Saturday, December 06, 2008

Ignoring India's 'republic of hunger'

The BBC's Soutik Biswas travels to the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, one of six states holding key elections, and asks why malnutrition has not been a major issue with politicians.

Sanju with his mother
Villager Tulsa says she cannot breast feed 18-month-old Sanju much "because I have very little milk". Photos: Soutik Biswas

When did baby Richa finally fall silent?

Social workers direct the question about the three-year-old girl to an extended family living in a mud-and-thatch hut in the bleak landscape of Jamoda in Madhya Pradesh. It is the country's second biggest state in size and also one of its poorest.

The workers belong to a group that is raising the issue of chronic hunger and malnutrition.

"She died recently. She had measles. The quack gave her an injection, but she did not survive," says Kolai Bai, grandmother of the dead girl, matter-of-factly. She is now left with six grandchildren.

Date of election: 27 November
Counting of votes: 8 December
Total constituencies: 230
Total voters: 36054717

Total candidates: 3179

In these parts, more and more children like Richa are "falling silent" because of diseases associated with malnutrition and hunger.

But their deaths remain cold statistics; they largely escape the attention of political parties battling to win the upcoming state elections.

Groups like the Right to Food Campaign insist that malnutrition is chronic in vast swathes of Madhya Pradesh.

Some 325 children, they say, have died of diarrhoea, measles and acute respiratory distress - diseases typically associated with severe malnutrition - in just four districts between May and October this year.

More worryingly, they say, the government is in complete denial.

Authorities blame illegal doctors for making matters worse and say the children are dying of diseases common elsewhere in India.

Jamoda village
Children in the tribal countryside suffer from malnutrition most

However, the first India State Hunger Index (Ishi) this year found that Madhya Pradesh had the most severe level of hunger in India, comparable to Chad and Ethiopia.

Even federal health surveys show that 60% of children under the age of six in the state are malnourished - more than 12% of these severely so.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which rules the state, does not mention the issue in its manifesto.

The opposition Congress party takes note of it and promises to make Madhya Pradesh a "malnourishment-free" state if voted into power.

Life struggle

Jamoda is one of the 20 villages in Khandwa district where 62 children have died from diseases associated with severe malnutrition in two months alone - September and October - according to investigations by an NGO engaged with the Right to Food Campaign.

A child health community centre in Jamdoba
The derelict child feeding centres point to the neglect of children

Many other children are struggling to stay healthy and alive.

Eighteen-month-old Sanju Silale is one of them. The boy has bone for arms and legs and has already lost an eye to measles. He lets out a dull, incessant cry from his mother's lap.

The mother, Tulsa, says she lost her earlier child, a boy, when he was two years old. The father, Kamal, is away working on a farm in a neighbouring district because work is scarce in Jamoda.

"I could not breast feed my boy and he died. These days I cannot breast feed Sanju much because I have very little milk," Tulsa says.

In the dark recesses of another village hut, one-year-old girl Drupta weighs merely 2.5kg and coughs incessantly in her mother's arms.

"There's not enough food at home to feed an infant. Parents go out looking for work, leaving the children at home who end up sharing a roti (Indian flatbread) between them," says a family member.

Tribal decline

Why is there so much hunger and malnutrition in Madhya Pradesh's tribal countryside?

It is partly to do with the decline of the tribal way of life in India - the relationship between the animist tribespeople and forests is under threat.

Forests are being denuded and laws prohibit tribespeople from hunting and freely growing their crops in whatever is left.

A political party flag atop a hut in Jamdoba
The tribespeople say political parties do little for them

This, say social activists like Prakash Michael, has meant the dietary habits of tribespeople have changed from indigenous coarse cereals and game meat to the more "mainstream" mix of rice, bread and vegetables, which they mostly end up buying from the markets.

With farm incomes stagnating because of soaring prices for fertiliser and seed -combined with lower prices for crops - there is less money to buy food. Most families here earn less than 1,000 rupees ($22) a month.

To make matters worse, the state-run "ration shops" selling cheap rice and wheat as part of India's notoriously fickle and porous "public distribution system" have cut supplies from 35kg of rice and wheat per family per month two years ago to 20kg.

That's not all. The shops - essential to feed the poor - open three days a month these days instead of eight days a month earlier. (Last month, authorities, reacting to the deaths of children, ordered the local shops to open every day).

So if you miss going to the shop on the day it opens, you could end up going without food for a week or more.

"We should give a serious thought to why malnutrition is rife only among the tribal children in the state," says Prakash Michael.

Drupta with her mother
Baby Drupta weighs merely 2.5kg and coughs incessantly

Jamoda offers a few grim clues. They point to the marginalisation of tribespeople in a state where they comprise nearly 20% of the 60 million population.

Set in a largely parched and stony countryside, it is home to some 450 families of indigenous Korku tribespeople - they comprise 80% of the 130,000 people living in the district's 147 villages.

The nearest government health clinic is 12km (8 miles) away, the nearest hospital 16km away. Most forests in the neighbourhood have been cut down.

