KARACHI: A total of 211 passengers travelled in October last year without tickets on board the Thar Express — a heavily guarded train on which passengers could board only after producing passports and tickets —, calling into question the entire process of ticket handling and immigration, it is learnt here reliably.
According to sources, the Thar Express, which runs between Karachi and Zero Point on the Indian border, makes a stopover at restricted and heavily guarded platforms at Karachi, Hyderabad and Mirpurkhas stations and nobody but passengers with valid travel documents are allowed to enter its platforms.
The sources said that at least 16 railway staffers, including railway policemen, had been suspended for failing to detect and stop the ‘ticketless’ passengers.
A Railways official who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed to Dawn the suspension of officials over travel by ticketless passengers on the Thar Express and said that an inquiry had been launched into the embarrassing oversight.
The sources said the additional passengers in excess of the agreed number of travellers between the two countries had caused difficulties to the Munabao (first railway station on Indian side) authorities since the train that took them to and from Jodhpur had the usual number of coaches.
The passengers had to wait throughout the night at Munabao till additional carriages were brought from Jodhpur to take all the 1,111 passengers, said the sources.
The railways workers union, however, alleged that high-ranking officials who were involved in the scam had saved their skins by passing on the blame to low-ranking officials.
A letter dated Dec 29, 2014, issued by Karachi divisional commercial officer Nasir Nazeer, to one of the suspended officials says: “That 1,111 passengers got immigration at Zero Point station on Oct 25, 2014, and crossed the Pakistani–Indian border. These passengers travelled on 405 Up (Thar Express) that left Karachi Cantt on Oct 24, 2014, having reserved tickets of 900 passengers. 211 passengers travelled in the train without having reserved tickets.
“That instructions have been issued to thoroughly check the passengers and if any passenger is found without a ticket he or she must be subjected to penalty and deboarded at Hyderabad and Mirpurkhas stations.
“But 211 passengers have travelled in the train without having reserved computerised tickets. You are, therefore, held responsible and disciplinary action will be taken against you under relevant rules,” said the letter.
Manzoor Razi, a leader of the railways workers union, claimed the high-ranking officials first tried to cover up the scam but when they failed because of involvement of other organisations like the Federal Investigation Agency they took a belated action against low-ranking officials after two months in December while the wrongdoing took place in October last year, he added.
He said that six officials, Shamim Zaidi, Motiram, Shahid Jamali, Taj Mohammad, Khalid Pervez and Mohammad Shoukat and a few railway policemen had been suspended.
He said that 900 computerised tickets had been issued while ticket checkers handed about 162 paper tickets to ticketless passengers between Hyderabad and Zero Point, leaving still 49 passengers ticketless.
He alleged that the high officials who had ordered that paper tickets be issued were being protected while low-ranking officials had been made scapegoat. He demanded that a high-level probe be instituted to catch the ‘big fish’.
The Railways official said that about 900 passengers were booked on that train but over a 1,000 travelled. Only passengers with valid tickets and passports were allowed to enter the platform to board the train but on that day many ticketless passengers also travelled, he said.
He said the discrepancy came to the fore in the first week of November last year when the passenger data was shared between railways and immigration, FIA etc.
Six railway officials and 10 railway policemen had been suspended about a week ago and an inquiry was also under way to fix responsibility so that stern action could be taken against the culprits. The inquiry was expected to complete in a week or so, he added.
He excused himself from giving names of the suspended officials and policemen and said he would have to look them up in the relevant record which might take some time.
Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2015