What would be your everlasting memory of a long distance train journey? The answer will vary from person to person. For someone, it might be the ever-changing landscapes. For someone, it might be the chance to take a long pending rest. It could be the smell of food at each of the railway stations for someone.
My everlasting memory of a long distance train journey is the black-coat person in the moving trains with RAC and wait-listed passengers milling all-over him – the TTE. The more so a corrupt TTE, a vestigial functionary with no value-addition to make to the system but to his own self.
I checked on the internet about who is TTE and what does he do? I stumbled upon this latest circular from 1998 about the roles and responsibilities of the TTE. It means that the TTE is still doing the job that was assigned to him two decades back. Whatever be the gains of the technological advancement, the TTE is blissfully untouched.
The more I think about the role of the TTE, the less I am able to comprehend about the working of the Indian Railways, Indian State and us.
The rule of law
I suppose the first and foremost reason that the TTE is required is that we do not follow the rule of law that only passengers with confirmed tickets shall travel in the reserved compartments. And why would un-confirmed passengers be travelling in the reserved compartments? There is no fear of punishment or getting caught for them.
If at an all over-all level, and for the specifics of the travel journey, if the Indian State is able to instil the fear of a rules-based regime, what would be the need of the TTE?
Check the tickets at the time of start of travel
We agree that rules-based working is difficult to implement for us. In that case, we can explore other options. The tickets can be checked at the time of passengers entering the coach by a junior level employee.
At each of the stations, the head-count of the passengers in the coach can be taken. The aggrieved passengers, if any, can open the app / call the help-line and lodge the complaint against the passengers squatting on seats not belonging to them. If the strict action is taken at the next station against these passengers and the employee who checked at the previous station, what would be the need of the TTE?
Technological solutions for confirmed passengers
We live in the age of the OTP. Indian Railways can send the OTP to the mobile number of the confirmed passengers, who in turn can punch in the OTP while entering the coach / sitting on the reserved seats; on the system installed. This will also ensure that Indian Railways will know if any of the confirmed passengers have not turned up. The ticket-less travellers will not have the OTP so they will not be able to take any seats.
What would be the need of the TTE? If these or the other technological solutions seem to be unnecessarily complicated, the basic human-interaction based solution in the 2nd step should suffice.
Allocation of empty berths
After all the technological advancements of IRCTC, what is the utility of the charting 4 hours before the scheduled departure of the train? I suppose Indian Railways is also making a second chart 30 minutes before the departure of the train but unable to understand the efficacy of this exercise as ticket booking cannot be done basis this.
This is where the actual role of the TTE comes in. The TTE does the obligatory task of checking the tickets of the travellers with confirmed tickets and then acts pricey for the passengers with RAC / wait-listed tickets or with a general class ticket. These people will be pouring all-over him, the TTE will keep shuffling the papers continuously, he will keep saying that there are no seats available, we shall see at the next station etc. The enterprising traveller will entice him when he will see the TTE alone and the deal will be struck. The TTE would have done his job.
IRCTC website is showing the probability of confirmation, alternate trains etc at the time of booking wait-listed tickets. But when it comes to applying technological solutions for the empty berths, it is clueless or rather, it wants to remain clueless.
If the Indian Railways can attach an extra coach or extra coaches as the need be, or run an additional train; can inform the wait-listed passengers about his status and have the fear of rule of law instilled, what would be the need of the TTE?
Why should the TTE keep carrying reams of papers and not a tablet? Why not a POS machine? The TTE wears a black coat in the stifling Indian heat, why? Why he is of utterly no help once he has checked the tickets etc.
Indian Railways has done lots of positive changes in the customer-facing side. However, when it comes to their own working, they are stuck in a time-warp.
Why should the TTE keep doing the tasks allocated to him 20 years back? That too, with no changes in even the methodology to do those tasks? Can there be some trains / some coaches without the TTE?
To be honest, apart from taking bribes from RAC / wait-listed / general class passengers in reserved compartments, I do not see any working for this functionary from the by-gone era. I do see one value-addition though – paying homage to the TTE who threw out a certain M.K.Gandhi, out of the train, in South Africa in 1893.
The person well-versed with the Indian Railways functioning can rip apart whatever I have written. However, if that continues to remain the point, the Indian State shall also continue to remain hostage to the so-called government servants, who reign over whom they are supposed to serve.
PS: I travelled in train number 17017 on 12/11/2018. One young man in his early twenties claimed to not have a confirmed ticket. He still managed to travel all-throughout his day-journey by changing the seats. He paid the TTE Rs. 700/- for his services, over and above the ticket charges. Long live the TTE.