customers of the concerned countries.

Apart from the internet ticket, the GSA agents will also have the facility to book the attractive tour packages of IRCTC.

This initiative envisages facilitating inbound foreign tourists and maintaining good relationships with foreign countries particularly the bordering and South Asian countries.

The General Sales Agents scheme was initially launched by IRCTC way back in 2006 with the approval of Ministry of Railways. IRCTC has registered GSAs in the neighbouring countries to promote regional tourism of India.

Currently, IRCTC has 11 working GSAs in Nepal, London, Kuwait and UAE. Registration of 3 GSAs of Srilanka is also in pipeline.

“The GSA scheme will greatly enrich inbound tourists’ experiences visiting India and will help to get acquainted with the cultural heritage of India. This will also facilitate the strong bonding with the neighbouring countries” said Dr. Arun Kumar Manocha, CMD, IRCTC.

Railways publishes ‘Plan of Action’ to promote SHGs

Railways Move to Help Generate Local Employment, Empower Women and Ensure Inclusive Growth

The partnership with NABARD to provide support and access to the IRCTC website would ensure extensive e-marketing for products produced by the SHGs would lead to increase in rural incomes.

New Delhi: Minister of Railways Shri Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu in Rail Budget Speech 2016-17 announced “Self-help groups not only provide employment to women but also respect and dignity. IRCTC has begun the process of empanelling Self-help groups for providing catering/cooking services. We are partnering with NABARD to provide support and access to our IRCTC website to ensure extensive e- marketing for products produced by the Self-help groups which would lead to increase in rural incomes.”

In line with this announcement, Minister of Railways, reviewed plan of action with all stakeholders on 17 December 2016 to promote SHGs. Participants of the meeting include representatives from IRCTC, NABARD, Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, National Small Industries Corporation (NSIC). In the meeting the process of empanelment was explained to SHG’s and NABARD was asked to help the SHG’s in establishment of kitchen and getting FSSAI and VAT certificate for the SHG’s. Proposed plan of action was finalised with NABARD in this meeting.

Plan of Action to promote SHGs:

●       Indian Railways will provide support and access to IRCTC’s website.

●       NABARD will ensure extensive e-marketing.

●       NABARD will develop a website.

●       All information of SHG’s and their products can be seen on this Website.

●       Customer can order any of the articles/products on the same website.

●       IRCTC to provide link to this website at all of its various existing service websites.

●       IRCTC is tendering for installation and operation of Water Vending machines on platforms.

●       D and E class stations are being earmarked for Self Help Groups.

●       This will help in boosting morale by providing alternative source of earning to Self Help Groups.

Earlier Minister of Railways Shri Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu launched a pilot project at Sawantwadi Road Railway Station of the Konkan Railways in Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra on 3rd December 2016 in which a Railway PSU IRCTC roped in Self Help Groups to make local cuisines available through e-Catering services of IRCTC, in association with  National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). The SHGs who were roped in were those which were formed by MAVIM – Mahila Arthik Vikas Mahamandal, and Lupin Human Welfare Research Foundation in the Konkan region which helped in bringing the delectable Konkani cuisine on e-Catering platform. It has been noticed that this had helped in generating local employment, empower women and ensure inclusive growth.

Indian Railway Boards Policy Provision for SHG:

●       Provisions have been made in the draft catering policy 2016 with respect to empanelment of SHGs by IRCTC for providing catering related services. As IRCTC can outsource its backend operations, IRCTC has been enabled to use the services of Self Help Groups for support staff, service staff, cooks, transportation, packaging etc.

●       SHGs have been made eligible to participate in the allotment process of General Minor Units (GMUs) at D, E & F category of stations.

Self Help Groups (SHGs) empanelled under E-catering scheme.

                     i.        Vijayawada Jn.:- Shri Vani

                    ii.        Visakhapatnam: – Sri Srinivasa

                   iii.        Anakapalli: – Sri Srinivasa

                   iv.        Tuni: – Sri Srinivasa

                    v.        Mysore:-Spoorthy Jan Abhivrudhi Samsthe

                   vi.        Ernakulam:-  Cafe Kudumbashree

                  vii.        Ernakulam Town:- Cafe Kudumbashree

                 viii.        Saugor:- Laxmi Mahila Mandal (May’ 2016)

                   ix.        Saugor :-Sanskar Mahila Mandal (May’ 2016)

                    x.        Saugor :-Prayas Swa-Sahayata Sangatham (May’ 2016)

                   xi.        Saugor :-Siddhivinayak Swa Sahayata Samuha Sagar (Nov’ 2016)

                  xii.        Sawantwadi:-Maher Lok Sanchalit Sadhan Kendra (CMRC) (Aug’ 2016)

                 xiii.        Adra:- Manorma Pariseba Sambay Samity Ltd.

SHG’s for which empanelment under process for E-Catering services

                     i.        Howrah:- Tapan Smriti Mahila Sangha

                    ii.        Shalimar:- Mother Teresa Mahila Sangha

                   iii.        Shalimar:- Narna Satadal Sangha

                   iv.        Santragachi:- Mother Teresa Mahila Sangha

                    v.        Santragachi:- Narna Satadal Sangha

FUTURE PLANS

 Proposed installation & operation of Water Vending Machines through SHGs

 Description

D Category

E Category

F Category

No. of Stations

979

4157

2151

No. of WVMs

1470

1040

540

Expected earning for SHGs

Rs. 10,000/- per month

Rs. 10,000/- per month

Rs. 10,000/- per month

The empanelled SHGs will be displayed on e-catering website www.ecatering.irctc.co.in. with their menu and prices. Passenger may choose meal or food items offered by SHGs and place the order. This will help in sustainable development of SHGs.

The local cuisines produced by SHGs will be in addition to the other food choices made available on e-catering system by popular food aggregators like Dominos, Haldiram, KFC and Sarvana Bhavan to expand the culinary choices of travelling passengers.

This step also assume significance as it integrates the rural population with cashless transactionsystem through e-catering service where the payment to these SHGs for the services provided will be directly credited to their accounts through online payments. This is not only a passenger friendly measure by leveraging technology but would bring SHGs under the ambit of Digital India Programme of the Govt. of India.

IRCTC is also planning to collaborate with NABARD for setting up a similar project for involving SHGs in e-catering in Barabanki (Uttar Pradesh). The project is slated to become functional in January 2017.

Under the e-catering system, passengers can make payment for their meal orders online and they don’t have to carry loads of hard cash. They can make payment through their credit/debit cards as well as e-wallets like Mobikwik and Paytm. The online meal booking is also available through Android and iOS-based applications that can be downloaded on any smart phone.

Ministry of Women & Child Development and NABARD have also agreed to work with IRCTC with a view to facilitate installation and operation of Water Vending Machines (WVMs) with the help of Self Help Groups over various D, E & F category Railway stations.

IRCTC to enable Online Booking for feature Phone Users

New Delhi: Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu has announced that IRCTC will soon launch a product, using which non-smartphone users can easily book an online ticket.

Right now, only those who can access Internet via smartphone or desktop/laptop can use IRCTC’s app/website to book an online ticket.

Feature phone users are left with no other option, than to visit a railway counter to book tickets. Again, 90% of the booking counters don’t accept credit/debit cards, and cash is the only medium to book a tickets for such non-smartphone users.

Govt. is aware that for a truly cashless nation, important functionaries such as Indian Rail and India Post should be first converted into fully digital mode.

The Minister assured that slowly but gradually, more and more counters would be enabled with PoS terminals for seamless cashless payments.

He said, “We have already installed many point of sale (POS) machines at many suburban stations for easy transactions for commuters in the city. We are also introducing e-wallets and encouraging payment through mobile applications. We will work towards enabling commuters, who are not in possession of smartphones, to be able to book tickets via their phones,”

If you have booked a physical railway ticket lately, then you must have seen this message on the tickets: “Indian Railways recovers only 57% of cost of travel on an average”

Few weeks back, the same message started appearing on online tickets as well.

This is a desperate attempt by Indian Railways to create awareness about their losses, which are mainly occurring due to politicization of railway fares. As political observers will notice, the easiest way to garner more votes in rural hinterland is to announce reduction in rail fares.

Indian Railways fail to increase fares, which translates to more losses, and the cycle continues. It is estimated that Indian Rail absorbs Rs 30,000 crore+ of losses every year; and rail fares is one of the strongest reasons.

But finally, such politicization of rail fares would end.

As per reports coming in, Indian Railways has sent a proposal to the Cabinet, to create an independent agency for monitoring rail fares. If such an independent agency is approved, then the ‘thorny’ and politically sensitive issue of rail fares can be taken care of professionally, without any political influence.

Proposed to be named as Railway Development Authority of India, this agency will have a Chairman and 4 members who will calibrate the fares based on the current market rates (fuel, labor costs, maintenance cost etc), and revise the fares accordingly.

Minister Prabhu said, “The proposed authority would be free to recommend fares and freight rates. It would rationalize the entire fare structure for the railways. It would be a big transformational change for the organisation. We will keep rationalising fare as per the market demand..”

This independent body will be also responsible for maintaining safety standards and performance metrics; and has been hailed as the second biggest ‘rail’ reform, as the merger of their rail budget with the Union budget.

IRCTC ’s Air Travel packages from Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru

Bengaluru: Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has announced air travel packages from January 2017. The packages include both domestic and international circuits with flights departing from and arriving at Kempegowda International Airport (KIA).

According to IRCTC, this is the first time that international air packages operating from Bengaluru have been planned. Last year, IRCTC had introduced customised flight tour packages to Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Kashmir and Sri Lanka with flights operating from Chennai.

The first domestic air package is between Shirdi and Nashik (2 nights/3 days) starting on January 13 and first international air package is to Sri Lanka (6 nights/7 days) on January 27. While the former is priced at Rs 9,462 per person, the latter costs Rs 53,100 per person, inclusive of air tickets, accommodation, food, sightseeing and other facilities.

Addressing a press conference on Thursday, B Ramesh, Regional Manager, IRCTC Regional Office, Bengaluru, said, “The objective is to provide effective and affordable tour packages. People from across the state can book them though the departure and arrival will be at KIA.”

He added that for now, they have chalked out 12 destinations each under domestic and international packages.

“Under domestic packages, destinations such as Shirdi, Nashik, Andaman, Assam and Meghalaya, among others, would be covered. Sri Lanka, Malaysia-Singapore, Thailand, China, Europe and other destinations would be covered under international tours. Each month, there will be one international tour package,” Ramesh said. Earlier, IRCTC had launched an air travel tour package to Kerala and Goa and flights operated from KIA. IRCTC officials said they have set a target to collect Rs 10 crore from international and domestic air package and Rs 5 crore from domestic air tours.

For further details, visit www.irctctourism.com or call 9686575201.

No eWallets for IR? Here’s how Suresh Prabhu led PSU is playing it smart for public’s sake

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his much-debated move to demonetise Rs.500 and Rs.1000 currency notes, the country saw a surge in the usage of e-wallets. However, Controller General of Accounts M J Joseph expresses concerns over government support for mobile wallets

New Delhi: Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his much-debated move to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes, the country saw a surge in the usage of e-wallets. This exponential growth can be attributed to the fact that being a digital platform they have made transfer of money from one person to another quite an easy job. The process of assigning money is easy and requires only a few authentication checks. Yes, it’s a hassle-free process but how much it will help to fill government’s coffers?

Centre’s top accounting office has sounded the first word of caution on the use of e-wallets for transactions involving government services and utilities, saying that procedures need to be established to ensure that this money reaches its coffers. In the wake of the demonetisation of high value currency notes, the Indian railways is introducing point of sale machines at 13,000 train ticket reservation counters across India, the Railway Board asked the Controller General of Accounts (CGA), M J Joseph if mobile wallets should be accepted as a mode of payment for booking train tickets. The CGA advises the Government on matters related to accounting, and ensures that the payment mechanisms in place for Government services are safe and secure.

Controller General of Accounts (CGA) M J Joseph said that it was a matter of “safety, custody and control” of government money. “We should all move in a hurry, yes, but we should think through procedures first so that we don’t land ourselves in a mess later. That’s the point. Procedures have to be worked out,” he said. “Obviously, some due diligence has to be done by my office… we are responsible for the safety, custody control and flow of funds.. or else, it can be a scam if it (the money) is lying somewhere and it doesn’t reach the Government of India. How that money moves down the chain till it hits the Reserve Bank of India is something they have to first work out with the RBI,” said Joseph.

