Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cancellations / Diversions of trains to New Delhi wef 06.09.2008

Train services to Delhi, specially to New Delhi station is going to be severely affected between Sept 5 and 15. As I have read in the newspapers, 62 trains will be cancelled, 50 diverted and 126 will be terminated short. Some of these train will be terminated short as far as Kanpur which is another 5 hours journey to Delhi by train. If you are traveling during these dates, then you are in for a shock. What is more troublesome is that information on trains getting affected is not available on any of railway official sites. All one can gather is piecemeal information from various websites. I managed to find the press release on the Northern railway site which is reproduced below :

In order to enhance train operational facilities at New Delhi railway station, Northern Railway will be carrying re-modeling work involving installation of the New Route Relay Interlocking with 1278 routes . For this purpose, New Delhi Railway Station will remain Non-interlocked from 06.09.2008 to 14.09.2008. The complete remodeling of New Delhi Railway station would involve installation of New Route Relay Interlocking (1278 routes) largest on Indian Railways. This Relay Room will be in place of existing British System (RRI) Route Relay Interlocking (690 routes). There would be additions and alternations of 125 routes in existing Delhi Jn. SIEMENS PANEL and Relay Room. Yard remodeling of triangle area of Delhi yard on New Delhi end, dismantling of 34 turn outs, 2.6 Tkm track 53 masts/posts, and foundation, leading out releases, making & formation earthwork, ballsting, casting of 16 foundations, erection of masts/posts, linking & insertion of 21 turn outs, 1.85 Tkm track and signals telecommunication and OHE works would be done in the remodeling work. There would be 33% increase in platform handling work at New Delhi Railway Station after the remodeling work. The bottleneck in Sadar area would be removed and there will be 6 lines in place of existing 3 at Sadar Bazar end of New Delhi Station making independent corridor for reception and dispatch of trains to and from Delhi Jn./Delhi Kishanganj, Subzi Mandi and Delhi Sarai Rohilla stations. Two additional lines on Tilak Bridge end will be connected with New Delhi Yard. Thus there will be 6 lines between New Delhi & Tilak Bridge in place of 4. There will be 2 Island platforms at New Delhi Railway Station, thus making a total 16 in place of existing 12 Platforms. In view to carry on the remodeling work at New Delhi Railway Station 62 trains will remain cancelled, 126 trains will be terminated short of destination which will originate from there and 50 trains will be diverted to run on alternative route for the period from 5 th Sep. to 15 th Sep. 2008.

What is still bad is that there is no list available on the trains getting affected. You will have to keep a watch on the Northern railway site for further announcement, if any. These are :

Apparently all these upgradation is being done keeping in sight the Commonwealth Games in 2010. I had also come across a ministry press release informing that platforms of New Delhi Railway Stations are being made compatible to 24 coaches. Platforms No. 10, 11 and 12 at New Delhi Railway Station are already compatible for 24 coaches trains. Works on seven platforms i.e. platforms No. 3 to 9 have been planned to accommodate 24 coach trains. Twenty four pairs of trains are presently running with 24 coaches.
Searching for this piece of information on train rescheduling, I came across two useful sites, supposedly put up fans of Indian Railway.
1) Indian Railways News
2) Indian Railways Fan Club

The Indian Railway News site had caught my attention. It is a very informative site with links to many railway related sites. Hats of to the person who has took all the pains to put up the site and maintain it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Costlier air travel : UDF at HIAL and BIAL airports

More bad news for domestic air travelers. Not only taxes have gone past 3000, you will also have to pay an additional amount as UDF (User Development Fee) on flying out of Hyderabad, and soon from Bangalore as well. The Civil Aviation ministry has given approval for collecting a UDF of Rs.375/- per person for domestic passengers traveling out of the new GMR Hyderabad International Airport (GHIAL). However exact date of collecting UDF from domestic passengers have not been announced, but likely by August end. International passengers have already been paying Rs.1000/-(or USD25) as UDF since 11-June-2008.

Mounting taxes has already made air travel less lucrative then what it was a year ago. In fact airline passenger has registered a negative growth in last one year. Because of this, some airlines have refused to collect UDF as part of ticket cost. This may result in passengers queuing up at GHIAL to pay UDF. Something similar is being planned for BIAL at Bangalore. I had traveled to the BIAL recently. Traveling to the airport 50 km away from city itself is a headache. After traveling for at least an hour and half, one will have to queue twice -- first check in and then may be a second time to pay UDF.

Out of Rs 225 collected currently as passenger service fee (PSF), the airport operator receives Rs 80 for maintaining public amenities at the airport. The UDF is meant to enable the company to bridge the gap between the admissible expenditure and admissible revenue as estimated. This is to be reviewed every two year.

Read more on this at Economic Times.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

When ATM did not dispense

Sometimes back State bank of India (SBI) use to run a television commercial which boast of SBI having the largest network of ATMs in India. The corollary to this is that SBI also has the largest number of non-working ATMs in India. My experience says that whenever you are in desperate need of cash, you will find the nearest SBI ATM out of order. This happens at least 7 out of 10 times. We can propose an addition to the Murphy’s law on this.