The derelict state child-care centre, run by community workers, points to India's neglect of its children: the kitchen has no utensils or stove, doors and windows are missing, the roof is creaky and leaking and the unfinished floor is covered with stones and crude tiles.

"We give out packed food to 30-40 children here three times a day. We have no utensils to cook. We have to be careful about children who sit on the floor because there is no flooring and poisonous insects come out," says the centre's worker, Sushila Patil.

Many tribal children end up in local hospitals with hunger-related diseases.

"There," a local tribesperson says, "many doctors refuse to treat us because they find us dirty and smelly."

So who will the people of Jamoda vote for in the upcoming elections - the lotus (the symbol of the BJP) or the hand (Congress)?

A BJP tribal candidate has been winning elections in the area for the past few years without any competition, and a few saffron party flags fly weakly atop some of the huts.

Village elder Budhia Pati says they will vote for the party their neighbours do. Somebody has even told her that if she votes for Congress she would not be able to sell firewood any longer.

"Anyway, I will vote for somebody. Does it really matter? Voting for a party doesn't really bring any gain, does it?," she asks wryly.


China: Free Prominent Tibetan Cultural Figure
Nations Should Protest 7-Year Sentence for 81-Year-Old Printer

By: Human Rights Watch

Paljor Norbu Image: 2008 Private
(New York, December 5, 2008) - The international community should protest the imprisonment and secret sentencing of Paljor Norbu, an 81-year-old Tibetan traditional printer, and seek his immediate exoneration and unconditional release, Human Rights Watch said today.

Norbuwas taken by the police from his home in Lhasa on October 31, 2008, on suspicion that he had printed "prohibited material," including the banned Tibetan flag. During his detention, judicial authorities refused to inform his relatives that he was being detained, or to reveal the charges against him. He was tried in secret in November and sentenced to seven years in prison. A letter informing his family of the sentence was then hand-delivered to them. His current whereabouts are unknown.

"Just about any material on Tibet that lacks the Chinese Communist Party's explicit blessing is 'prohibited material,'" said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "But no one should be jailed for printing flags, books, or pictures just because a government would prefer to suppress those ideas - that's why freedom of expression is a basic right."

Although the authorities have not made public the details of the verdict, the nature of the initial accusations leveled against Norbu and the length of the sentence suggest that he was tried on charges of "inciting separatism" (article 103 of the Criminal Law). This vaguely defined crime has been used repeatedly to silence Tibetans resisting the tight and often arbitrary limits imposed on their freedom of expression by Chinese law.

A descendant of a family with a long history of printing and publishing Buddhist texts for monasteries, Norbu is an internationally renowned master printer. He used both modern and traditional woodblock printing techniques in his workshop, which employed several dozen workers. In addition to religious texts, the shop printed prayer flags, folk reproductions, books, leaflets, and traditional literature.

After Norbu's arrest, the police closed his shop, affixed notices of official closure on the door, and prohibited employees from returning. The police also confiscated books and woodblocks from the shop's collection.

"Instead of persecuting Paljor Norbu, the Chinese government should prize his contributions toward historical and cultural preservation," said Richardson.

Human Rights Watch said that Norbu was not granted even the minimal rights that are supposed to be provided under Chinese criminal procedures. Violations included the failure to notify his family of his formal arrest or of the trial date; the refusal to reveal where he was detained; the failure to allow him defense representation of his choice in court; the failure to communicate the full verdict of the trial; and, the refusal to inform the family of his current whereabouts and of where he will serve his prison term.

Human Rights Watch said it has observed an increase in the number of arrests and convictions related to exercising the freedom of expression in recent weeks, indicating that the crackdown that Chinese authorities threatened after Tibetan protests in March 2008 was extending beyond the people suspected of involvement in those demonstrations. Other recent cases include:

* Jigme Gyatso (lay name Jigme Guri), a senior monk from the Labrang monastery, who was re-arrested on November 4 after he described how he had been tortured by the police during his detention in March and who is now in custody in Lanzhou (Gansu province);

* Norzin Wangmo (Chinese name: Longzhen Wangmu), an employee of the Judicial Bureau of Hongyuan county (Sichuan province), sentenced on November 3 to five years of imprisonment after he told relatives abroad of the situation in Tibet; and

* Dhondup Wangchen, who had been detained in March in Tong De (Qinghai province), for his role in filming a clandestine documentary in the Tibetan areas. He is being held in the Ershilipu detention center in Xining.

"The Chinese government will almost certainly say that the charges brought against Paljor Norbu were 'in accordance with the law,'" said Richardson. "But, by definition, those laws restrict free speech, and until the government brings its laws into conformity with international human rights norms, we will continue to see peaceful critics like Norbu incarcerated for alleged 'separatism.'"

Friday, December 05, 2008

This is from

Indian Railways RAC and Waitlists concepts explained

All Aboard! Second Class Sleeper
photo by happysnapper999
Now that waitlisted tickets can be purchased on the internet, it’s time we had an article explaining waitlists, waitlisted tickets and RAC tickets. (I’ll also explain a little about ticket allocation/quotas and how you can use them to your advantage)

Every day, Indian Railways sell millions of railway tickets for thousands of trains, considering how vast and complex the Indian Rail network is, I think they have devised an easy to understand system to ensure maximum occupancy in all classes on all bookable trains.