Now the Indian Railways seems to be deciding against introducing e-wallets over the counter, where credit/debit card machines are currently being installed at a fast pace with Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu taking stock of progress every day. Instead, it will rely on the established system of its PSU Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) accepting wallet payments online for e-tickets and other services. Recently, the Controller General of Accounts (CGA) returned a query from the government’s largest public transactions interface, the Railways, which wanted to know if mobile e-wallets, such as Paytm, MobiKwik and FreeCharge, could be introduced for over-the-counter transactions, including booking tickets. The CGA responded that since e-wallets are “closed systems”, there is no established mechanism yet to know how the money will flow into the Consolidated Fund of India and that the RBI should be taken on board before any new mechanism is devised.

Stressing that he has no problem with new technology, Joseph said, “We have no problem if technology brings in fund-flows through different sources. But the point is that, look, how does that fund flow in a timely manner, transparent manner, auditable manner to the RBI, it is my concern and the concern of the Reserve Bank.” Notably, the CGA’s office, under the Ministry of Finance, is responsible for the accounting of the Consolidated Fund of India.

Railways, however, is playing it smart by putting the onus on IRCTC saying, “as a company, IRCTC can get into an arrangement with any wallet company. The government coffers do not come into play there because IRCTC pays Railways the money for the tickets in advance,” Railways officials, however, said they are introducing credit/debit card machines at counters. That apart, e-tickets can be booked with all sorts of payment channels online, including wallets.

Go Cashless, Get Discounts on Rail Travel payments

60% of Rail Tickets are sold online; who says India isn’t ready for e-monetisation? Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday announced a slew of measures facilitating digital transactions, one month after the demonetisation was announced.

New Delhi: The government and banks are trying to promote digital payments and the last one month has seen a sizable switchover from cash to digital, Jaitley told reporters.

  • Monthly and seasonal tickets of suburban railway networks will get an up to 0.5 percent discount if paid for digitally. This will be applicable from January 1, 2017 and the discount will start from the Mumbai suburban railways.
  • Digitally booked rail tickets will get a Rs 10 lakh accident insurance cover.
  • Railways will offer a discount of 5 percent for digital payment of paid services like accommodation and catering, offered through its affiliates like Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation.

On 8 December, 2016 while announcing a slew of rebates for encouraging digital payments, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley gave an interesting statistic – as much as 60 percent of rail bookings are done online. If this is true, India certainly is ready to go digital brushing aside the skepticism of the critics and detractors. He also said since 8 November, 2016 when demonetisation was announced, digital payments have grown at a healthy clip – from 20 percent of the overall transactions to 40 percent.  The 0.75 percent rebate on petrol bunk bills for digital payments is nothing to scoff at just as 10 percent rebate to electronic toll payments shouldn’t be if only to reduce standing traffic at busy tolls. Private insurance players of course would be peeved by 8 percent and 10 percent rebates offered on life and non-life premia by public sector insurers. Be that as it may, the soft digital push comes on the back of hard push i.e. leg-up to swiping machines.

Banks take their own decisions on installation of ATM machines without needing any permission from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for this purpose. However when it comes to swiping machines aka POS machines, the call is normally taken by the shopkeepers. But the central government has cleverly shifted the initiative from them to the banks with which the establishments have current accounts. Yes, the government has urged banks to push for installation of swiping machines at retail shops that dot our landscape. To start with, it has urged the banks to install 10 lakh such machines by 31 March, 2016 on a war footing that could be daunting given the fact that the existing number of such machines across the country is only 14.6 lakh. But the SBI alone has volunteered enthusiastically to install 6 lakh machines during this short period.

The Assam BJP government has gone one step ahead and is seriously mulling whether it can make installation of swiping machines mandatory at retail establishments. While that could meet with some resistance and criticism, the central government initiative is an example of government using its persuasive power for the welfare of the nation. Banks after all know what their customers are into. If a customer is a trader, it can always call him over and impress upon him the need for installation of the POS machine at his establishment.

The wheel has come full circle. Come to think of it, banks till recently were supinely and passively offering a service to big retail establishments that they should not have— deputing their personnel for collecting cash. It sent wrong signals. It encouraged both the establishments and their customers to prefer cash as the prime mode of doing business. And more importantly, it encouraged transactions ‘outside the books’ in layman’s terms because on the flipside bulk of the expenditure was also incurred in cash that often hid the identity of the payees.

POS machines has benefits for everyone—automatic accounting at both the ends — i.e. the establishment and bank, besides rendering the tedious process of counting redundant at both the ends.  It was an eyesore to witness wads of currency notes tumble out of traders’ untidy bags in front of bank cash counters every morning.

The government must be complimented for converting the current cash crisis born of demonetisation of 500 and 1000 rupee notes into an opportunity to go digital and less-cash. The Congress party calls this rationalisation because it says initially the government called demonetisation a counter to counterfeit notes and black money. But what the heck, emphasis on cards and digital payment comes at the right time. Strike the iron when it is hot. The economy is reeling under currency shortage. Now is the time to change entrenched habits.

The government has waived 12.5 percent basic excise duty and 4 percent special excise duty on swiping machines and is likely to waive of the import duty as well given the fact that bulk of the machines are currently imported.

The Modi government indeed has cleverly dovetailed digital payments with demonetisation. And if it is an afterthought, so what?

Railways to devise National Rail Plan

The railways today launched a website seeking inputs from all stakeholders to prepare the National Rail Plan (NRP) which will be ready by the middle of next year. “Railways has prepared vision documents but never National Rail Plan. Railways being the government organisation is always subject to lot of pull and pressure. There should be a concrete plan what we should do in the next 10/15 years,” Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu said after launching the website here. Differentiating the NRP from the vision, he said “Railways had prepared vision documents earlier also but this is different from vision. Vision cannot be realised in the absence of vision.” Seeking suggestions from all stakeholders, he asked all concerned including Chief Ministers, different ministries, business chambers to provide inputs for finalising the plan. NRP envisages to identify and development of new corridors. Expressing concern over railways falling share in loadings, Prabhu said there is a requirement for faster movement of trains, easy movement of passengers and freight and long term sustainable transport system. On safety aspect, he said “railways have safety plans but this will include all plans together” and added Railways do not want to beat other modes of transport by competing but want to work by complementing. Railways will be including all the ideas received during recently held Rail Vikas Shivir in the National Rail Plan.

Railways waives off Service Tax for Online Ticket Bookings till Dec 31

Train tickets booked through the IRCTC website will become cheaper from tomorrow till the end of the year as the government has waived service tax to encourage cashless transactions in the wake of the demonetisation exercise.

irs-service-tax-on-irctc-online-ticket-bookingNew Delhi: Train tickets booked through the IRCTC website will become cheaper from tomorrow till the end of the year as the government has waived service tax to encourage cashless transactions in the wake of the demonetisation exercise.

Service tax will not be levied on tickets booked through the IRCTC website from November 23 to December 31, said a senior Railway Ministry official.

Rs 20 is levied as service tax on Sleeper and Rs 40 on AC classes for booking tickets through IRCTC. Service tax has been waived to incentivise cashless transactions through online booking, the official added.

The decision has been taken to encourage electronic method payment among the buyers. With the evident cash crunch in the market due to demonetisation step taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indian Railways attempts to lure customers to book tickets online rather than withdrawing cash and lining up in queues at Railway counters.

IRCTC charges Rs 20 as service charge on booking tickets for second and sleeper class tickets, while Rs 40 is charged on booking E-tickets and I-tickets on for AC-First, AC-Second and AC-Third class tickets.

After demonetisation move by the Modi government, the amount of cash in circulation has been drastically reduced. Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes, which formed 86 per cent of the currency in market, lost their legal tender.

Lines outside ATMs and bank counters have not reduced, despite two weeks have passed since demonetisation was announced. The recalibration of ATMs is expected to be completed by end of the month. The new notes of Rs 500 and Rs 2000 would only get ejected after the recalibration process gets completed.

It will be a difficult decision for IRCTC to make because almost 33% of its revenue comes from the service charge collected on online bookings. About Rs 540 crore of IRCTC’s revenue of over Rs 1,500 crore in the last financial year came from ticket bookings, which also contribute to the dividend it pays to the railways.

Close to 12 lakh train tickets are purchased on the IRCTC website every day, accounting for almost 55% of all the railway bookings in the country. If a higher proportion of bookings shifts to IRCTC, it would help the national transporter cut costs by reducing the number of ticket booking counters. “Railways doing away with service charge would be a big step towards fulfilling PM’s agenda,” the official said.

Only 30% of eTicket buyers opted for Railway Insurance

128 passengers on ill-fated Indore-Patna Express opted for insurance while booking online ticket

irctc-insuranceKanpur: Uncertainity over railway safety in India seems to be an open secret. Out of 694 passengers who booked tickets online for the ill-fated Indore-Patna express, 128 had opted for travel insurance cover that costs less than Rs.1.

The IRCTC website offers passengers the option of availing travel insurance cover at a premium of Rs 0.92.

It is learnt that those travelling on 78 (128 passengers) of the 126 tickets are eligible for the insurance payout. The other passengers who opted for insurance cover were to board the train from Kanpur onwards.

‘The insurance cover of upto Rs 10 lakh can be availed by paying less than Re 1’, is how Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had introduced the scheme in his budget speech. The scheme offers travellers/nominees/legal heirs a compensation of Rs10 lakh in the event of death or total disability, Rs7.5 lakh for partial disability, upto Rs2 lakh for hospitalisation expenses and Rs10,000 for transportation of mortal remains from the place of a train accident or where an untoward incident, including terrorist attack, dacoity, rioting, shootout or arson, occurs.

The IRCTC website offers passengers the option of availing of travel insurance at a premium of 92 paise. The scheme was announced by Union railway minister Suresh Prabhu in his budget speech.

The scheme offers compensation of Rs 10 lakh in the event of death or total disability, Rs 7.5 lakh for partial disability, up to Rs 2 lakh for hospitalisation expenses, and Rs 10,000 for the transportation of a passenger’s mortal remains from the site of accident or any other untoward incident — terrorist attack, dacoity, rioting, or arson.

The facility is available to passengers who book the e-ticket, excluding for suburban trains, irrespective of the class of the ticket. The option to buy the insurance cover is available through a checkbox. “The premium is just 92 paise, so lack of awareness or sheer negligence while booking tickets may be the reason why so many passengers failed to opt for insurance,” an official said.

Smart things to know about Travel Insurance for Indian Railways

Introduction of Rs.10 Lakh Train Travel Insurance scheme by Indian Railways for just 1 paisa hits overwhelming response with 2 crore rail passengers opting for travel insurance cover as of 30th Oct 2016! The scheme offers a compensation of Rs 10,00,000 for death or permanent total disability and Rs 7,50,000 for partial disability.

irctc-insurance-coverageNew Delhi: More than two crore passengers have opted for the rail insurance scheme since the facility was launched in September this year. We have got a good response to the optional insurance scheme as more than two crore passengers have availed the facility so far, said a senior IRCTC official.

According to the data provided by the Railways, 20,763,353 passengers have opted for the insurance cover till October 30. The facility, which was announced in the Railway Budget 2016-17, allows a passenger to get an insurance cover of up to Rs 10 lakh on booking a train ticket online by paying just 92 paise.

As part of the ‘Diwali bonanza’, IRCTC had reduced the cover price from 92 paisa to just one paisa from October 7 till Diwali. From October 31, it has been restored to 92 paisa as announced earlier, said the official. While about 5.5 lakh travellers book their tickets online daily, only around 3.5 lakh are opting for the insurance cover, he said.

The scheme offers travellers or their families compensation of up to Rs 10 lakh in the event of death or permanent total disability, Rs 7.5 lakh for permanent partial disability, up to Rs 2 lakh for hospitalisation expenses and Rs 10,000 for transportation of mortal remains in the event of death or injury from a train accident or other untoward incident, including terrorist attacks, dacoity, rioting, shoot-out or arson, as well as for short termination, diverted route and Vikalp trains.

The facility is available for all rail passengers who book the e-ticket, excluding sub-urban trains and irrespective of the class of the ticket. The premium amount is automatically added to the ticket fare if the passenger opts for the insurance. The scheme is being implemented by IRCTC in partnership with ICICI Lombard, Royal Sundaram and Shriram General.