It was the first week of May when I was frantically trying to withdraw money from my various bank accounts to make advance payment for the flat I was purchasing. One evening I went to the SBI ATM, very close to my office to withdraw money. As few more people were waiting, I decided to withdraw 20K in one go. The machine made few clicks and ticks after I made necessary entries. The sound of counting followed. Then it tried to dispense. To my horror the notes got stuck in the outlet for dispensing money. The guys who were waiting behind me also saw it. In desperation, I tried to pull out whatever amount I can. I had 30 sec to do so before the machine takes it back. The notes I could pull out counted only 8500. The rest of the notes were actually inside the machine and could not be pulled out. 30 sec was over by then and the machine took it back. I could here the sound of counting again when the money was taken back. My first impression was that the notes were old / used notes and therefore got stuck while dispensing.

I was in shock for a moment. I had probably lost 11500. Checking around the cubicle, I found two phone nos. which is to be contacted in case of any problem. After trying a few times, one of the phones answered. I explained him the incident. He told me that SBI ATM machines are not capable of dispensing 20000 at one go. They have put up signs or instructions about this in some ATMs. The same could not be done at all ATMs, one of which is the one I had used. He advised to check whether the money has been debited from my bank account. I had checked and found that 20K has been debited. He then told me to contact the CAC Branch with transaction slips of the ATM.

I went to the CAC Branch located at ITO the next day. CAC stands for Cash Administration Cell. It was a small office with only one person available when I visited. He accepted my application and informed me that the concerned person has gone on outdoor inspection duty. Money will be refunded after reconciliation. He also gave me the branch phone nos. and told me that it may take upto 10 / 15 days for reconciliation.

What followed was a long wait. Several phone calls made to the CAC Branch had the answer that reconciliation could not be done because the concerned is still busy. One day a new fellow picked up the phone and told me that he is not aware of my application. This probably was the guy I was looking for. Then I realized that I should have sent the application by post or courier to produce a proof of submission instead of handing over in person. My impression was that my application which I personally handed over got misplaced (or may be thrown into dust bin, whatever may be). I wrote a reminder seeking an early redrerssal failing which I proposed to approach banking ombudsman. I know about banking ombudsman, but do not know how to approach that authority. I found out only after threatening to take action. Anyway, 5 days after that letter, I had received a phone call which made few enquiries. The gentleman told me that money would be credited back to my account by next day.

The money indeed arrived next day. It took more than two months. But I got back my 11500.

There are few lessons to be learnt from this incident:

1) Never try to withdraw more than 10000 at one go from any ATM.

2) Avoid transaction if the ATM is unable to issue transaction slip. You do not know when you may need the transaction slip.

3) Even if you submit a copy of application / incident reporting by hand or in person, always
send a copy by post / courier so that you can produce a proof of submission.

You can find more information on Banking Ombudsman in India from the RBI site.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

My brush with a group of eunuchs

Have you dealt with a group of eunuchs hell bent on extorting money from you? I had to deal with a group of them few days back. I am narrating my experiences.

Hijda, as they are commonly called in Hindi, move around in groups, looking for victims which they can extort on the pretext of some auspicious occasion, like birth of a child or buying a house. This is very common in North India. I had seen that in Dehradun, but not in Delhi. As soon I had move to my newly acquired flat at Kaushambi, which is just across the Delhi border, I had realized that they have free reign in UP as well.

The group had come in search of me thrice. When they finally met me last Sunday, I first tried to dissuade them. There were three of them, accompanied by two fellows with dholak or drum. Two were quite aged and were well behaved. There was a young one who was threatening to take off cloths every now and then. This frightened my wife and little daughter. I told them to get inside the inner room and not to come out. It becomes clear that they will not go away or creating a ruckus. Thus I had to pay. I sat on the floor, face to face with one of the aged Hijda. They started their bargaining from 11000. I was told that people in the society had cough upto 5001. They think big. I started with 100. The bargaining went on for at least an hour. Many a times I lost temper, specially at the antics of the young Hijda who were threatening to take off cloths. I just stopped sort of saying him to dance naked if he/she wants. Despite that I kept my cool. The demand had come down to 3001 by then. It has almost been an hour. Finally I felt that it had gone too long and got rid of them by paying 2001. One of the aged Hijda told me before leaving that ‘tune mujhse bahut bulwaiya’ (You made me speak for a long time).

Most people pay fearing the curse of Hijdas. I do not believe in the curse. Other pays to avoid the ruckus they create. I paid thinking about safety of my family as I would not be there all the time to defend them. It is a new place and my wife will have to pick the kid when the school bus drops. Thus I become a helpless victim of Hijda extortion.

When confronted later, the guards say they are helpless as the Hijdas would not heed to their words. But what surprises me is that how they can pinpoint the exact flat where a new tenant has come. The most likely informer has to be the guard/s. I will have to take it up when the Residents Welfare Society meets next time. But we had fully understood our entry into a lawless place, though barely 1 KM from Delhi. Living here will be certainly a different experience then in Patparganj.