Most trains can be booked 91* days in advance, some short distance trains, normally daytime trains, can only be booked 30 days in advance, there are a few trains with even shorter booking periods, but none on the main tourist routes. (*details and example later)

If you book early (the earlier the better), you’ve got a good chance of getting a confirmed seat/berth in the class and train of your choice, this becomes more difficult the later you try to book your train. (and very difficult if your train departs during the Indian holidays)

This is when you start seeing some strange letters and numbers when you try to book a ticket, for example...WL 21/RAC 10 or WL 10/WL 4

A quick explanation of RAC and Waitlists

A very quick explanation of RAC (much more details, diagrams & photos at the bottom of this article.)

WL = Waitlist
RAC = Reservation against cancellation

An RAC ticket gets you on the train (A WL ticket doesn’t) and in your chosen class, but there’s a chance you could end up with just a seat. (very unlikely if you book early)

A berth is split into 2 seats for 2 RAC ticket holders, if there’s any last minute cancellations, or if any quota allocations remain unsold, or if any confirmed ticket holders are given a free upgrade (more later), an RAC ticket holder is given the empty berth, the other RAC ticket holder can then convert the 2 seats into a berth.

RAC tickets are only issued for 2-tier air con (4 seats per carriage), 3-tier air con (6 seats per carriage), non air con First Class (4 seats per carriage), and non air con Sleeper Class (up to 12 seats per carriage).

How do RAC and Waitlists all work?

When all the available seats/berths in an individual train/class have been sold, the railways start selling RAC tickets (2A, 3A, FC & SL only), when all the RAC tickets have been sold, then a waitlist is started for all the train classes, and you’re sold a waitlisted ticket.

As people cancel tickets, a RAC/WL ticket will move closer to a confirmed berth. Also, when the final reservation chart is prepared, any un-sold quota berths will be used to reduce the RAC/waitlist.

Tickets will be sold in the following order....(4 RAC places in this example)

  1. Available 02
  2. Available 01
  3. RAC 01
  4. RAC 02
  5. RAC 03
  6. RAC 04
  7. WL 01
  8. WL 02

and so on...

But my ticket has 2 numbers??

Step On
photo by sannna
All RAC/WL tickets have 2 ’numbers’, the first is the position you join the waitlist, the 2nd is your current waitlist position.

So lets imagine you go to buy a ticket online (or at a reservation office), you find the perfect train, select your chosen class, enter your date of journey, then notice that the ticket offered is WL 10/WL 4, you buy the ticket, so we’ll use this as an example. (with 4 RAC places)

WL 10/WL 4 means that you join the waitlist at position 10, but due to cancellations (before you bought the ticket) you have already moved to waitlist position 4, the first number will not change, if there were another 3 cancellations, your new waitlist position will be WL 10/WL 1, another 3 cancellations would take you to WL 10/RAC 2, a further 2 cancellations would take you to WL 10/CNF (confirmed reservation, though you wouldn’t find out your carriage and berth number till a couple of hours before the train departs)

Think of standing in a queue, as you go to join the queue you are given a number indicating the position you join the queue (eg. WL 10), this number will remain the same as that IS the position you joined the queue, all those in front of you have either confirmed, RAC or better waitlist positions than you, if any of the people in front of you decide to leave the queue, you move forward, and closer to a confirmed seat/berth, some in front of you may have already left the queue before you joined, so if 6 people had already left the queue, you’d be joining the queue in position WL 10, but you’d already be at position WL 4.

The above ticket would move through the waitlist as follows: -

  • WL 10/WL 4
  • WL 10/WL 3
  • WL 10/WL 2
  • WL 10/WL 1
  • WL 10/RAC 4
  • WL 10/RAC 3
  • WL 10/RAC 2
  • WL 10/RAC 1
  • WL 10/CNF

So, can I board the train?

WL 10/WL 4 = is still a waitlisted ticket, you can’t board the train with a waitlisted ticket.

WL 10/RAC 2 = is an RAC ticket, you can board the train with an RAC ticket but you may only get a seat instead of a berth. (more later)

WL 10/CNF = is a confirmed ticket, you can board the train with a confirmed ticket and find your berth.

Will my RAC/WL position improve? Why?

RAC and waitlist positions always seem to improve, but it depends on many things, most notable-how far in advance you buy your ticket. Later I will explain how to find the likelihood of your individual RAC/WL position improving or becoming confirmed.