The claim and liability is between the passenger and the insurance company. In the event of death due to accident, 100 per cent of the sum insured will be paid by the company. Those wanting coverage for children below five years of age have to furnish details of the child at the time of booking and accordingly travel insurance premium is added to the total amount payable.

Here are the Smart things to know about Travel Insurance

1. The scheme is optional and available for all passengers who book their ticket online.

2. The premium is 92 paise for each passenger, which is inclusive of all taxes.

3. This scheme is available for passengers holding confirmed, RAC and waitlisted tickets. However, no refund of the premium will be issued if the ticket is cancelled.

4. The scheme offers a compensation of Rs 10,00,000 for death or permanent total disability; Rs 7,50,000 for partial disability; Rs 2,00,000 for hospitalization expenses for injuries; and Rs 10,000 for transportation of mortal remains.

5. The cover is not applicable for children up to five years of age and foreign citizens, and for suburban railway travel.

IRCTC joins hands with MobiKwik for ePayment of Tatkal Bookings

Now, Buy Tatkal Railway Tickets on IRCTC with MobiKwik Wallet

irctc-mobikwikNew Delhi: Gurgaon-based mobile payments company MobiKwik has partnered with Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) to launch e-cash payments for tatkal bookings.

The company said with its services at IRCTC, users can pay within two seconds to buy tatkal tickets. The MobiKwik wallet, however, would have to be preloaded with the desired amount.

“MobiKwik collaborated with Indian Railways to digitize payments on the IRCTC App and IRCTC FoodOnTrack App this year, and now we are powering payments for tatkal online that will help users book tickets almost instantly,” MobiKwik co-founder Upasana Taku said in a statement on Thursday.

MobiKwik said instantaneous e-cash payments will help tatkal online in managing the load of over a thousand ticket bookings per minute. The service will also help users in ensuring that their bookings do not get rejected due to payment delays. On an average, over 15% daily ticket bookings for Indian Railways happen under tatkal, the statement said.

In September, MobiKwik’s rival Paytm had also collaborated with IRCTC to allow booking of train tickets through its platform.

The Indian Railways may soon introduce the booking of unreserved tickets through mobile wallets and for this the Railways is in talks with Paytm and Jio Money, which is a part of Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd.

From the IRCTC App, one can make payments for regular train booking through MobiKwik, PayUmoney, OlaMoney and Paytm, apart from the regular mode of payment.

In August 2016, NASDAQ-listed South African payment solutions and transaction processing company Net1 UEPS Technologies Inc. had signed a subscription agreement with India’s digital wallet firm MobiKwik. As part of the partnership, Net1 invested $40 million in MobiKwik, and integrated its Virtual Card technology across MobiKwik wallets.

To improve commuting experience for millions of travellers, IRCTC has taken several initiatives lately, which include travel insurance, upgrading the retiring rooms, among others.

IR in talks with eCom Cos for on-board sales of their merchandise

Indian Railways may link-up with Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal, emerge as a huge shopping destination. Under the profit-sharing plan, the railways would allow e-commerce companies to set up warehouses and pick-up points across 400 stations!

ir-parcel-van-for-ecommerceNew Delhi: At a time when e-commerce giants such as Flipkart and Amazon are contemplating offline stores to expand their reach, on-board sales in trains could provide them access to 500 million passengers, many of whom are still not on internet.

The Indian Railways is in talks with e-commerce companies like Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal and Paytm for on-board sales of their merchandise in reserved compartments.

Under the profit-sharing plan, the railways would allow e-commerce companies to set up warehouses and pick-up points across 400 stations. The move works to the benefit of both parties: the railways have been looking to raise non-fare revenues by 10-20% while e-commerce companies are looking to a deeper presence in smaller towns.

Online buying and online purchasing of services and products has now become the newest trend in the web industry. It is commonly known as E-Commerce. Many business owners whether small business or large business are indulging in this kind of industry. For they find it cost-effective and convenient for possible consumers who are highly active in surfing the internet. Even Indian Railway the largest employment generation sector of India is also contributing a lot in E-Commerce, or we can say it is the largest contributor to India’s e-commerce. With the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation pushing electronic booking of tickets and scores of online travel portals entering the business, the share of tickets sold online in the total ticket revenues of the railways is increasing day by day.

The railways may turn out to be a lucrative market for the E-Commerce players as the number of reserved passengers on trains is more than 500 million a year, higher than the entire internet users. Indian Railways, the world’s fourth largest network, is looking to cash in on India’s booming $4 billion e-commerce industry to boost revenue from its freight operations.

Centre is all set to tap into various “sunshine sectors” of the economy including automobile sector, e-commerce industry and the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) segment to deliver goods, senior ministry officials said. The Indian Railways is also exploring ways in which it can help in door-to-door transportation of goods. It may soon use ‘Road Railers’, capable of movement on road as well as rail, to provide last mile connectivity.

Other delivery mechanism which the Indian Railways may look into include RO-RO (roll on, roll off) through which loaded trucks can be carried directly on railway wagons between two destinations, an official said. Konkan Railways is running the RO-RO service since 1999.

This also fits into the railway plan to equip 100 major railway stations with high speed Wi-Fi connectivity with the help of Google by the end of the year. Already close to 60 stations provide the service. The railways are also looking to allow cab aggregators to tap railway passengers in big cities. What that means is that a fully-charged mobile phone will be the key determinant while travelling long-distance on Indian Railways in the not-too-distant future. It would over time affect the viability of brick and mortar stores.

The Indian Railways is in the process of carrying out a detailed study of as many as 46 commodities to find out the potential sectors which can help increase its declining freight traffic growth. “We have carried out a detailed study and held discussions with industry players to explore potential areas which the Indian Railways can tap in to boost freight growth,” said another ministry official. Some of the areas which the Indian Railways is considering include refrigerated goods, building material, horticulture, courier express and parcel, marble, glass among others. “For instance, there is a lot of potential in horticulture. Its output has grown faster than food grains in the past few years,” the official added.

E-Commerce puts Once-Troubled China Railway Bonds on Track

Railway bonds in China, rocked by crashes and corruption probes five years ago, are among the best performing local corporate notes in 2016 as investors bet on support from a government seeking to develop a high-technology, service economy.

Debt of transport companies including China Railway Corp. gained 4.2 percent this year, the most among 11 industries in a Bank of America Merrill Lynch index. Energy notes returned 3.9 percent and utilities ranked third with 3.6 percent. Property bonds were little changed, the worst performance, amid concern the government is tempering a real-estate bubble.

While the rally in transport bonds has been helped by central bank monetary easing, investors are taking comfort in President Xi Jinping’s support for an industry at the intersection of services, consumer spending and Internet commerce. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., China’s largest online retailer, saw its revenues surge 47 percent in the quarter ended June 30 from a year earlier as it pushed into rural markets.

“It boils down to the boom of the new economy in China,” said Ken Hu, chief investment officer of Asia fixed income at Invesco Hong Kong Ltd. “The old way of shopping such as going to department stores is being overtaken by e-commerce and this has led to a surge in transportation volumes.”

The yield on China Railway’s 10-year bonds fell 83 basis points in the past year to 3.46 percent, sending the premium over similar-maturity government securities down 27 basis points to 69. The gap reached as wide as 180 basis points in 2013, when China’s cabinet arranged for the state-owned company to take over commercial operations from former Ministry of Railways, raising concern over its level of government backing.

The break-up followed the firing of the previous rail minister in 2011 amid allegations of corruption and a high-speed crash that killed 40 people.

“Bonds issued by China Railway now have explicit support from the government,” said Angus To, a senior research analyst of ICBC International in Hong Kong. “The outperformance may be due to market appetite for safe assets which provide higher yields relative to government bonds in an environment of falling yields.”

Hainan Airlines Co. and Changsha Metro Group Co. were among other transport gainers. The yield on Changsha Metro’s December 2025 notes has slid 65 basis points this year to 3.5 percent, and returned 6.3 percent, compared with an average 3.3 percent gain in Bank of America’s China corporate bond index.

Infrastructure Boost

State-run China Railway’s bonds are also benefiting from haven demand after a series of defaults, according to ICBC’s To. Recent local failures have included Sichuan Coal Industry Group, which missed payment on 1 billion yuan of notes in June, and Inner Mongolia Nailun Group Inc., a fertilizer producer and a property developer, which didn’t repay 800 million yuan of bonds in May.

Alibaba reported better-than-expected net profit last quarter, while rival Tencent Holdings Ltd. registered a 47 percent climb in net income.

The government is stepping up capital spending on roads, rails, airports. Transportation bonds have more room to advance as long as liquidity conditions remain supportive for the overall debt market, according to BOC International Holdings Ltd.

“Policy support is very strong for the transportation sector with more subways, highways and new airports under construction,” said Steve Wang, Hong Kong-based head of fixed income research at BOC. “Consumers are continuously evolving and transportation is a sector that can benefit for long from the rise of the new economy.”

IRCTC’s RailNeer now India’s Most Trusted packaged drinking water brand

railneerNew Delhi: RailNeer, a signature product of Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), was given the award for ‘India’s Most Trusted Brand for 2016’ in the  packaged drinking water segment by IBC Infomedia Privated Limited, a leading business management consultant.

IBC Infomedia Private Limited is an Indian company with its parent organisation International Brand Consulting Corporation (IBCC), a prominent business management consultant, based in the US.

At present, IRCTC has six operational Rail Neer plants located at Danapur (Bihar), Nangloi (Delhi), Palur (Tamil Nadu), Ambernath (Maharashtra), Amethi (Uttar Pradesh) and Parassala (Kerala). Two of these plants at Amethi and Parassala are under the PPP mode. Two more plants at Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh) and Nagpur (Maharashtra) are expected to be commissioned in 2016-17.

HOW WELL IS  ‘INDIA’S MOST TRUSTED BRAND’ DOING?

Rail Neer generated an income of Rs 118.48 crore during 2015-16 as against Rs 81.03 crore in 2014-15, registering a growth of 46.2 percent. Overall, it accounted for eight per cent of the total income of Rs 1,506 crore registered by IRCTC during 2015-16.

The total production of Rail Neer plants was 14.40 crore bottles during 2015-16 as against 11.95 crores bottles in the previous year.

Supreme Court of India in its judgment dated August 11 2016, permitted exclusive sale of “Rail Neer” packaged drinking water in all its mandatory stations. It will enable IRCTC to set up more and more Rail Neer plants across the country.

IRCTC’S CHILD LINE 1098 INITIATIVE

On the request of Ministry of Women and Child Development, IRCTC has started printing advertisement pertaining to “Child Line 1098” to help the distressed children.

On popular demand of Mumbai Suburban passengers, IRCTC will be starting production of 500 ml bottles very shortly at its Rail Neer Plant, Ambernath.

IRCTC has taken initiative to provide pure, chilled and clean water to the railway passengers across the country by installing Water Vending Machines as announced during the budget speech for the year 2014-15 by Minister for Railways. As a result of which approximately 3,500 nos. of machines will be installed spread over A-1, A, B and C category stations. As of now, roughly 700 water vending machiness have been installed over these stations covering almost 60 percent A-1 category railway stations.

IRCTC has also tied up with NABARD and Ministry of Women and Child Development to install huge number of water vending machines over D, E and F category stations by involving Self Help Groups (SHGs).

ICF to manufacture Glass Roof Train Cars to promote Tourism on IR

Indian Railways is following the lead of Swiss Railways and other operators offering train services on scenic routes with glass roofs to attract more tourists

ir-glass-roof-train-carsNew Delhi: Integral Coach Factory (ICF) at Perambur will manufacture state-of-the-art luxurious coaches having glass ceiling and equipped with infotainment system, similar to that in Switzerland.

The basic objective behind such coaches is to promote tourism and woo upscale tourists from both India and abroad, IRCTC Chairman and Managing Director A K Manocha said on Monday ICF in association with Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) and Research, Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO) is desigining the coaches, which will be operational in December this year.

“The first coach will be tagged in a regular train in the Kashmir Valley while the other two will be part of some train careening through the picturesque Araku Valley in Visakhapatnam,” he said.

The trains having such luxurious coaches, giving an aerial view, would be decided later, Manocha added. “There are some trains with glass ceiling in foreign countries, like Switzerland, which enjoy the patronage of tourists. We believe such coaches would also give a fillip to rail tourism in India,” the IRCTC Chairman added.

