In a railway budget that lacked the pizazz of Laloo Prasad Yadav’s announcement of Internet and DTH on trains (which never did happen, did it?), current Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee sought to be less entertaining, and more practical: among the sops handed to consumers was a reduction in service charges for buying a ticket online from IRCTC, arguably the largest e-commerce service in India:
— Sleeper Class tickets: lower by 33.3% from Rs. 15 to Rs. 10
— AC Class tickets: lower by 50% from Rs. 40 to Rs. 20
Now while the amount might appear to be small, one needs to take into account the scale at which IRCTC operates:
For example, in August 2009, the IRCTC did a total of 5,539,035 transactions, which amounted to Rs. 4,497,142,510 ($97.24 million). Arbitrarily assuming a ratio of 1:7 (AC: Sleeper Class), that would mean approximately 692,379 AC Class tickets booked, and 4,846,656 Sleeper class tickets.
This would amount to a reduction in service charges revenue of Rs. 24.23 million ($0.523 million) from Sleeper Class tickets, and Rs. 13.84 million (0.298 million) in AC Class ticket revenue. Please keep in mind that this is just an indicative calculation based on an assumption. IRCTCs transactions have increased since: in January 2010, they reported 6,547,581 successful transactions, of a total of 8,458,526 transactions.
Other Digital Related Announcements:
— The railways’ tie-up with the post office doesn’t appear to have worked out. Instead, the railways plans to add E-ticket vans to Government Medical College Hospitals, Courts, Universities, IT hubs, IITs and IIMs
— SMS updates of reservation status and punctuality of trains to passengers. This is already being provided by the Indian Railways in partnership with Spice Digital
— SMS updates on the movement of wagons to freight customers
— Implementation of RFID technology for tracking of wagons carrying coal and iron ore on three zonal railways.
— Optical Fibre Network: The Railway has 37,000 kms of optic fibre cables, and is working to add another 12,000 kms. It also plans to add 15,000 kms of optic fibre network through the public-private-partnership (PPP) model, and plans to provide last mile connectivity in urban and rural areas using the PPP model. I’d spoken to RailTels a few years ago about its plans to introduce Wifi Internet at Railway Stations, and broadband in areas near Railway Stations. However, we’re not sure if these services are operational, and there’s no mention of its progress in the budget.
— A Centre for Railway Research is proposed to be set up in Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur for research in key areas of railway technology and to give a thrust to indigenisation. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has already been signed with IIT, Kharagpur on 13th February 2010. Railways will establish strong research partnerships with premier institutes like IITs, NITs, CSIR and DRDO.