The 3 main reasons why RAC/WL positions improve are:

  1. The charges for cancelling train tickets are very small, and lots of people cancel tickets, I’m not too sure why, maybe just a change of plans, but I’ve heard that some people book in a couple of different classes or a couple of different trains, or even book for a couple of different days, then as their date of journey approaches, they simply cancel the tickets they don’t want, and keep their preferred tickets, this way they can join a few waitlists and watch what waitlist has the most movement, then stick with that train. (Cancellation details and charges later)
  2. All bookable trains have quotas (seats/berths reserved) for various groups (Handicapped, government, rail employees, military and many others), often these quota tickets are not sold and the unused seats/berths are used to reduce the RAC/Waitlist, though this doesn’t happen till the reservation chart is prepared. (I’ve got some real examples further down this article, you’ll be amazed at how much the waitlist can change after the final reservation chart is prepared), there’s also a ’last minute’ quota called the tatkal quota (more details later), if any of the tatkal quota remains unsold, the remaining seats/berths will also be used to reduce the RAC/waitlist.
  3. Passengers can get upgraded to a higher class (free) if there are available berths (1A, 2A, 3A & SL only) in a higher class, and a waitlist in a lower class, passengers can be upgraded up to 2 classes above the class they pay for. (when the reservation charts are prepared a computer works out what passengers (if any) will get a free upgrade.)

However, on busy trains (especially during Indian holidays) there is virtually no chance of a free upgrade, as there is unlikely to be any availability in the higher classes.

I have to also mention, that during the busy Indian holidays, many trains can sell all their tickets, and have very long waitlists within minutes of tickets going on sale.

How can I check if my RAC/WL position has improved?

For any RAC/WL enquiry, you will need the PNR (passenger name record) number, this is a 10 digit (3+7) number and is located at the top left of your ticket (top right on an e-ticket).

You can check the current status of your ticket by one of the following methods:

  • Click on the following link and enter your PNR number.

Online PNR enquiry service is available 04:00 - 23:30 IST (09:30 - 05:00 GMT)

  • If in India, telephone 139, this number can be dialled from anywhere in India, you’ll need your PNR number.
  • there are also PNR machines in most of the big railway stations, but they’re a pain to use.

Remember, the 2nd number is your new position, and CNF = confirmed.

How can I check if my RAC/WL position is likely to improve?

Go to the following website (Only between the hours of 04:00 - 23:30 IST (09:30 - 05:00 GMT))

Enter your departure station, destination station, date of journey, and enter your chosen class, then click on ’Get It’.

Next, select your train.

Next, select a date that’s about 85 days away from now, and then click on ’Get Availability’, this will show you the availability for 85-91 days in advance, the highest number you see will be the total quota in your class for your section of journey on that train, though some tickets may have already been sold 91 days in advance. Also remember that some trains can only be booked 30 days in advance.

So if the highest number you see is 8, then that’s how many berths are used for your quota, and the cancellations you need for your ticket to become confirmed will have to come from those 8 passengers, not likely if your waitlist position is WL 10.

You can then do an availability search for today’s date, this will give you the details of today’s train and the next 5 days trains, you can look to see how many cancellations there have been, but this isn’t totally reliable as many people cancel their waitlisted tickets when they realise there’s no chance of a confirmed berth, so for example WL 46/WL 16 may look like 30 people have cancelled their tickets, but if 10 of those were high waitlist ticket holders, their cancellations wouldn’t have helped the lower waitlisted ticket holders at all.

Next, do an availability search for 5 days before your journey date, then look at the booking patterns, then click on ’Get next 6 days availability’, again, look at the booking patterns, are some days busier than others? are Fridays busy? Is there a group of days that are very busy? This may indicate an Indian holiday.

None of the above are absolute, and an Indian holiday will severely reduce the likelihood of cancellations, but they at least give you an idea, and at worst, can show you that you’ve got no chance of your ticket becoming confirmed.

The same determining factors can be used when choosing a train.

But I really needed to use that train, what can I do?

I’ll go into detail later about searching for quotas from other stations and how this can find additional availability.

You can do an availability search using the Foreign Tourist Quota, when you search for availability, you’ll see a section on the left asking you to Enter Quota, next to it you’ll see a drop down box with General on it, click on that and you’ll see the following drop-down box:

Select Foreign Tourist Quota, then do your availability search.

However, Foreign Tourist Quota tickets can’t be booked online, and can only be booked from reservation offices that have a tourist window, you’ll also need to pay for these tickets in foreign currency, or show an encashment certificate (given to you when you exchange money), or show an ATM receipt, you’ll also need your passport to book these tickets.

Also, there’s only berths reserved for the Foreign Tourist Quota on about 200 trains, and only a few berths that may not be in your chosen class, and foreign tourists have a nasty habit of booking on this quota, so any berths may already be gone

Ladies Quota - forget it, on most trains there are 6 berths reserved in Sleeper Class for ladies, but these can be crowded, and I heard last year from a group of girls that their ladies quota berths were surrounded by men.

Tatkal Quota - Tatkal means ’last minute’, but tatkal tickets can be booked 6 days in advance, they can be a great way of getting berths on a train that you need to use, but they’re expensive, and they can sell out in minutes for busy trains, with Tatkal you have to book for the whole of the trains’ journey (with a few exceptions), though you can select a boarding station different from the originating station, you also have to pay an additional (very high) Tatkal charge.

Tatkal tickets can be purchased online, but on the 6th day before departure, they can only be booked from 08:00 IST (04:00 on the other days), this is to allow reservation office customers an equal chance of purchasing the tickets.

Never cancel any tickets until you’ve got better tickets, you don’t need to cancel until 2 days before the train departs, then the cancellation charges are minimal, see cancellation charges below.