Giving details of the project, Dham Ghaj Prasad, IRCTC Group General Manager said the coaches with glass top ceiling would be the first of its type in India and would rival the best anywhere in the world.

These coaches are being manufacured at an estimated cost of around Rs 4 crore. “Work on the project started in 2015 with a series of meetings on the specification of the coach design. The first such coach is all set to roll out this month (October) itself. The coaches will be ultra luxurious with rotatable chairs to provide the passengers an aerial view through partly glass ceiling,” he elaborated.

Further, the coaches will have ample leg space and also equipped with modern infotainment system for the benefit of tourists, he added.

PayTM enables IRCTC Rail bookings on its platform

irctc-paytmMumbai: Paytm, India’s largest mobile payment and commerce platform, has partnered with IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering & Tourism Corporation).

This move will allow Paytm users to book train tickets online on Paytm’s app and website.

In recent months, Paytm has seen exponential growth in its Travel Marketplace. Its bus tickets business recently turned break-even while the Hotels booking category is expected to start generating profits very soon.

The Flights booking service on Paytm has been growing at 4x rate month-on- month since its launch in May. In line with its vision to build the country’s largest travel booking destination, the company has now launched online train ticket bookings in partnership with IRCTC.

Speaking on the partnership, Abhishek Rajan, Vice President, Paytm said, “At Paytm, our endeavor is to solve for every need of a traveller. Our alliance with IRCTC is a major leap as it completes the spectrum of air, road and rail ticket booking solutions available on Paytm. This is a significant milestone in our efforts to build India’s largest travel marketplace.”

The Indian travel market has seen exponential growth over the past many years. The Indian travel market is estimated to be worth $40 billion by 2020, according to an IBEF study. Paytm is determined to leverage the power of mobile to fuel this growth.

Railways bank on Bollywood celebrities to publicise Luxury Trains

Actres Deepika Padukone, Hero Randir Kapoor and filmmaker Imtiaz cancelled their plane tickets to Delhi last year and took the train instead to promote their film Tamasha in Delhi and spent the 12-hour journey on the Suvidha Express rediscovering the joys of train travel – chatting, having chai and stretching their legs at Koat Junction.

New Delhi: Countless Hindi movies and songs have been shot on trains and now Railways is banking upon Bollywood celebrities to publicise its luxury trains. An invitation has been sent to Amitabh Bachchan, and couple Ajay Devgn and Kajol to take free rides on Maharajas’ Express.

The Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has decided to reach out to celebrities to publicise its ultra luxurious Maharajas’ Express. Free rides in the train have also been offered to all Indian Olympic and Paralympic medallists.

“There are plans to offer special packages to film directors for shooting films on luxury trains. We are reaching out to Bollywood celebrities to take a ride on one of the world’s most luxurious trains,” said IRCTC CMD A K Manocha.

Started in 2010, the Maharajas’ Express offers five fascinating journeys crisscrossing vibrant destinations, significant attractions and offering a vista of breathtaking landscape, culture and heritage. A truly world-class train journey is promised in each of the five itineraries.

actress-deepika-and-randhir-kapoor-having-coconut-waterWith all the luxury, the journey comes at a heavy price. For an eight-night seven-day trip, a passenger has to shell out Rs.4.6 lakh for Deluxe Cabin, Rs.6.6 lakh for a Junior Suite, Rs.9.2 lakh for a suite and Rs.16 lakh for the Presidential Suite. Tours include palaces, fortresses, World Heritage Sites, cultural sightseeing and spirituality of India. The journeys of Maharajas’ Express have even been compared to that of the legendary Orient Express of the West in refinement and luxury.

IRCTC has been planning several measures to attract passengers. Most of the occupants of the train have been foreigners and non-resident Indians. “At present, all trips are conducted between October and March. Now, we are planning to run the train in months from April to September on other routes,” said Manocha.

Bollywood and trains have had a long and mostly affectionate relationship. In fact, Bollywood has a lot to thank the Indian Railways for. From Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore’s dreamy toy train sequence to that fantastic scene from Dilwale Dilhunia Le Jayenge, trains have often been an essential aide to Bollywood romances.

We echo that sentiment wholeheartedly.! Lovers have met on trains, they’ve eloped on trains, and they’ve used the train as a prop for their song and dance sequences. There is so much the Indian Railways has given Bollywood without so much as a thank you in return. It is a gift that just keeps on giving to the film industry.

Here’s looking at how the Indian Railways have helped keep our filmy love stories on track:

Stage 1: Boy Meets Girl. Cupid Strikes.  

Pakeezah (1972)

The train scene from Pakeezah is the poetic beginning to an almost-tragic love story between Sahibjaan, played by Meena Kumari, and Salim, played by Raaj Kumar. He sees just her feet peeping put from the train berth and is instantly smitten.

Aapke paao dekhe. Bahut haseen hai.. Inhe zameen par mat utariiyega. Maile ho jaaye,” wrote Salim in a letter to the gorgeous Sahibjaan, and the audience was smitten as well.

Baaton Baaton Mein (1979)

A romance that stars the adorably cute Tina Munim as Nancy and everyman-hero Amol Palekar as Tony begins by chance on a Mumbai local. The mustachioed Tony, who fancies himself a cartoonist, cannot take his eyes off the beautiful Nancy and starts to draw a ‘portrait’ of her. While Tina’s uncle is surprisingly impressed by a stranger on a local train taking the liberty to draw a likeness of his niece, Nancy is not cool with it. Nonetheless, Tony and uncle make plans to meet at Nancy’s place later on and from here begins their on-now off-now tale of love.

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995)

Yes, yes, yes. We know which train scene DDLJ is most famous for but let’s not forget that Kajol and SRK first met on a train as the two set off by Eurorail on their vacation. As the movie ends, so it begins: with Shah Rukh extending his hand to help Kajol get on the train.

Chennai Express (2013)

Rahul (naam to suna hoga?) is 40 but spry, helping not just a sprinting Meenamma onto the moving Chennai Express but also her pursuers. Shah Rukh Khan, who is clearly the champion of romance on trains, and Deepika Padukone have a chance encounter that turns into the filmiest of dramas involving goons, a disapproving father who also happens to be a don and a rival to Meenamma’s affections. But never underestimate the power of a common man and the Indian Railways.

Stage 1.0: Boy Meets Girl But she Doesn’t Know He Exists

Dil Se (1998)

The movie Dil Se is perhaps most famous for its music and the fact that Chaiyya Chaiyyafilmed atop a moving train. The song plays right after SRK catches a glimpse of Manisha Koirala at the railway station and, like all good Bollywood heroes are wont to do, he breaks into a song and dance number. Chaiyya Chaiyya was a landmark song for more reasons than the beautiful Malaika Arora Khan. This wasn’t the first time a song was filmed on top of a train, but this was definitely the first time someone was shot dancing on top of a real, moving train. Get the difference? The song appears right after Shah Rukh Khan sees for the first time and is enamored of a mysterious woman.

Stage 1.1 : Boy and Girl Are About to Meet But Don’t Know it Yet

Aradhana (1969)  

She’s on a toy train, he’s in a car. And together, they gave us a gorgeous view of the hills of Darjeeling while singing a song that lovers will remember for centuries. Rajesh Khanna sings a question asking Mere Sapno Ki Rani Kab Ayegi Tu?, little knowing that the answer is riding in the train chugging alongside the winding hill road he’s driving on.

Stage 2: Love Happens. Such Fun. Much Songs.

Baaton Baaton Mein (1979)

The story continues as the love-struck Tony changes his office and train timings to match Nancy’s. And from here begins a series of meetings and dates – on the  9.15 train, to the approval of her family and the disdain of his. The lead track of the films play over a montage of their various dates on the train, as well as all over Mumbai, convincing pining lovers all over that love happens mostly on trains.

Stage 2.0: Hero is in Raptures. Spontaneous Combustion of Singing and Dancing.

Parineeta (2005)

Kasto Mazza Hai is Saif Ali Khan’s musical epiphany as he’s coming back from Darjeeling after a business trip. After about an hour into the film, the hero FINALLY realises that he loves the heroine. Halleluiah? The song is shot on a toy train and features Vidya Balan’s cameo as Saifu just cannot stop seeing her everywhere.

Stage 3: Flirting. Wooing. Songs, songs and more songs.

The Burning Train (1980)

The whole movie revolves around a train and its passengers who love to sing, dance and happen to be an extremely pally bunch. The film had a mammoth cast and starred Hema Malini, Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, Parveen Babi, Jeetendra, Neetu Singh, Danny, Simi Garewal and many, many more. The song Pal do Pal ka Saath Humara was sung by the passengers in train lead by Jitendra and Neetu who’re happily flirting with each other as their co-passengers egg them on, unaware that they will soon have to be rescued from an inferno on wheels.

Stage 3.0: She’s sulking. He woos her with song.

Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai (1981)

She is pouty and annoyed, he’s tripping in love. Starring Padmini Kolhapure and Rishi Kapoor, this was the original on-top-of-a-train song sequence, with a little help from technology  of course. The song Hoga Tumse Pyara Kaun plays after Rishi and Padmini fall in love and are still in the initial courtship period. The song is not just visually lovely but musically awesome as well. The love affair falls off track soon after, but they still do end up giving us a song to remember them by.

Stage 4: Pyaar. Ishq. Mohobbat. Shaadi.

Ajnabee (1974)

Rajesh Khanna and Zeenat Aman sing Hum Dono Do Premi as they ride atop a train on their way to elopement. They get married in a temple and then things go horribly wrong, but that’s a separate story.

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995)

Love in the time of a moving train! That last train scene of DDLJ is etched on the pages of history as that epic, unforgettable moment when Shah Rukh Khan leaned out of a train leaving station to extend his hand to the heroine. Kajol, dressed in a lehenga that probably weighed a sizable amount, manages to run and get on the train.

This scene has since been rehashed and recreated in Shah Rukh’s Chennai Express as well as in Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani by Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone. Let’s just safely assume that this scene will never really go out of fashion as long as love and trains exist.

And then there is the flip side to romance – rejection. Because what’s a good desi love story without some heartbreak, right?

Stage 1: Why Are You Talking to Me? Go Away.

Jab We Met (2007)

The train is of paramount importance in the cult hit, Jab We Met. This is where the meet-greet session of the lead couple takes place. Of course, it’s basically just Kareena Kapoor talking non-stop while Shahid Kapoor gazes on like one struck by a heavy iron club. The supremely talkative (and nosy) Geet misses her train while trying to get Shahid to board again. Ironically, it was her loud chattering that the poor man was trying to escape. Happily, as we all know, the two become friends as the film progress and ends on a note that restores our faith in fate and Cupid and all things mushy.

Stage 2: Eh. Hello? Why Won’t You GO AWAY Already?

Saathiya (2002)

After chasing and stalking Rani Mukerji for a long time, Vivek Oberoi finally catches hold of her on the Mumbai local. He is in love, she couldn’t care less. He proposes to her on the train and she asks him to jump out of the train. Aaah, these lovers nowadays. Don’t you worry though. The film has a happier end than this particular scene.

Stage 3: Seriously Dude. Leave Me Alone, Or Else.

Tanu Weds Manu (2011)

About 20 minutes into the film the newly-enganged Kangana and Madhavan leave for Vaishno Devi via train with their families in tow. There is singing, dancing and then a declaration from Kangana that changes everything. Kangana asks the super sweet Madhavan to leave her alone and break off the match because she loves someone else. WHAM. Love hurts.

Stage 4: Nobody Loves Me

AapKi Kasam (1974)

Aap Ki Kasam is the strange tale of a suspicious husband with a beautiful and loving wife. They both love each other but he loves his suspicions more. He thinks she’s cheating on him and leaves her to go on a country-wide train tour while singing this deeply introspective number that leads him back to his child. Conclusion: long train rides can help us come to the right conclusion.

Tatkal bookings jump on IRCTC Lite site

irctc-litesiteLucknow (LKO): Booking an e-ticket during rush tatkal hours can be easier with IRCTC Lite, a new facility launched by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).

To improve service and to reduce traffic and unnecessary hits during peak hours, IRCTC has launched IRCTC Lite during tatkal period which is from 10am to 12 noon. The new service is effective from 9:30am.

To make service faster, all the links, images, ads, services, features which are not helping or not required at the time of premium tatkal ticket booking have been removed from the home page.

“We launched it a month back and it is successful,” said Jt.GM-PR/IRCTC, Pradip Kundu.

