The booking counter has been shut for five days running, and this situation becomes confounding not only because railway booking is considered an essential service, but also in light of the fact that only recently, the High Court, taking cognizance of a NOW! report on the ‘link’ problems at the booking counter, had taken up the issue as a suo moto Public Interest Litigation.
Ironically, shortly after the first report had come out in NOW!, SNT and BSNL officials had informed that the IT bottleneck which had compromised the efficacy of the booking counter had been resolved and that operations were now running smoothly.
While the SNT would like to lay the blame squarely on BSNL lethargy for the latest shut-down, information gathered from other sources suggests that bureaucratic paperwork is holding things up. There appears hesitation on the part of the authorities to release the required funds [of around Rs. 3.6 lakh] to upgrade the link at the Gangtok reservation counter. It needs to be mentioned here that the railway booking counters in other towns in the State are functioning properly. Gangtok was the first such counter and had reportedly not been upgraded since 1996. Similar counters in other towns came much later and were equipped with latest equipment.
It is informed that the Passenger Railway System in Gangtok was upgraded a couple of weeks back and the low speed line replaced by a high speed line by the Eastern Railways; however, this was reportedly done without prior notice to SNT here. The Gangtok PRS is fitted with a low speed modem of 32 kbps while the upgradation took the speed up to 64 kbps.
The problem, it seems, is that while the line has been enhanced, the modem is still the old one which is not compatible with the high speed line, hence the shutdown. However it is also informed that while the upgradation itself was done by Eastern Railways without informing SNT, as claimed, it is also informed that earlier the railway authorities had already informed the SNT authorities here that the Passenger Reservation System here needs to be upgraded.
This involves an expense of around Rs.3.6 lakh, it is informed and the same has also been informed to the State authorities.
Here a portion of the blame would also have to be borne by the BSNL as upgradation to a high speed modem requires fibre optic cables while SNT at present uses overhead cables. In this regard it has been claimed that the request for fibre optics by the SNT has been pending with BSNL for nearly 10 years now! On the other hand, SNT along with the Eastern Railways has been paying Rs.5 lakh annually to BSNL for the link as well.
Meanwhile, sources in the BSNL insist that they are not at blame as there is no link failure. The link is working fine, they contend, but it is a problem with the modem at the reservation counter which needs to be upgraded. The railway reservation counter is being operated under SNT supervision, and BSNL is reportedly waiting for SNT to write to Railway authorities to direct BSNL to upgrade infrastructure.
Attempts to get an explanation invariable run confusion circles with the concerned officials either not in office to explain the situation or unwilling to speak claiming the matter to be sub-judice. The general population planning a railway journey from Gangtok meanwhile remain denied.