Should I buy WL/RAC tickets?

I find it very difficult to think of a time when an RAC ticket isn’t worth having, I’ve had dozens of them, and have always got a confirmed berth, in fact I’ve only ended up in an RAC seat once in 20,000kms on Indian trains, and that was when I bought a WL 143 (SL class) ticket 2 days before departure.

Waitlisted tickets are different though, and it’s almost impossible to answer, it really depends on when you buy the ticket, the class, the train, the boarding station and the destination station, and it depends on the time of year as well.

Read the ’How can I check if my RAC/WL position is likely to improve?’ section above to get a rough idea if a waitlist number is likely to improve.

However, one major thing to remember with RAC and waitlisted tickets, couples and groups have a good chance of getting split up, this is because 1 person may cancel a ticket, and one of you will be given that seat/berth, then another person (maybe in another carriage) cancels, and the your partner (or another member of your group) will be given that seat/berth.

My WL/RAC ticket has changed to CNF (confirmed), do I need to change my ticket?

No, Even if you go from WL to RAC, then to CNF, you keep the same ticket, for the sake of this journey you will always be known by your initial waitlist number, let me put that another way, when you go to the platform to find out your carriage & seat/berth, you will look on the list for your initial WL number (eg. WL 10), when you find WL 10 on the list you’ll also find your carriage/seat/berth details next to it, the TTE (Travelling Ticket Examiner) will also go by your initial waitlist number.

My WL/RAC ticket has become CNF (confirmed), how do I find out my carriage/berth?

Carriage/berth details for RAC/Waitlist passengers are not decided till the reservation charts are prepared, this happens 2-4 hours before the train departs, the reservation charts for morning trains (up till 12:00 departure) are prepared the night before, often as early as 17:00.

You can find out your carriage/berth details AFTER the charts are prepared by using one of the following methods:

  • Click on the following link and enter your PNR number.

Online PNR enquiry service is available 04:00 - 23:30 IST (09:30 - 05:00 GMT)

  • If in India, telephone 139, this number can be dialled from anywhere in India, you’ll need your PNR number.
  • When you go for your train, find the correct platform, then look for the reservation charts, they’re always easy to find, they should be pinned to a board close to where you enter the platform, the reservation chart consists of loads of sheets of paper, at the top of each sheet you will see the class, look for the sheets for your class (the longer the sheets, the lower the class), when you find your class, look for the ’RAC/WL’ sheet for that class, for 1A, ECC, 2A & FC the waitlist details should be at the bottom of the normal sheets, for other classes there should be a separate sheet, look down the left side of the sheet for your initial waitlist number (eg. WL 10), then look along the line, you’ll see your name, age, sex and you’ll also see your carriage and berth details (eg. S3-32, Sleeper Class coach 3, berth 32).

Indian Railways use the following letters to identify their carriages.

H = 1st class air con (1A)
E = Executive Chair Class (air con)(EC)
A = 2-tier air con (2A)
B = 3-tier air con (3A)
C = Air Con Chair Car (CC)
FC or F = First Class non air con (FC)
S = Sleeper Class (SL)
D = Bookable 2nd class seat (2S)
HA = 1st class air con/2-tier air con combination
AB = 2 & 3 tier air con combination
G & J are used for Garib Rath trains, G for 3 tier air con, J for Air con Chair Class

  • All carriages have a reservation sheet for that particular carriage, this sheet will be stuck to the outside of the carriage next to one of the entrance doors, if you’re travelling in an air con class, it can be quicker to find the air con carriages and look at the sheet on the door, the air con carriages are easy to find, look down the train for carriages without bars on the windows, these are the air con carriages, they’re almost always grouped together, and the vast majority of trains (that have air con) only have a few air con carriages.

(This method is unreliable if you’re not boarding at the train’s originating station as the sheet is often damaged or lost as the train starts moving)

  • The Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE) also has a full reservation chart with him, he’s the man in charge of the train and he can normally be found by the air con carriages.

ALWAYS leave plenty of time to find your carriage, big stations can be massive places with many platforms, the bridges between platforms can be extremely crowded, trains can have more than 20 long carriages and platforms can be busy and confusing, you should arrive at a big station about an hour before your train is due to depart, about 40 minutes for a medium sized station, and 30 minutes for a smaller station, it’s difficult to be bored on a railway platform, so you won’t regret getting there early, you’ll also be more relaxed, thus making yourself a less attractive target for opportunist criminals.

I read something amazing a few years ago, at the time New Delhi station sold 50,000 platform tickets on busy days, 50,000, almost unimaginable, but the majority of middle/long distance trains carry more than 1000 passengers, then add all the family members coming to saying goodbye, then add all the luggage, then add hundreds of coolies (porters), then add dozens of vendors, then you can imagine how busy a platform can be, and sometimes there will be an important train on the platform next to yours, this really packs the platform, arrive early.

What if my ticket is still waitlisted after the reservation chart has been prepared?

If you buy your WL ticket on the net and it’s still WL when the chart is prepared, IRCTC will automatically refund your money to your bank account, RAC gets you on the train, so no refund.