In the first hour of Tatkal booking (10am to 11am) the earlier average booking before the introduction of the “IRCTC Lite” was around 48,000, which has now jumped to more than 58,000.

The earlier two hourly (10am to 12 noon) Tatkal booking average was around 83,000, which has now become more than 92,000 with the IRCTC Lite.

Agent login is not available during Tatkal period. For Agent cancellation a separate link is given on home page.

In the Services section the “Plan My Travel” is made more efficient and faster in fetching of “From” and “To” stations for Auto Complete Feature.

In “My Transactions” section “Cancelled history”, “TDR History” and “Refund Status of Cancelled Tickets” are not available and thus reduce the unnecessary hits to the site. Although the other facilities in this section like Booked History, Print E- Ticket, Cancel E-ticket / Refund, Refund Status of Failed Transactions are made available as before.

Similarly, in the User Profile the “Update profile”, “Master list of passenger”, “Passenger travel list” and in the General section the “Terms and Conditions”, “TDR procedure” are removed to make the site faster and easily accessible.

Soon, Aadhaar must to avail Rail Concession

senior-citizens-rlysNew Delhi: The Indian Railways may soon make it mandatory for senior citizen passengers to provide their Aadhaar numbers to avail concessions on rail tickets.

To begin with, senior citizens will be able to get ticket concessions only through Aadhaar from December this year, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) Chairman and Managing Director A.K. Manocha told.

At present, male senior citizens can avail 40 per cent discount on ticket fares and female passengers 50 per cent reduction on ticket fares on all trains including Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto.

Railways provides 53 such concessions, including those for the differently-abled and patients, incurring a loss of Rs.1,500 crore every year.

From December

“The Railway Board has taken a decision to give discount on fares to senior citizens only on the basis of Aadhaar numbers from December,” Mr. Manocha said.

He further said that IRCTC was likely to incentivise all passengers to book rail tickets through Aadhaar by offering them several sops.

“For instance, an IRCTC user can only book six tickets in a month, as per the present rules. However, we may do away with this norm as we will get to know if you are misusing the tickets or not through the Aadhaar number of the user,” Mr. Manocha said. The Railways is also planning to extend the passenger insurance scheme to passengers travelling by unreserved tickets, by linking it with their Aadhaar and bank accounts.

Personal insurance of Rs.10 Lakh @ Rs.0.92/Rail ticket: IRCTC

Travel InsuranceIndian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) made it to the much famed Fortune India Next 500 list of companies for the second consecutive year.

In an interview, A.K. Manocha, CMD/IRCTC said that the company’s plan to construct business lounges, like airports was earlier stalled but after repeatedly requesting the ministry and policy is now changed and IRCTC has successfully commissioned three of them.

He said that one is at Delhi which will be re-commissioned and given to a private sector operator on private-public partnership (PPP) mode to run and operate.

The other two are in Agra and Jaipur, he added.

On the upcoming personal insurance service, Manocha said that the price will start at Rs 0.92 per ticket and will provide an insurance for Rs 10 lakh.

It is expected to be launched in the next 10-15 days by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he further said.

Below is the transcript of AK Manocha’s interview:

Q: You have made it to the list of Fortune-500 companies for the second year in a row. What is so unique about IRCTC?

A: IRCTC has been in the business of catering and tourism for the last 12 years. And we have been making a fortune every year. We are paying dividend to the government, we are making profits and even to the extent, when catering was taken away from IRCTC and turnover went down to Rs 500 crore, this year we grew to Rs 1,500 crore which is a threefold jump in about last six years.

And I would put it that last year we had a tough challenge also because catering was taken away.

Two years back of course, people were very depressed when catering was taken away. But then gradually our system recovered and our turnover came to somewhere around Rs 650-700 crore. But last year we touched Rs 1,100 crore, this year, 2015-2016 we touched Rs 1,500 crore and we hope that we will be able to beat it and go into Fortune-500.

We have jumped about 250-300 ranks for three years consecutively. And this year ranking will be coming sometime in January.

So, Rs 1,500 crore where we have jumped about 38 percent, we should be in the top-10 or top-15 of the Fortune-500, especially the vision of our Honourable Prime Minister and our Honourable Minister, who are continuously and very user friendly, we get a lot of prodding from the ministry to deliver quickly.

And of course, we want for certain broad guidelines. Sometimes, they take a lot of time, but still, whatever be the constraints of those issues, we have been able to improve the general style of the country and the railway men.

ak manocha irctcQ: I also want to talk about the passenger amenities because that is something IRCTC is continuously improving, be it water vending machines, be it bed rolls for non-ac passengers. What is the vision as far as passenger amenities are concerned?

A: Let us take it one by one. We have had mandated to construct executive lounges at the station which are business lounges, like airports. So, a few were built a few years back and then, the person who made it just left it because of the usual procedure where rent was increased several fold and land prices also circulate, also went up.

So, the rent became prohibitively expensive. So, after repeatedly requesting the ministry, we were successful in getting the policy changed. We have successfully commissioned three of them. One at New Delhi.

That will be re-commissioned, given to a private sector person on private-public partnership (PPP) mode to run and operate, one at Agra and another at Jaipur.

I am very sure another 45 will be coming not later than next June. And they can be as cheap as, say in Konkan Railway, they are running for Rs 25 per passenger for two hours and where you have WiFi facility and just AC, good comfort, privacy and all those facilities. We give of course, takeaway counter also. So, this is one issue.

Then we have been advised, after a lot of repeated chasing, ministry has agreed and Honourable Minister has already announced in the budget to go for upgradation of retiree rooms which are for people to stay. We are waiting for the policy guidelines. We have already done a pilot project in Katra station.

Q: I am glad you talked about services because we have heard that Railways is planning to come up with a lot of services and there are services such as WiFi or canteens, but it is the maintenance that is an issue. In our own ground reports, we found that maintenance is still one of the major problems of railways. How is IRCTC planning to work around that?

A: Most of the projects, I would say, I personally feel are one of the best models we could think of. They are on PPP mode. Let us take water vending machine which we have mentioned. We already tendered for 2,000 machines, awarded them and more than 500 machines have been installed in a large part of the country.

Another 1,500 are due for installation in about next one year’s time. We have tendered for another 1,000 and that response has been not so warm this time, I must admit. But 45-50 percent will still be finalised.

Q: You mentioned the response was not warm. Why was that?

A: The prime locations have gone, that is number one, because 2,000 is a big number. These were at 700 main stations. Then, the issue remains, some local issues like people must have found some difficulties in bureaucratic rigmarole, that is getting water, electricity connection and handling the local people or local population. But still, we are very sure that we will be able to install more than 5,000 machines in the next one and a half year.

In fact my ambition was to go many fold of this because this is so cheap. You get Rs 1 World Health Organisation (WHO) standard water, chilled water, refill and it gives employment.

So, you can imagine a Rs 5 lakh machine yielding about Rs 10-15 lakh a year. So, it is a lucrative business for most of the people. So, everywhere what we get is a licence piece which is quite good for us, I must admit.

Q: Taking further from water to toilets, you talked about namma toilets that you have installed in certain parts of the country. What is the plan from here on? How many stations are we going to see you covering in the future?

A: We have almost finalised tender for 29 locations. These are part of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and each namma toilet is not a cheap thing. It costs over Rs 17 lakhs. It is a pre-fabricated composite material toilet, consists of eight units, two male, one female, one divyang and four urinals. And biodigester can also be fitted on this. It is approve by Prime Minister’s Office.

The first one was launched by Honourable Cabinet Secretary and it is hugely popular also. The first one was installed by NBCC opposite Hyatt Hotel. So, now recently, one namma toilet was innovated by Honourable Railway Minister about three days back at Khar Road station, local station in Mumbai. Two more are getting installed in Mumbai area within the next 15 days, one at Andheri and another at Bandra.

Q: So you are planning to go pan-India with namma toilets?

A: Yes, and ‘namma’ means ‘us’ or ‘our in Kannada. So, just yesterday I have approved some 6 toilets to be placed on CSR along with water vending machines. So, we are expecting that this year, these 29 toilets should be ready in another two months time.

Q: You think the concept of portable toilets or namma toilets could help solve the sanitation problem that many railway stations are grappling with at this point in time?

A: Toilet sanitation has a host of issues. Namma toilet has the advantage that you can put biodigester. But a negative feature in that is if a plastic bottle or a plastic material is throw, it chokes it and it gives foul smell. They we are also building three glass-top coaches for tourism which is a new initiative.

Of course, we have taken help from Minister of Tourism. These will be ready in another 2-3 months time. And then once these are ready, it will be a swiss experience in India and we have also started dining car facility because we want our country to enjoy. The journey should not be just for the sake of journey.

It should be a pleasurable experience. You should have a high speed WiFi in the train, not only at selected stations. And of course, these can be commercially charged. These are viable options.

We are also going for rail museum upgradation for entertainment and other purposes which will start in another month or two months time. Then e-wheelchair, we extend it to several stations. Then e-bedroll is another initiative.

Then rail mitra seva which we have at some stations. Now we want to expand it several fold. And one thing more you must have heard is passenger insurance.

Q: I want to talk about personal insurance because that is an important service that your coming up with. Personal insurance for as low as Rs 2 per ticket?

A: No, it is Rs 0.92.

Q: Now that is phenomenal. How is that going to work out?

A: I was chasing it for the whole of last year. This has been my ambition that with such a huge population, travelling by train, it should be an asset and everybody should feel secure because government procedure settlement of claims are very lengthy, very cumbersome.

I have worked as Chief Claims Officer for the Northern Railway for three-four times and I have seen how people face the problem despite being monitored by PMO. So, with the pilot, our initial estimate given by one of the insurance companies was Rs 20. We were scared whether local people will go, commuters will go in mumbai.

But now, I am sure, we are starting with Rs 0.92. It is an insurance for Rs 10 lakh.

The pilot is going to be launched within the next 10-15 days by Honourable Prime Minister. Right now, we have given on single insurance that is Rs 10 lakh. It also covers Rs 7.5 lakh for permanent disability, Rs 2 lakh for hospitalisation and Rs 5,000 for baggage loss in case of death, etc.

But this is not my vision. My vision is that it should come down to Rs 0.1 per kilometre for ordinary commuter and next vision is that you do not have to buy even a ticket, your Aadhar card, you have got a credit card with you or debit card with you, it has all the data of Aadhar card linked to it and suppose you are given a card of say denomination of Rs 4,000 in mumbai.

On that card itself, becomes your authority to travel in the train for most of your journey for a limited distance, 30-40 km and then next phase could be that you do not have to even buy a ticket.

Board a train, get down from the station and based on your GPS location, the money is debited from your mobile. Or a challan is sent to your home or to your employer, everyday stuff.

Q: But that is a lot of numbers there and a lot of visionary talks.

A: No, this is not visionary. This is a real talk. After six months you will say that it has happened less than six months. So, I will give you a few examples. I gave you example of Katra.

Our Honourable Minster is very keen that this thing is put on fast tracks. And I am sure in about 10-15 days time, we should be able to get policy on retiree rooms, policy on executive lounges, policy on catering and then you can see the changes. Like, we started Gatimaan Express for tourists. We have introduced the most lucrative brands in the country like Wagh Bakri Tea and Girnar Tea which are served in the airlines for as much as Rs 100-200. We are supplying at, we get not even Rs 5 for a cup of tea. So, despite being a loss, we want to show changes.

The minister has also keen that we set up base kitchens or food factories like Noida food factory. It has to be a unique experience and after some time, people should come from abroad, like they come to see Delhi Metro, they should come to travel in railways because they say flight is so boring.

Given the choice, I would also prefer to go for a station redevelopment. Right now Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA) is handling it. And I will not call it, sky is our limit.

Q: One avenue that you are looking at, station redevelopment right now, you talked about a lot of bottlenecks in implementation of services be it with the authorities that you are working with or the local people. What is IRCTC doing to ensure effective and timely implementation of various services that you are coming up with?

A: Since our minister is keen, we take a lot of help from the ministry to provide the local officials and since I am from the railways also, sometimes, personal contacts work, sometimes my visit to senior officers work, so we try to persuade them and show them a positive side. Like I said, water vending machine gives employment to so many people, so it is a win-win situation for everybody.

Consumer gets a cheap water, instead of Rs 20 water, he can just manage with Rs 1 glass or maybe half a litre in Rs 3. The other advantage is that licensee is very happy, he makes money.

