Mahinder Kotak had to travel to Mumbai on Tuesday evening, but he didn’t have a reservation. So, he waited for 40 minutes in a queue for current bookings at the Pune railway station to get a ticket. When it was his turn finally, the booking clerk turned him away, as Kotak didn’t have enough cash to buy a ticket, and the station was not accepting card payments.
Kotak started arguing with the clerk, asking him, “How can Indian Railways not accept debit cards when the central government is promoting cashless transactions?”. The latter heard Kotak’s rant patiently before responding with a brief request: Please step aside!
Kotak is one of the thousands of passengers who have had a similar experience at this station, and other stations in the Pune Division, when they tried to pay with a debit card or a credit card at the reservation counter or the current booking counter.
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Of the 29 windows at the current booking counters at the Pune railway station, about a dozen are functional at any given time; none of them allow cashless transactions.
At the reservation counter, which has 18 booking windows, only one has a POS system, procured by the administration some time ago.
No new card swipe machine has been procured since November 8, though railway employees have to deal with thousands of passengers everyday who try to pay for their fare with plastic money.
The situation is similar for hundreds of people who visit the parcel booking office, which is still accepting payments only in cash, almost a month after Centre implemented demonetisation. “We are aware of the inconvenience that’s being caused to the public. Soon after the demonetisation announcement, the division had forwarded a proposal to acquire around 125 card swipe machines for reservation windows, current booking counters and parcel offices at all the stations in the Pune Division. We are waiting for the proposal to be cleared so that we get the machines. Meanwhile, we have urged customers to cooperate by tendering cash,” said Manoj Jhanvar, PRO, Pune Division.
But till the “official process” of procurement is completed, passengers like Kotak continue to suffer. “I have Rs 15,000 in my account but I still can’t book a ticket. I travelled across half the town, looking for a functional ATM, but found none. Now I have no option but to travel ticketless,” said Kotak.
A staffer at the reservation centre said the worst situations are seen between 10 and 11 am, when people queue up for tatkal tickets and get exasperated when they are told that only cash will be accepted for payments.
“When it’s a tatkal booking, every second matters. Even those with Rs 2000 notes end up inviting the ire of those waiting behind them in the queue, as it takes longer to arrange change since the booking clerks only have a limited amount of change with them. This often leads to quarrels,” said the staffer, who didn’t wish to be named.
Sushil Saxena, a student who was waiting at the queue in front of Window No. 16 — the only window which accepts card payments at the reservation centre — wondered how the government’s biggest carrier had not been able to put a cashless transaction system in place nearly a month after the Centre announced its decision to implement demonetisation.
“It’s been a month and only one of the 18 windows accepts card payments. The queue here is much longer than the ones at other counters,” he said.