There can be a lot of waitlist movement on the last day and when the chart is prepared, sometimes more movement than the whole of the last month, so don’t just assume that a waitlist number is too high to become confirmed, and the ticket cost will therefore automatically get refunded, see the examples in the ’hidden quotas’ explanation later.

What if I want to cancel my ticket?

Charge for cancelling confirmed ticket (more than 24 hours in advance, not including day of journey).

  • 1A/ECC = Rs 70
  • 2A/3A/CC/FC = Rs 60
  • SL/2S = Rs 40
  • RAC/WL cancellations = Rs 20 per passenger (all classes)

The cancellation charges increase massively (up to 50%) if you cancel later than the above stated time.

So how does it all REALLY work?

I think the only way to really explain is to use a real train and real waitlists, this will hopefully give you a good understanding of how the railway quotas work, I hope it’s not as boring as it sounds.

Train 0111 is the overnight train from Mumbai to Goa, one of the most popular trains used by tourists, it departs from Mumbai CST station (platform 15) daily at 23:05 and has 1A, 2A, 3A & SL, below is a diagram of the train, you enter the platform at the rear of the train and the Loco at the other end of the platform. (look on the arrivals board for train 0104, this train will become train 0111 and should take a minimum 45 minutes from arrival to be ready to depart)


Thanks to Binaiks (a member of the Southern Railways discussion forum) for the rake configuration, very useful.

Below are the letters in the diagram, you’ll also find the letters displayed on the carriages of the train (next to the carriage door), eg. S4 = Sleeper Class carriage number 4.

  • LOCO = locomotive
  • SLR = Luggage/parcel van/guard van with some 2nd class unreserved.
  • ll = 2nd class unreserved
  • S = Sleeper Class (SL)
  • PC = Pantry Car
  • B = 3-tier air con (3A)
  • A = 2-tier air con (2A)
  • HA = 1st class air con (1A) & 2-tier air con combination

Train 0111 is a popular train and booking ahead is always advised, all tourists (and Indians) should first try the general quota when attempting to book tickets, probably 90+% of train tickets used by tourists are from the general quota.

Here’s the availability using the general quota from 30/6 till 28/9, all the info was gathered on the 30/6, the number of berths allocated to the general quota is listed below.

  • 1A = First Class air con (total general quota = 6)
  • 2A = 2-tier air con (total general quota = 18)
  • 3A = 3-tier air con (total general quota = 150)
  • SL = Sleeper Class-not air con (total general quota = 362)

Showing all 91 days may seem over the top, but it’s the best way to show the availability fluctuations that occur sometimes months in advance.

Advance Booking Period

A quick explanation about advance booking period. It’s widely believed that trains can only be booked 90 days in advance, and this is true, however, the 90 days doesn’t include the day of the train’s departure, so in reality, the train can be booked 91 days in advance, however, online tickets for the first bookable day go on sale at the same time as the ticket offices open in India, 08:00 IST (02:30GMT).

Some trains can be booked 92, 93 and even 94 days ahead, for example, if you booked the Kerala Express from Jhansi to New Delhi, you could book the train 93 days in advance, this is because the train starts it’s journey 2 days before it gets to Jhansi, so you can book 90 days ahead (not including day of departure from your boarding station), then add the 2 days it takes the train to reach Jhansi, total = 93 days ahead.

Train 2625 (Kerala Express) departs Trivandrum on day 1 at 11:15, then Vijayawada on day 2 at 10:05, then Jhansi on day 3 at 06:42 and arrives at New Delhi at 13:20 on day 3.

Anyway, back to the overnight train from Mumbai to Goa, here’s the 91 day availability list:

Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again

If you search for availability, you may find - REGRET/WL 442 (or any other number), this means....REGRET that tickets will no longer be sold for this class in this train.

The railways will only sell tickets that have at least a small chance of becoming RAC or confirmed, they look at past waitlists and decide on the number of waitlisted tickets to sell for a particular class on a particular train, once that number is passed, they stop selling tickets.

Phew, that was a long list.

Did you notice how long a person would have to wait for availability in all the classes?

Then look at the waitlists for the 14th August, some 7 weeks before the travel date. (people going home for Independence day)

Then look at the waitlists for the 28th August till 5th September, nearly 9 weeks before the date of departure. (I’ve no idea why, must be some kind of holiday)

Then look at 11th September (12th September is the annual plastic duck painting competition in Goa, last year’s violence at the awards presentation obviously hasn’t put people off attending this year).

Other (hidden) quotas

I mentioned earlier that any unused quota berths will be used to reduce the RAC/WL, to explain this further I’ve done a table for train 0111 to demonstrate this.

I’ve explained the other quotas (listed in table) earlier, the Konkan quota is a number of berths that the Konkan Railway website sells (at inflated prices) for this train.

Here’s what I mean about unknown quotas and last minute cancellations helping to reduce the RAC/WL numbers, have a look at the following copied from the availability list above, I kept an eye on the availability after the reservation charts were prepared, and here’s what I found, the numbers in brackets are available berths AFTER the reservation chart was prepared (about 17:00 for this train), ALL RAC and WL ticket holders would have been given confirmed berths before any availability was offered to anyone else.