Q: I also heard that IRCTC is looking at opportunities abroad that you have been approached by various authorities from different countries. What are the prospects that you are looking at and what are the collaborations that we can see IRCTC getting into in the future?

A: All international collaborations require help from Ministry and External Affairs Ministry. So there have been people, I can give the example of Mexico where Tourism Minister organised a presentation for everybody, but specific presentation was also organised, IRCTC tour on our most luxurious train called Maharaja in their country. Because they said we want to develop it in our country.

They were even looking forward for a tie-up for laying a railway line. And they also wanted that coach production or factory could also be laid.

Q: So, are you seeking the answers from the Railway Ministry?

A: I am totally bound by government rules. So, it has to be government to government agreement. If I am given a choice, I will camp there for three months and get the orders.

Q: You talked about prospects in redevelopment of stations. What is it that you are currently looking at and are you not happy with what you are doing at this point?

A: No, I am not. For me, a big project gives you a lot of opportunities to try your innovations and my vision is to go for at least maybe 50-100 stations to redevelop. Of course, I cannot touch a station like New Delhi unless we have big people. But as a country, our outputs are way below our expectations, country’s aspiration and not even one-millionth of our potential.

And mumbai is one of the ideal places to do. Mumbai any small station development. So I had asked for it, I did some survey. Now I am looking for partners who can deliver miracles in Mumbai area.

Q: And where? Is there any places that you have identified in Mumbai?

A: If you take another 50 stations in a few days time, I have no problem. We have been approached by reputed builders. Of course, one we are approaching on our own. We have been approached by big finance companies, huge institutions.

Q: So, you are not really happy with the current state of railways?

A: No, I am happy. Happy means what? I feel there is a huge potential. We are at the bottom of the pyramid.

Q: Not many people know that IRCTC is one of the biggest e-commerce players in the country. You deal with 5.5 lakh ticketing passengers every day? What are the avenues that we are looking at here? What sort of revenues that you generate on daily basis?

A: Every day, we pay Rs 65 crore as advanced to railways. If it is a weekend, we pay Rs 130 crore. If it is a three day vacation combined, we pay Rs 300 crore. This is transferred to bank.

We had some problems in ticketing. We announce the capacity, memory from which used to be 2,400, we took it to 15,000. Beyond that, we are slightly reluctant because of three reasons.

One reason is that if it becomes too fast, the tickets will vanish in few seconds. Right now, there are few minutes available for a person to buy a ticket. We have put a check that you cannot buy a ticket through internet in less than 35 seconds.

So, 35 seconds for feeding you data and 10 seconds because we find a lot of complaints about people or agents or unauthorised, unscrupulous people manipulating the software.

Q: Then are you taking some initiatives for that?

A: Yes, we have taken huge initiatives. We have got our software certified by the most reputed group in the country to certify any IT sites, a Government of India undertaking under Department Of Electronics.

That has certified our site to be safe and they carry out several tests which are called vulnerability tests, penetration tests, whatever sites which we locate as vulnerable.

Q: There were reports until a few months back of data theft and that huge number of passengers have lost their data to hackers. Are there any merits to these reports? Were you able to identify the hackers?

A: I will put the facts. As far as we are concerned, we do not find a single hacking case. As far as data theft is considered, the data which we came across, that is data which is available in the market easily. Credit card data, we do not take, we do not keep, we do not maintain, we do not want to maintain also. So, as soon as you go for bank data, the site takes you to the bank itself.

We never found our working to be slow which is an indication of hacking. Once you take link to Aadhar card, we have taken a lot of initiatives, you cannot buy a ticket before 35 seconds. So, that is one check. But from the counter you purchase, but after 35 seconds, once it starts, it is thousands of people clambering for same seats. It is basically demand and supply issue.

But then, yes, we cannot allow unauthorisation, we lodged first information report (FIR), some people were arrested, case has been taken up with them. And then as and when we find anything going wrong, we take a drastic action even against agent. If he gets the money refunded and it does not pass on, the penalties are very severe.

Q: So, you are exploring a lot of other avenues other than ticketing for that matter and you may just give Cleartrip and Make My Holidays a run for their money. How is the business doing as far as the holiday packages are concerned?

A: I will give you the story of Make My Trip of Mr Deep Kalra which he narrated about two months back. He said they came almost as the same time as IRCTC came to the market, internet ticketing.

We started with just 29 tickets and today, we have grown almost a half a million fold. Then he said, for five years, they had to leave the country because the payment system was not established. People were not willing to accept that credibility. And the IRCTC established the credibility so much that they came back and now, today they are one of the market leaders and they use our site and we have got more than 33 banks who use our site and we have got huge tie-ups with state governments and State Bank of India included and other banks also.

Q: And you are also tying up with a lot of companies. What are the other tie-ups that you are looking at and how well are these tie-ups doing?

A: We are keen for tie-ups with each and every person who can deliver us goods. Only thing, he has to meet our criteria. We have only one criteria. The growth should be explosive, so anybody who can meet this challenge and prove his worth is always welcome.

Like I said, station redevelopment, we want rail over bridge to be laid in a few days time, anybody who can meet this challenge is welcome because that is the toughest thing to make in Indian conditions for Indians, not worldwide.

Q: We also heard that IRCTC is exploring an avenue to come up with an e-wallet.

A: We have been running e-wallet. We were charging Rs 250. I reduced it to Rs 50 and for three months, we have made it to zero. We want people to come here, station has gone up several fold.

Then we want to link up to Aadhar Card also. So, we are bound by RBI regulations. But my dream is that each and every person through his bank or otherwise it is linked to our system so, through voter card or Aadhar card. So once that is linked, I told you I do not want anybody to even go for buying a ticket.

Q: Let me then ask you, I can now buy an air ticket from IRCTC website, I can book a hotel, I can book a car. How well is the business doing? You have such a big user base.

A: I want to grow 1,000 fold. It will take at least 1,000 days.

Q: One area where we have seen a lot of transformation is catering. You have recently come up with e-catering. You have tied up with big giants to serve people food on demand from whichever restaurant they like. What is the demand like as far as e-catering is concerned?

A: When we launched this initially, for a few months, we were stick to just 50-60 meals a day. That was because a lot of restrictions were there. And as soon as our minister opened for 400 stations, A1,A and B class stations and others, it has grown 55 times. We are already touched 6,000.

Average is close to 4,000. But that is too small a figure. So, 4,000 meals may look big for a private person, but for an entity like Indian railways or IRCTC, it is just a load for 4-5 trains. So, we are running hundreds of trains every day.

Like I tell my people and generally, people take 3-4 cups of tea every day. So, there are 2.5 crore people going on the train every day. So, at least 10-15 percent of reserved people.

IR to revamp Retiring Room Complexes at 600 Stations across country

Railway Retiring Rooms at 600 Stations across the country will undergo a major revamp as IRCTC plans to equip them with WiFi, Air-conditioners, Lockers, ergonomically designed furniture and aesthetically-designed washrooms, among various other facilities!

Retiring-RoomNew Delhi: Retiring rooms at 600 stations across the country will undergo a major revamp as IRCTC plans to equip them with air-conditioners, wifi connectivity and aesthetically-designed washrooms, among other facilities.

Railways currently manages around 2,000 retiring rooms or dormitories at more than 600 stations. The facility is meant to provide reasonable safe transit accommodation to bonafide passengers, who can book a retiring room for a maximum of 72 hours.

“We are in the process of floating tenders to engage reputed service providers for the maintenance, expansion and introduction of new facilities in retiring rooms on the PPP and renovate-operate-transfer (ROT) model,” IRCTC Chairman and Managing Director A K Monocha said .

“Renovation work will be carried out in a phased manner. To begin with, retiring rooms/dormitories at around 400 major stations will be taken up to provide upgraded services to rail passengers,” he added.

Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had in his 2016-17 budget speech announced that “retiring rooms will be handed over to the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation to ensure that these can be managed in a professional manner.”

The revamped retiring rooms will have facilities like quality mattresses and linen, almirah/locker for luggage, LED TV, telephone and intercom, firefighting equipment, potable water and room heaters. They will be well furnished and properly lit.

Washrooms are to be aesthetically designed with modern facilities. There will also be wheel chairs for senior citizens and disabled persons.

IRCTC is also planning to provide some value-added services on payment basis, such as food and beverage in rooms, tour and travel services with local sightseeing, magazines and books, laundry facility, Internet, STD/ISD and Wi-Fi connectivity in the premises.

It will also ensure retailing of journey conveniences and travel requirements like gifts and toys. To top it all, there will be bell boy/porter service for luggage handling.

“IRCTC intends to provide an upgraded retiring room complex on lines of guesthouses with more personalised services and expanded food and beverage services,” he said, adding, “We will bring industry expertise to undertake the refurbishing work of the retiring room complexes.”

Currently, the facilities in retiring rooms include AC and non-AC rooms with attached/common bathrooms, AC and non-AC dormitories with common bathrooms, limited food and beverages services, and lockers.

IRCTC-ATDC tie-up to boost tourism in State

alue addition, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC) and Assam Tourism Development Corporation Limited (ATDC) have joined hands to link their popular packages.le from Assam in getting better tour deals in other parts of the country through the IRCTC.

As per the agreement between the corporations, the IRCTC will act as a booking agent and utilise the ATDC properties and facilities for both inbound and outbound tourists of Assam. On the other hand, the rail tour packages operated by the IRCTC can also be sold from the ATDC.

With ‘Awesome Assam’ as brand entity, the Assam Tourism is also in the process of roping in a big name from either the Indian film world or the sports arena as its brand ambassador to catch the fancy of backpackers. Value-added packages will give a further fillip to the tourism promotion.

Debasish Chandra, Group Generurists from outside to the excellent locations in Assam, and the MoU, initially for a period of two years, would bring flexibility into that. The IRCTC can bring tourists both by train and air. There is immense potential to extend this tie-up to other northeastern states,” he said.

As per government data, in 2015-16 a total of 5,642,950 domestic tourists and 26,320 foreign tourists visited Assam. In the past decade, domestic tourist visits recorded an average annual growth of 15.3 per cent and foreign tourist visits registered 8.2 per cent growth in the state.

“There would be a fund pool for such packages and the ATDC will allow the IRCTC to use its local network and enterprise resources for ensuring smooth operation of the tour packages and maximum convenience to the tourists. The packages can also be extended to our tour operators for a wider reach,” said ATDC Managing Director Anurag Singh.

Domestic tourists who travel by train will be greatly benefitted through the composite tour packages of the ATDC and IRCTC, which would be offered on concessional rates by both the parties involved.

The most popular tour circuits operated by the ATDC, including the Guwahati-Shillong-Cherrapunjee trip, religious tour package within Guwahati, and visits to Kaziranga, Manas and other wildlife tourism spots, would get further boost through this tie-up.

Seeking a long-term cooperation with the IRCTC, the ATDC would soon launch eco-tourism training for both urban and rural youth around the destinations.

“Initially, 50 locations, including Merbeel, Dibru-Saikhowa and Pobitora have been chosen across the state for specialised training for eco-tourism. After the training, the trainees will be able to start their eco-tourism projects and camps, including home stays in remote locations,” the ATDC MD said.

IRCTC makes it to Fortune India Next 500 List of Companies

irctc fORTUNE 500New Delhi: For the second year in a row, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has made it to the prestigious Fortune India Next 500 list of Indian companies, with the Railway Ministry PSU improving its ranking to 199 from 328 in 2015.

The awards, which recognize the outstanding contributions of the companies made during last year, will be presented on Friday (Aug. 19) as a part of Fortune India’s The Next 500 summit at Leela Palace hotel here.

Union Minister for Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari will deliver the keynote address at the function, where Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das will be the guest of honor.

The latest award for IRCTC whose total turnover rose from Rs. 1141 crore in 2014 to 15 to Rs. 1503 crore (unaudited) in 2015-2016 comes after the mini-Ratna PSU received a special prize of Scope Corporate Communication Excellence Awards 2016 for Effective and Innovative use of Digital Communication last month.

The companies finding a place in the Next 500 list are mostly mid-sized and termed as the small wonders by the magazine.

These firms drawn from various sectors like food and agri products, pharma, Information Technology, iron and steel and financial services are capable of breaking into the Fortune India 500 the magazine had said last year.

