From April 1, those with wait-listed train tickets will get an option of selecting a “Vikalp”, an alternative choice of any other train on the same route, if the original ticket does not get confirmed on the day of the journey. After a six-month pilot in six sectors, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu is set to announce the rollout of the Vikalp Scheme for the entire country on Wednesday. Initially, Vikalp will be open only for e-ticket booking process.
The catch in the scheme is that if the passenger does not like the alternative offered, she can cancel the ticket but it would be treated as cancellation of a fully confirmed ticket. As per existing refund rules, fully confirmed tickets attract heavy cuts as cancellation fee. For instance, no refund is allowed after the chart is prepared. For cancellations of confirmed tickets between 12 and four hours prior to departure, 50 per cent is levied as cancellation charge. Ministry officials said the chance of passengers wanting to cancel after getting alternative accommodation was less because they would know at the time of booking which trains are the alternative choices.
The Railways is selling the idea with the proposition that if someone opts for Vikalp, while getting a waitlisted ticket in an ordinary mail/express train, then she might get accommodated on a Rajdhani or Shatabdi Express at no extra cost. However, countrywide, the over vacancy of berths in trains is in the range of just 12 per cent. Around 46 crore berths are in circulation a year combining all sectors. While some sectors have trains running at sub-par occupancy, other sectors may not have such sustained vacancies. Premier trains in certains sectors have been hit by low occupancy figures ever since the roll-out of the flexi-fare scheme last year.
Sources in the Rail Bhavan said that annually, the Railways gives out an estimated Rs 3,500 crore as refund for services not rendered. With Vikalp, they said, the promise of an alternative arrangement would keep the passenger hopeful and she might not cancel and seek a refund even if the chances of her waitlisted ticket getting confirmed in the normal course are slim. In that case, financially it’s a win-win for the Railways. Those engaged in operations and planning said the volume of Vikalp seekers for a particular route might give the Railways a realistic idea of demand for a special train for that route to be rolled out to meet the rush, so that no demand remains unmet.