This last minute availability is only because the train wasn’t too busy, I tried again a couple of weeks ago and found no availability in any class for about 5 days, so don’t rely on this.

If you do see this kind of availability when you’re in India (after chart preparation), you can buy these tickets, but you have to go to the ’current reservations’ window at the train’s originating station, I don’t know if you can do the same at stations along the route, I’ll try to find out.

The Mumbai - Goa train is what I’d call a one-purpose train, this purpose is to take passengers from Mumbai to Goa, and although the train will call at other stations, all tickets for this train will come from the general quota.

The next train I’ll show you is what I’d call a multi-purpose train.

Train 4864 runs 4 days a week, train 4854 runs on the other 3 days at almost identical times; I’ll use train 4864 in the following example.

Train 4864 starts it’s journey in Jodhpur, then goes via Jaipur and Agra Fort to Varanasi Jn, Indian Railways recognises that passengers may want to use this train for only part of it’s journey, and whilst the railways would prefer passengers who travel the train’s full journey, they also don’t want to lose out on passengers who only wish to travel part of the route.

Now lets say (for example) the entire train was booked by people wanting to travel from Agra Fort to Varanasi Jn, that would mean the train running empty from Jodhpur to Agra Fort, so the railways had to devise a system that would give priority to longer distance passengers, but was also flexible enough to accommodate some shorter distance passengers, here’s how they do it (this system operates on most long distance trains).

The originating station (and some other stations close to it) has the ’General’ quota, some important stations along the route are then defined as ’Remote Location’ stations, these RL stations get their own quota, sometimes large with their own RAC and waitlist (RLWL), sometimes small and without RAC.

I maybe explained this better in a reply I give to a thread recently, so I’ll quote that reply.

The main quota for a train is called the General Quota, the General Quota is normally for passengers boarding at (or close to) the trains’ originating station, and travelling to the terminating station (or at least most of the route), when all the General Quota tickets are sold, a general waitlist is started. (GNWL or just WL)

Then along a train’s route a select few stations will have their own quota reserved on a train, these stations will be known as Remote Locations and their quota will be called a Remote location quota, these remote location quotas sometimes have a waitlist (if the quota’s big enough), this waitlist would be the RLWL.

Most of the remaining seats/berths (and there normally isn’t many) would be for the Pooled Quota, these would be for people not on the General Quota or the Remote Location quota, often people boarding at intermediate stations, and booking to another intermediate station, when these few tickets are sold, a pooled quota waitlist (PQWL) is started.

For train 4864, passengers travelling from Jodhpur to Varanasi will be given tickets from the General Quota.

The other stations before Jaipur also take their tickets from the Jodhpur general quota.

Jaipur has been selected as a ’Remote Location’ for this train, and as a remote location, it will have it’s own quota of tickets, it will also have it’s own RAC and RLWL, all stations after Jaipur and up to Idgah Agra will share Jaipur’s RAC and RLWL.

Agra Fort has also been selected as a ’Remote Location’ for this train, but the quota is too small to have RAC and a RLWL, all other stations after Agra Fort would use Agra Fort’s remote location quota.

One of the main reasons for mentioning this is, Jaipur’s quota is a lot bigger than Agra Fort’s quota, now, look at the following select stations from this train’s route, look at the distances as well.

Arrive Depart Kms Station
09:15 000 Jodhpur
15:30 15:50 313 Jaipur
15:56 15:58 318

Gandhinagar Jaipur

19:18 19:20 500 Bharatpur
20:51 20:53 552 Idgah Agra
21:10 21:15 554 Agra Fort
22:05 22:10 576 Tundla
08:15 1161 Varanasi Jn

Idgah Agra is on Jaipur’s quota, but it’s only 2kms from Agra Fort, now look at the quota numbers between select stations.

Jodhpur to Jaipur - 2A = 29, 3A = 103, SL = 624
Jodhpur to Gandhinagar JPR (and stations to Agra Fort) - 2A = 19, 3A = 75, SL = 410
Jodhpur to Varanasi Jn - 2A = 15, 3A = 65, SL = 386
Jaipur to Agra Fort - 2A = 6, 3A = 22, SL = 180
Jaipur to Varanasi Jn - same as above
Idgah Agra to Varanasi Jn - same as above.
Agra Fort to Varanasi Jn - 2A = 2, 3A = 8, SL = 16

So if you can’t get a confirmed berth from Agra Fort to Varanasi Jn, try booking from Idgah Agra.

Another example:

Train 4059, Delhi, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer/Barmer. Jaipur has been selected as a ’Remote Location’ (with RAC and and RLWL) for this train.