Railway to unveil Vintage Hotels on ‘Palace on Wheel’ Coaches

Vintage hotels-cum-restaurants would be built in coaches of train set amid ambiance of an old station

New Delhi: Railway buffs may soon get the opportunity to unwind and enjoy their meals in thematic vintage hotels the public sector behemoth has proposed to construct on original coaches of the ‘Palace on Wheels’.

According to the proposal by the heritage wing of the railways, the vintage hotels-cum-restaurants would be built in the coaches of the train set amid the ambiance of an old station to serve the dual aim of preserving the transporter’s heritage and harnessing its potential to earn revenue.

“We have sent the vintage hotel proposal to the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) for consideration. Each vintage hotel will have two to three coaches and would cost an estimated Rs 16 crore,” a senior Railway Ministry official said.

Currently the National Rail Museum houses seven of the original nine Palace on Wheels coaches that remind one of the luxury in which the Maharajas of the yore traveled.

These coaches can be refurbished and transformed into vintage hotel-cum-restaurants and placed at suitable locations, the official said. The locations could be a prominent in-bound tourist destination or a place easily accessible by road from a prominent destination point.

The plan envisages such hotels near Rewari Steam Care Centre, which attracts steam locomotive buffs. Such a hotel can also be built away from the hustle and bustle of city life like the Brar Square Station near the Delhi cantonment. Cities like Jaipur with great cultural heritage also could be ideal for such hotels, the official said.

Such vintage hotels can become a favorite getaway for the domestic tourist, he said.

Railways e-Makeover to fully Digitise Indian Railway services and operations

Railway minister gives an e-makeover to his image ahead of reshuffle. The idea is to convert railway stations into silent zones like the airports and mop up revenue through advertisement simultaneously

IR DigitisationNew Delhi: Ahead of the cabinet reshuffle, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu reached out to stakeholders of railways, including passengers, to tell them how much he has achieved during his 18 months in office. Long queues at enquiry windows and announcements over loudspeakers at railway stations will soon be a thing of the past.

In a gigantic public relations exercise, which might have reached out to more than one crore people by now through email, the minister has sought “participation” in “transforming India” through “transforming railways”.

Prabhu’s letter will reach about 4 crore people in next two to three days, a high official told. The emails are being sent through Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), a public sector arm of railways which looks after e-ticketing.

The exercise began on Saturday, right in the midst of the talk of a reshuffle and is being seen as a move to give himself an image of a “performing minister”. The minister has attached an e-book of achievements of Indian Railways during his term.  The letter which refers to the Prime Minister in its opening sentence has many things to say, including the pronouncement that he would continue his journey with Indian Railways. His assertion could be interpreted as an indication that cabinet reshuffle would not affect him.

“It is our Honourable Prime Minister’s firm belief that Indian Railway has the potential to become the backbone of India’s progress and economic development,” says the letter.

“18 months ago, when I took over the reigns of this great organisation called Indian Railways, I was faced with many challenges. I had the option of making small incremental changes or go beyond business as usual. I chose the latter,” claims Prabhu in the letter.

“While I continue my journey on this noble mission of `Transforming India’ through `Transforming Railways,`I seek your increased participation and support,’ Prabhu has said.

The Indian Railways have mooted a plan to fully digitise its railway stations and bring all passenger-related information on big LED screens.

SILENT ZONES

The idea is to convert railway stations into silent zones like the airports and mop up revenue through advertisement simultaneously.

LED SCREENS DISPLAY DETAILS

The directorate of non-fare revenue of the Indian Railways has devised a business model wherein private agencies will be roped in for installing LED screens and the railways will share revenue with the company. Once implemented, all passenger-related information – arrival and departure of trains, availability of tickets and others – will be displayed on these big screens that will be put up at every major points on railway stations. Commercial advertisement will flash simultaneously. Railways plan to increase its advertisement revenue up to Rs 10,000 crore by exploiting its real estate and rolling stock. At present the railways collect a meagre Rs 300 crore from advertisements.

PILOT PROJECT IMPLEMENTATION

As per the plan, railways will install about 100,000 networked large screens across 2,000 stations connected using multi-path protected optical fibre network, with a screen in front of each train coach, in the concourse, circulating area, foot over-bridges, waiting rooms and lounges. “All passenger-related information will be available on these screens in different languages. Gradually the station buildings will be converted into silent zones like airports,” said a senior rail ministry official. “While the needs of passengers will be fulfiled through the passenger information system, there will be opportunities for revenue earning through advertisements,” he said. A pilot project will be implemented involving about 10 stations, including the ones like Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi and Bhopal, among others. All 2,000 stations will be equipped with LED screens over the next two years. The official said all sign boards, whether located inside or in open spaces, will be visible day and night from long distances and displays will be environmentally protected.

IMPROVE INDIAN RAILWAYS FINANCIAL HEALTH

According to railway officials, the initiative will significantly improve the financial health of the railways which is also facing a burden of Rs 31,000 crore after implementation of the 7th pay commission recommendations. “As of now, the Indian Railways earn less than five per cent of our revenues through non-tariff sources. Globally, railway systems earn 10 to 20 per cent of their revenue from non-tariff sources,” said the official.

GENERATING REVENUE FROM OTHER SOURCES

This assumes greater significance as Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu is not keen on increasing passenger fares or freight tariffs. Instead, he has been focusing on generating revenue from other sources mainly; advertising, modified parcel leasing policy, export of railway equipment, land monetisation and cutting of working expenses. For this purpose, railways has created a new directorate to carry out advertisements in rail coaches, along the track and near stations in a big way to increase the revenue substantially from non-tariff sources. The project is proposed to be implemented by a consortium involving railways, RailTel, advertisers and display screen manufacturers. Revenue-sharing model will be adopted for the project which will be a win-win for all concerned.

IRCTC signs MoU with CFTRI to provide Hygienic Food to Rail passengers

Rail FoodNew Delhi: Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) on Monday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Mysuru-based Central Food Technological Research Institute (CSIR-CFTRI) for transfer of technology to provide hygienic food products and services to train passengers.

Under the MoU, both the organisations would work together “to meet the broad objectives under the framework of providing enhanced health, safety, diverse region-specific food products and extended shelf-life of identified food products” for the passengers.

The organisation would also finalise the list of products and services for which CSIR-CFTRI would provide its technology to IRCTC, a ‘mini Ratna’ PSU of Indian Railways.

On June 27, IRCTC had also signed an agreement with Mysuru-based Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) on transfer of technical knowhow and quality testing for IRCTC’s ready-to-eat packaged food for those travelling in trains.

IRCTC CFTRI MOU“The MoU with CSIR-CFTRI reinforces our commitment to upgrade and standardise our catering services. It will further help IRCTC to provide safe, nutritious and hygienic food to the railway passengers,” IRCTC Chairman and Managing Director A.K. Manocha said.

CFTRI is one of the 40 national research laboratories in India, set up under the aegis of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

It has a proven track record in food safety and designing and developing over 300 products and processes in the production and handling of grains, pulses, spices, fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and poultry.

IRCTC to run Luxury Trains to Shirdi, Goa, Tirupati

IRCTC Luxury TrainSecunderabad: The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) will soon operate ‘Three Star’ luxury trains from Secunderabad to Shirdi, Goa and Tirupati with the basic tariff structure of normal bus fares.

The announcement came after Telangana State Tourism Development Corporation (TSTDC) Chairman Pervaram Ramulu made a request to this effect when IRCTC Chairman & Managing Director A.K. Manocha and Group General Manager Smita Rawat called on him at his office on Wednesday, in the presence of TSTDC Managing Director Christina Z. Chongthu.

After hearing Mr. Ramulu’s proposal, the IRCTC in principle agreed to run Three Star luxury trains to Basar, Warangal and Bhadrachalam within Telangana and for group bookings from outside the State, to Hyderabad and Warangal, said a press release.

Mr. Manocha was said to have visited the TSTDC to basically discuss a proposal for operating ‘Seven Star’ super luxury Maharaja Train from Konkan to Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, that passes through Secunderabad and Kazipet in Telangana.

He said that the Maharaja train offered unlimited food and wine with visit to tourist places, including local sight-seeing located near the scheduled halts.

The menu includes continental, Chinese, Thai, Mughlai and Indian dishes and the rooms are lavishly furnished in regal style charged at $ 990 per night for a couple.

Pizzas and burgers on trains

Railways also gears up to provide Baby food at stations

Railways KFC PizzaBangalore: Train passengers will soon be able to order burgers and pizzas of their choice on the Indian Railways website and have them delivered right to their coaches. For last-minute purchases, vendor boys will be waiting on platforms with ready-to-serve burgers, pizzas and Indian thalis.

Leading quick service restaurants (QSR) such as Domino’s Pizza, Burger King, Subway,KFC and Pizza Hut are venturing into new territory by opening up stores at railway stations to tap train passengers in the country. The potential is huge: the Indian Railways operates about 12,000 trains carrying 23 million passengers every day.

Such outlets are set to come up in food courts planned at stations such as Howrah, Mumbai, Madurai, Agra, Pune and Visakhapatnam. This step is expected to help quick service restaurants push sales and transform the food offered on the country’s rail network. Some restaurants are even tweaking their menus and techniques to cater to train passengers.

“With the rapid growth of passenger traffic and growing disposable income, brands cannot choose to ignore this segment for too long,” said Gaurav Dewan, chief operating officer of Travel Food Services, which has bid for setting up food courts in six railway stations. “These passengers on an average spend around 100-125 on a meal. While the passenger spends in a railway station are less than that in an airport, the former will give us almost double the volume of business than in an airport.”

K Hospitality Corp, the holding company of TFS, has lined up investments of Rs 200 crore to expand its presence across airports and railway stations over the next two to three years. The food courts will host both international and national brands: Domino’s offering pizzas, MM Maroosh offering Lebanese cuisine, Curry Kitchen offering North Indian dishes and others.

RJ Corp, which holds the franchisee rights for Yum! Brands-owned KFC and Pizza Hut and UK coffee chain Costa Coffee, among others, has also bid to set up food courts at six railway stations.

“This is an avenue to provide quality, tasty and, most importantly, hygienic food for passengers,” said Rohit Aggarwal, director of Lite Bite Foods, which will open Burger King and Indian cuisine chain, Naashto, stores in Mumbai.

Some fast-food chains have also designed a special railway menu and made product innovations. Domino’s Pizza has developed a gas-fired oven that can work without electricity and dish out pizzas in three minutes without compromising on taste and texture.

Subway has for the first time introduced a four-inch sandwich for 70. “Setting up outlets at railway stations is a positive development and gets a captive market. Our store is being set up at Pune’s railway station and the profile of travellers fits with the Subway positioning,” Subway India country head Ranjit Talwar said.

Railways also gears up to provide Baby food at stations

Parents travelling in trains with babies need not go outside the junction to buy baby food any more as the East Coast Railway (ECoR) is set to provide hot milk and hot water at the stations soon.

Earlier this month, railway minister Suresh Prabhu had launched ‘Janani Sewa’ to make infant food available at the stations.

He took this initiative following a tweet from a passenger regarding the same.

After the minister’s announcement, the Railway Board had issued instructions for the implementation of the scheme in this zone like the rest in the country.

The ECoR has now issued instructions to the officials of all the major stations in its three divisions Khurda Road, Sambalpur and Visakhapatnam asking them to ensure the availability of baby food items.

“We have started providing hot milk at important stations. The instructions were issued recently and it is expected to be made available at all important stations by the end of July,” said the ECoR chief public relations officer, JP Mishra.

“The milk stalls of Omfed have started selling hot milk here. The prices of hot milk and water will be notified soon. Other baby foods too will be available at the stations at market prices,” he added.

The ECoR will open a medicine store at Bhubaneswar railway station in July.

The baby food will be made available through this store.

The shops and ‘Jan Ahaar’ centres at major stations like Bhubaneswar, Puri, Sambalpur, Berhampur, Khurda Road, Cuttack and Bhadrak have been asked to upgrade their infrastructure to enable people to boil milk and water.

“This is expected to be done in a month,” said Mishra.

IRCTC ties up with DRDO Lab for packaged meals in trains

dfrl irctc tie upMysore: To provide safe and hygienic food to train passengers, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) signed an agreement with the government-owned Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) for transfer of technology in the field of food and beverage processing and packaging that would upgrade its catering operations.

