Thousands of passengers at Mumbai Central railway station are being fleeced every day, with railway clerks taking advantage of their ignorance or illiteracy to extract charges from them that were called off by railway authorities as far back as 2007. The wily booking clerks choose their victims with care, exploiting only poor and illiterate customers.
When confronted, they conveniently pass off the fleeced amount as a ‘super express charge’, which happens to be an obsolete charge that stopped being levied on commuters years ago.
In a sting operation, MiD DAY caught booking clerks at almost all the counters in Mumbai Central station – non-suburban and suburban – fleecing passengers. When some of the more discerning commuters enquire about the discrepancy between the amount they were charged and the amount printed in the ticket, the booking clerks pretend to be outraged or offended, and shoo them away after providing half-baked explanations.
Sometimes, commuters notice that they have been overcharged only after moving away. When they reclaim and ask about the money that was not returned to them, the clerks pretend to turn the tables on them, telling the passengers that they were the ones who ‘forgot’ to take back the change. MiD DAY found that almost all passengers buying tickets for the general compartment had been made to pay more than the amount on their tickets.
To corroborate claims made by fleeced passengers, MiD DAY requested a commuter to buy a ticket for a train ride from Mumbai Central to Ramganj Mandi (Kota) worth Rs 210. Sure enough, the booking clerk asked the man to pay Rs 220.
On an average, 2.77 lakh passengers buy general compartment tickets every day on the Western Railway network, and earnings from this amounts to Rs 1.15 crore. Of this, nearly 4,500 passengers buy their tickets from Mumbai Central station, generating revenue worth Rs 5.56 lakh.
Case in point
Sukhdev Singh, who bought a ticket from Mumbai to Amritsar, ended up paying Rs 55 extra as ‘super express’ charge. While the amount printed on the ticket was Rs 355, the clerk manning the booking counter on the first floor asked him to cough up Rs 410. “I had to buy the tickets in an emergency, as my father passed away. In the rush, I didn’t count the money that was returned to me. When I noticed that I had received less than was owed to me, I went back to the counter and asked the clerk why I had been charged extra. The clerk replied that it was a super express charge,” said Singh.
When this reporter accompanied Singh back to the counter and demanded a more detailed explanation, the clerk immediately returned the money, asking Singh why he didn’t came back to claim his money.
A booking clerk in the suburban section extracted Rs 10 extra over the ticket rate from Rakesh Kumar (16): “I am going to Ranganj mandi for Rakshabandhan and I gave the booking clerk Rs 300. He returned Rs 80. When I asked him what the extra Rs 10 was for, he said it is a super express charge.” Sarfaraj Sheikh, another passenger who bought two tickets costing Rs 260 each, had to cough up Rs 20 extra. “I purchased two tickets from Mumbai Central to Jaipur. The total ticket amount is Rs 540, but the agent took Rs 20 more on the pretext of taking a super express charge.”
Sharat Chandrayan, chief PRO, WR, said, “The ticket includes all charges and the clerk is not allowed to charge anything above the printed price of the ticket. In case anybody is found charging over and above the printed rate, strict action would be taken against him.”
When a passenger gives a clerk a Rs 500 note for a ticket worth Rs 210, 240 etc, the clerks first insists on change, and eventually relents and returns some money, carefully withholding some of the balance. The passenger is often thrown off guard, and stuffs the money walks off.
If the passengers start counting the change, the clerks shoo them away rudely, asking them not to block the window. If the passenger does return to ask for an explanation, the clerk pretends to be busy and refuses to entertain his query.
Super express charge
Till 2007, the Advance Railway Ticketing System was operational, in which clerks had the right to demand extra money from passengers as ‘super express’ or ‘mail express’ charges. This system was later cancelled, to avoid misuse of any money collected in this fashion.