मुंबई Mumbai: Investigations into possibly the biggest-ever railway touting scam, involving tickets worth over Rs2 crore and counting, now point to a Mumbai-based senior official of the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) for his proximity to some of the arrested touts. The scam involves usage of an automation software to illegally speed up the ticket booking process on IRCTC’s website and, ironically, this official holds a sensitive post in the corporation. Senior railway officials investigating the scam termed this development ‘very disturbing’.
Investigators told that the official in question seemed to have been in touch with some of these touts even after the scam broke out on September 24. This official’s name came up during interrogation of the arrested touts as well as checking of their cellphones, the investigators said, adding that call data records of several of these touts were being retrieved for investigative analysis.
“Investigations into whether this big cartel of software developer, marketeer and touts was getting insider help from someone in the IRCTC are now in an advanced stage. Around 53% of all tickets are booked on the IRCTC website. To think that some senior official at IRCTC itself might be in touch with these people who were circumventing the system and putting millions of bona fide passengers at a disadvantage is a very grave matter,” said one of the investigators.
The Railway Protection Force (RPF) said that, as of Sunday, details of 4,506 tickets had been retrieved from one iMac, 45 CPUs, 10 pendrives and 11 mobile phones confiscated from the 12 arrested touts. “These tickets have a cumulative value of Rs.2.08 crore. It is possibly the biggest recovery of tickets in a touting case so far in the railways,” the investigator said.
Centred around a software developed by an Ahmedabad-based individual named Kulbir Singh, the scam involved a whole set of travel agents and touts using this software to surpass some of the ticket-booking procedures on the IRCTC website and book several tickets within seconds of the website opening. Railway officials probing the scam said the software allowed these touts to fill in all the requisite details the previous night itself and keep it ready for the morning when the website opens for booking.
“The software allowed the creation of multiple IP addresses, would link all these forms to various bank accounts of these touts and, at the touch of a button, book hundreds of tickets at one go. The software even allowed all the forms and ticket details to be saved in PDF format in the tout or agent’s computer for future reference,” said another railway official.
Touts’ software booked 2000 Tickets a minute
The gang behind Rs 2.82-crore scam employed several thousand usernames, used powerful software that generated over a hundred PNR numbers at a click.
The Railway Protection Force investigation, into one of the biggest e-ticket tout scams, revealed that the gang of touts had several thousand IRCTC user names and a powerful software that can book over 2,000 tickets in the first minute as soon as the tatkal quota opened at 8 am.
Investigations so far revealed that the scam is estimated to be worth Rs 2.82 crore, and the Railways are in the process of blocking 3,000-plus tickets.
The software enabled the touts to prefill reservation data and feed it into the IRCTC server, and thus book the tickets instantaneously. It generated between 25 to 136 PNR numbers in one click.
The RPF is now taking the help of a student accused in an earlier case to study and decode the software. “Shockingly, from the seized digitial assets, only a few folders have yet been opened, leading to such a large number and value of tickets. Details of over 15 folders are still being downloaded,” said Senior Divisional Commissioner Alok Bohra. “Once complete, it will lead to a multi-crore scam. The figure so far has touched Rs 2.82 crore, and many folders are still to be restored,” Bohra said.
The gang developed an automation software that enabled them to fill forms on the IRCTC website at a mass level and facilitate e-ticket bookings between 8 am and 8:01 am as soon as the site opened.
In this way, the site was not being hacked but multiple forms were being simultaneously filled in from different IP addresses. It used to generate between 25 to 136 PNR numbers in one click.
“The gang did not have just the yet-tobe-marketed iPhone 6L, but also many other expensive digital assets. They must have bought them from the black market and used all of them to faciliate the racket by storing data, generating the software and coding it. The investigating is an ongoing process and many more details are yet to be decoded. Just this much has yielded so much of value,” Bohra added.
The scam came to light late September following the arrest of two accused, Rajendra Kumar Jaiwantraj Bafna and Mahesh Rajendrakumar Bafna from Govandi, and the recovery of 478 e-tickets worth Rs 9. 33 lakh from them.
During interrogation, Mahesh revealed details of a shop in Virar, which was raided on September 25. The raid led to the seizure of 850 e-tickets worth Rs 39.52 lakh and the arrest of two accused, Kalpesh Shah and Sandeep Parekh. They had 1,400 identities on the IRCTC website, and using an illegal software had generated 136 PNR numbers in a single slot.
During the raid, five mobiles (Iphone 6L, iPhone 5S, LG-3, Samsung Note 3, Noka Lumia), 6 pen drives, 9 CPU and one Apple I-Mac desktop were seized.
“Interrogations of Kalpesh and Sandeep led to the further seizure of 950 e-tickets worth Rs.26,93,514. Recovery is still continuing from 18 folders still to be retrieved with total tickets about 1,777 from one of the pen drives from Kalpesh,” an officer who was part of the raid said.
The investigation also threw up the names of two key persons involved in the scam, Kulbir Singh and Guru Patel. While Kulbir, an English literature graduate and a teacher, developed the software, Guru was the kingpin who distributed and operated the software.
Following a further tip-off, on September 27 Guru was arrested from his residence in Dharavi and two CPUs and three mobile phones were recovered.
It was then learnt that the software developer, Kulbir Singh, was based in Ahmedabad. A team was despatched to Gujarat the same night, but as Kulbir was not found, his father-in-law was questioned.
Kulbir was eventually traced to Charoti Naka, Dahanu, where he was arrested and a laptop, two mobile phones, data card and a wi-fi port were seized.
Blocked train e-Tickets hit pupils’ educational tours
Massive online ticketing tout scam running into crores of rupees leaves students with pre-bookings stranded, forcing agents to make alternative arrangements. The ongoing investigation into the massive e-ticketing tout scam has badly hit educational tours of students, besides thousands of other commuters. The Railways are in the process of mass blocking thousands of e-tickets, throwing into jeopardy the schedules of student tour groups that had already done bookings. Among those left in the lurch were a group of 150 students who undertook an educational tour to Hyderabad organised by Modern Tours. They were stranded there four days ago when their confirmed return tickets to Mumbai were blocked as their PNR numbers were suspected to be part of the biggest-ever touting racket worth crores of rupees. Harsh Kotak of Modern Tours said it was not fair for tickets to be randomly blocked in this manner. “On October 1 we were to return by Hussain Sagar Express, but found our tickets blocked. The school and parents were expecting us back, but we had no way to return,” Kotak said. “Fortunately, a Railway manager helped us and we managed to return. But it was unfair of the Railways,” he said. “Other related issues such as hotel bookings, etc cannot be changed at the last minute.”
Similarly, another agent in Kandivli said he booked tickets for hundreds of students in batches for educational tours to Kerala via Konkan Railway from October 20. “But since the PNRs were blocked earlier this week, we are now forced to make arrangements to take the students by buses,” he said. “The Railways should not cancel tickets in this manner. Earlier, the vigilance department used to issue newspaper ads with PNR details, asking ticket holders to prove their identities,” said Shailesh Goyal, former member of Railway Zonal Users Consultative Committee. “They should revert to that practice. It’s not correct to block tickets and inconvenience people.” A Railway official said blocking of PNR numbers in the folders retrieved from touts is essential as investigations are ongoing. “Tickets booked by Modern Tours and the Kandivali agent were found among these folders, hence they were blocked. We appeal to schools to book tickets from official sources only,” the IRCTC official said.