Under the agreement, DFRL, a Defence Ministry establishment working under Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), will transfer the technical knowhow and testing for quality assurance to IRCTC’s ready-to-eat packaged food for passengers.

The trial for preparation of Ready to Eat (RTE) food with the assistance of DFRL technology has commenced and the rollout of 36,000 RTE packs of Vegetable Biryani, Rajma-Chawal, Jeera Rice, Tamrind Rice, Lemon Rice, Wheat Upma, Dal Rice and Chicken Biryani is planned in the first week of July.

“Apart from conducting some sample surveys and feedback on IRCTC managed trains, the launch for commercial sale is also on the anvil. The launch of ready-to-eat items will offer variety and hygienic food which will eventually reduce complaints from the travelling passengers,” said A K Manocha, CMD, IRCTC.

Food items will be available in 150-300 gm packets whose shelf life is six months. The meals will be on offer on a discounted price of the MRP in the initial phase, to test the response of the passengers.

IRCTC DRDOs DFTRI MOUBesides the launch of RTE food, IRCTC is in talks with Mysuru-based Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) for its assistance in food processing, packaging technology, training, menu planning and quality control.

DRDO are the pioneers in India of the unique technology of food processing in ‘retort” amenable special kind of flexible polymeric films to achieve commercial sterility. These products can be eaten straight out of the packs or can be warmed up by dipping the pack in hot water or keeping in hot air oven before being consumed.

IRCTC eager to invest in Stations’ modernisation projects

New Delhi: The Indian Railway Catering & Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) is looking into the possibility of investing in the state and city’s station development projects. Officials from IRCTC have asked officials of both the bodies to include them in plans of utilising the stations commercially, especially those in the Kalyan-Dombivali section. The IRCTC has already looked into similar projects at Bhubaneshwar, Orissa.

According to sources, the proposal was made by the IRCTC but the state officials did not seem enthusiastic about the idea but have promised to think over it. “The IRCTC is primarily a ticketing service provider but has begun their foray into providing high end services like making luxury trains more affordable for the common man. The proposal was made with the intention of combining IRCTC’s skills like their experience in hospitality with the state’s ability to plan and provide high-end services to commuters,” said an official under the condition of anonymity.

The Indian Railways has announced that 400 stations would be developed throughout the country including city stations like CST and Mumbai Central.

Officials also said that they are considering Kalyan-Dombivali stations as they have a large number of footfall and would be a good financial decision due to the revenue expected out of it. “The IRCTC sees potential in these areas as their footfall now is more than even the stations in South Mumbai like CST or Mumbai Central,” the official said.

Nearly 1,000 railway stations across the country have been developed as ‘Adarsh’ stations having facilities such as toilets, drinking water, catering services and waiting rooms, by the Indian Railways. Also, progress for development of stations under ‘Adarsh’ station scheme is monitored regularly at various levels viz. zonal railway level and Railway Board level. The expenditure on development of stations under Adarsh Station Scheme is generally funded under Plan Head – ‘Passenger Amenities’.

DFRL to lend Technicial Study on Food in Retort Pouch packaging in trains

DFRLMysore: Mysuru-based Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) will be providing technological assistance to the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), a subsidiary of the Railways.

Preliminary discussions have been held on introducing retort pouch processed food by the IRCTC

So, you could soon see new food packaging in trains. This packaging is in special flexible polymeric film, which has better consumer appeal, hygiene and acceptability compared to traditional industrial canning methods..

Rakesh Kumar Sharma, Director of DFRL, stated that they are going to IRCTC and have approved it in principle (to provide technological assistance to DFRL.

The packaging is in special flexible polymeric film, which has better consumer appeal, hygiene and acceptability compared to traditional industrial canning methods.

Food products in retort pouches are in a ready-to-eat form and can be eaten straight out of the pack or it can be warmed up by dipping the pack in hot water and already, several leading private food processing industries have adopted the technology for their food products.

However, IRCTC has to consider setting up infrastructure for warming the food.

DFRL foodDFRL’s technology can also help IRCTC check wastage in its kitchens and save input expenditure. A tie-up between DFRL and IRCTC can also see the chefs visiting the laboratory.

It is not just about the right ingredients

Way back in 1984, when Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian to blast his way into space onboard the erstwhile Soviet Union’s Solyuz T-11, there was a Mysore connection to the historic event — he carried with him food developed by the city-based Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) for his journey into space.

In 1990-91, when the first Indo-Soviet Scientific Expedition to the Arctic was undertaken, the head of the expedition took nearly a tonne of food from DFRL meant to last 90 days in the sub-zero temperatures. In fact, a cook from DFRL was also part of the expedition.

These were some of the interesting anecdotes narrated by W. Selvamurthy, scientist and Chief Controller, Research and Development, Life Sciences, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), and head of that same Arctic expedition.

Throwing light on the kind of research that goes into food processing meant to cater to the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force, a senior DFRL official said the onus was on DFRL scientists to come out with ready-to-eat meals that were easy for troops to carry and that provided them the required calorific value to stay alert and fresh.

Troops operate in diverse temperatures and conditions, from the high altitudes of the Himalayas and the sub-zero temperatures of the Siachen glacier, to the searing heat of the Thar desert in Rajasthan; from extended airborne reconnaissance missions to manoeuvres deep in the sea, and operations in the jungles of northeast and central India. They also carry heavy loads, he pointed out.

“So not only should food be of the right ingredients, it should ward off fatigue, cause no defecation and has to be packaged so that it is light. Hence, DFRL has come out with packaging that provides protection against nuclear, biological and chemical warfare,” he said and further elaborated on how DFRL had developed technology that prolonged the shelf-life of perishable products, allowing them to last for about 20 days, while prepared meals could be stored up to a year.

More than 150 products had been developed by DFRL, some of which had been patented, he said.

Novel technology

The laboratory has a mandate to meet the varied requirements of the armed forces, from soldiers deployed in sub-zero temperatures at Siachen glacier to those in the searing heat of the deserts. “Apart from providing nutritious food, we have to conceive new functional attributes like infusing it with anti-fatigue and anti-depression properties. After years of research, DFRL is on the cusp of developing thermogenic food,” said Dr. Batra.

Some of its technology is a boon to troops in sub-zero temperature, such as the instant heating up of packed food due to exothermic reaction when it comes into contact with the atmosphere. This is useful in tough terrains where there is neither time to heat the food nor external source of energy for it.

The survival ration pack for the Navy, commando ration pack, emergency ration pack for the Army and flying ration pack for the IAF crew are manufactured at the DFRL exclusively for defence personnel. Besides, it has over 500 technology transfers to nearly 230 companies so far and is working on new concepts and technologies with potential spin-off benefits to civilian society.

IRCTC Air launches Mobile App for Flight Ticket booking

IRCTC AirNew Delhi: The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), a subsidiary of the Railways, has developed a mobile app that will make booking of flight tickets simpler, speedier and with lowest fare too. To avail this service, flyers will have to download the IRCTC mobile app — IRCTC Air — from Google Playstore, and they have to just Swipe and Shuffle, Select and Book, an official statement said here today.

Besides, a passenger’s existing IRCTC login credentials are applicable on this app too, and there is no need to create a separate user name and password. The new app has been developed in-house, which enables booking of air tickets for travel within India and abroad at lowest prices.

A maximum of nine passengers can be booked on one PNR through net banking, for only Rs 10 per PNR.

As such, the IRCTC app provides the lowest fare available and it does not charge convenience or processing fee. On the other hand, air travel websites charge around Rs 150-250 per passenger per sector.

Cancellation charges of IRCTC are also very low, the statement said.

If tickets are booked through credit cards, the IRCTC app charges only 1.8 per cent of the total amount, which is less compared to other portals.

One can book domestic and international flight tickets on both LCCs (Low Cost Carriers) and FSCs (Full Service Carriers) besides, cancellation refund is done within 30 days.

According to IRCTC Chairman and Managing Director Dr A K Manocha, “Air tickets are already being booked on the company’s website. Now we have gone a step further to provide the facility on Android-based mobile sets. Our server is very fast, and tickets can be booked for both domestic and international destinations round the clock.”

“The mobile app, which has been developed in-house, is yet another testimony to the fact that we have been leveraging technology to provide passenger-friendly facilities. We have only recently forayed into outbound tourism, and the air ticketing segment has huge prospects and opportunities,” he added.

The mobile app is packed with an array of features. It stores a passenger’s previous flight searches and booking history that can easily be retrieved.

It also provides facility to book LTC flight tickets for holidays. There are multiple options to make payment. Installation of the app is easy and fast and once done, passengers can start air ticket booking straightaway.

Experts suggests Cyber Security Policy a ‘MUST’ for Indian Railways

New Delhi: Recent attempts by hackers to break into the Railways’ online system involving train operations and the reservation system is giving him sleepless nights. The organisation, which sees half of its total tickets booked online, has held meetings with National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), a cyber security agency under the National Security Advisor, to come up with systems that will ensure its sites are not hacked.

NTRO has held meetings with Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS), the IT arm of the Railways, and members of the IT directorate in the Railway Board and is devising a firewall.

“NTRO has been provided with information related to existing cyber security checks and measures taken. We have asked them come up with systems that can help secure data. If hackers breach into our system, the entire railway operations can be badly affected,” said an official in the board.

IRCTC, a subsidiary of the Railways, has a database of lakh of passengers who book tickets online. It is worried that hackers may also attain access to passengers’ data like credit/debit card details. Besides, a cyber attack can halt the entire working of the Railways, including the crew management system consisting of automated day-to-day business functioning of drivers and guards and other services.

The Railways came up with an IT security policy in 2008, which was last reviewed in 2012. After recent reports of cyber attacks, which the Railways denied, it held a meeting of all IT security managers of railway units this week to assess the action taken and the status of IT security.

Experts in intelligent transportation system say the Railways’ portals are still running on unsecured protocols; they don’t use any security certificates and thus fall prey to hackers easily. Concerns related to weak cyber security measures by the Railways were raised by a CAG report in 2015. The report, which also reviewed IT security in the Railways, found that almost 90-100 per cent employees use the same password, thus violating the IT policy that calls for role-based access management.

Association For Intelligent Transport Systems, India is a registered not-for-profit organization working towards the development and deployment of ITS in India since 2001. AITS, India is a forum that brings Government, Academia and Industries together to focus on visions set- up by the Government and direct Research and Development for implementing visions in the field of ITS.

In this regard, Mr.Utpalparna Hazarika, Executive Director (C&IS) conducted a Review Meeting on IT Security measures on Railway Units on 8th June 2016 at Railway Board and issued detailed guidelines on how to take action on IT security at respective Units of Indian Railways.

India flag off Tiger Express to spread awareness about Tiger Conservation

The Tiger Express is launched by Suresh Prabhu on the account of World Environment Day.

Suresh Prabhu Tiger ExpressRailway Minister Suresh Prabhu on Sunday flagged off IRCTC’s Tiger Express, a semi-luxury tourist train launched to spread awareness among people regarding tiger conservation, from Safdarjung station.

Flagging off the train using a remote control from Mumbai, Prabhu said it has been launched to spread awareness about conservation of tigers.

This is the first semi-luxury train on a tourist circuit having a dining car. The itinerary has a tariff structure starting from Rs 38,500, IRCTC said in a statement.

The package includes accommodation in air-conditioned rooms of three stars or equivalent ranked hotels for three nights, sightseeing, food, inter-city transfers and travel insurance, it said.

Giving details of the itinerary, an IRCTC official said during the five-night-six-day trip the train would take passengers to Katni from where they will be taken Bandhavgarh by road for a safari.

From there they will be taken to Kanha for another safari.

Spectacular Tiger TrainThe tourists will then be taken to famous Dhuadhar Falls in Bhedaghar, Jabalpur, before heading back to Delhi.

“The Tiger Express is one of the most innovative tourist products launched by IRCTC. Its announcement was made by Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu in his budget speech,” said Dr A K Manocha, CMD, IRCTC.

“We’ve planned monthly trips of the fully air-conditioned train October onward,” he added.

The train has been launched on the World Environment Day with an aim to spread awareness among people on tiger conservation, the Railways said in a statement.

Spectacular Tiger ExpressUnion minister Harshvardan and BJP national spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi attended the function.

“I congratulate railways for starting this train. Railways is attempting to make people realize the importance of tigers.

And I am happy about the fact that the launch of this train was announced in the budget and I am happy that the train has been started right on time,” Harshvardhan said.