Arrive Depart Kms Station
17:40 000 (Old) Delhi
23:29 23:31 302 Gandhinagar Jaipur
23:45 23:57 308 Jaipur
05:26 05:28 618 Raika Bagh
05:35 06:00 620 Jodhpur
12:45 921 Jaisalmer

Part of the train splits at Jodhpur and goes forward to Barmer

05:35 06:00 620 Jodhpur
10:10 830 Barmer

Delhi (and all other stations) to Barmer - 2A = 0, 3A = 53, SL = 178
Delhi (& stations upto Ganhinagar JPR) to Jaisalmer - 2A = 17, 3A = 92, SL 118
Delhi (& stations upto Ganhinagar JPR) to Jodhpur - same as above.
Delhi - Jaipur - 2A = 27, 3A = 104, SL = 226
Jaipur to Jodhpur & Jaisalmer - 2A = 6, 3A = 8, SL = 86
Jodhpur-Jaisalmer - 2A = 6, 3A = 8, SL = 86 (Jaipur RL quota)
Raika Bagh-Jaisalmer - 2A = 6, 3A = 8, SL = 86 (Jaipur RL quota)

If you can’t get a confirmed booking from Jaipur to Jaisalmer, try booking from Ganhinagar JPR.

WL/RAC in the future

First, Indian Railways are looking at every train on every route with a view to improving occupancy levels by changing their allocation of tickets, if there is often availability from A to C, but B - C is always waitlisted, they will adjust their ticket allocation accordingly.

Second, TTE’s (The man in charge of the train) are getting computerised hand held devices, these will show the TTE the exact up to the minute availability info, not only from the originating station, but also from stations along the route, this will help the TTE allocate seats/berths more efficiently.

Third, Indian trains are getting busier all the time, and whilst Indian Railways are doing everything they can to maximise occupancy levels, there is a limit, high oil price will attract back customers who switched to airlines, freight will also see an increase and this will restrict the railways from running more pass trains on the popular golden quadrangle (GQ) routes, dedicated freight corridors for the GQ routs are planned, but it will likely take 10 more years for these to be built.

All in all, space for RAC/WL passengers may slowly reduce, and I’ve a feeling things will get worse before they get better, oil prices will soon look like they’ve come down, but in reality the greedy oil producers will still be looking at a massive price increase over a 12 month period, and the railways are probably best placed to deal with these increases, also, if the things I read are correct, Indian Railways have virtually no spare capacity on the GQ routes, so waitlist will continue to grow for a few more years, and are unlikely to significantly improve until the freight corridors are completed and Indian Railways start to run many more trains.

Miscellaneous Information

Here’s some availability numbers I found when researching this article.

AVAILABLE- 1412 (2S, Gomti Express, Lucknow-Delhi)
WL/AVAILABLE (A waitlist was started, but because of cancellations, there is now availability.
RAC 104/RAC 62 (Sleeper Class)
REGRET/WL 360 explained earlier.
WL 6/RAC 103 (many Sleeper Class trains)
AVAILABLE 646 (on day of departure, when total berths for the sector are only 624)
WL 598/WL 441 (SL, Amritsar – Delhi, cant remember the train, but it’s easy to find this type of high waitlist)
WL 102/WL 5 (3A, Golden Temple Mail, 32 days before departure)

Some useful threads.

  • How to find trains between 2 places, and availability.
  • Indian Railway maps. (and other maps)
  • Understanding Reservation Forms.

One final note, a very special Thank You goes to our member VSP, without his knowledge and very useful posts, I wouldn’t know half of the above, so thanks for all your posts and information, you’ve helped indiamike members all over the world.

RAC information - a recap and refresher

Some of the information below is repeated.

When all the available berths in an individual train/class have been sold, the railways start selling RAC tickets (2A, 3A, FC & SL only), when all the RAC tickets have been sold a waitlist is started (All classes) and you’re sold a waitlisted ticket, as people cancel tickets, a RAC/WL ticket will move closer to a confirmed berth, also, when the final reservation chart is prepared, any un-sold quota berths will be used to reduce the RAC/waitlist.

Tickets will be sold in the following order....(4 RAC places in this example)

Available 02
Available 01
RAC 01
RAC 02
RAC 03
RAC 04
WL 01
WL 02
and so on

An RAC ticket gets you on the train (A WL ticket doesn’t) and in your chosen class, but there’s a chance you could end up with just a seat. (very unlikely if you book early)

A berth is split into 2 seats for 2 RAC ticket holders, if there’s any last minute cancellations, or if any quota allocations remain unsold, or if any confirmed ticket holders are given a free upgrade (explained earlier), an RAC ticket holder is given the empty berth, the other RAC ticket holder can then convert the 2 seats into a berth.

However, if you do end up in an RAC seat for your whole journey, It won’t be a great journey, you’ll just have a seat, I ended up in an RAC seat in Sleeper Class from Jaipur to Agra, the train used to take a longer route and take about 7 hours, so I done the journey overnight, the man in the RAC seat opposite was not looking well, so I told him to turn the seats into a berth for him to sleep on, I slept on the floor, I’d normally be comfortable sleeping on the floor, but someone knocked over a bottle of water, so it wasn’t a great night.

RAC tickets are only issued for 2-tier air con (4 seats per carriage), 3-tier air con (6 seats per carriage), non air con First Class (4 seats per carriage), and non air con Sleeper Class (up to 12 seats per carriage).

The following diagram is the layout of a Sleeper Class carriage, a 3-tier air con carriage is the same length, but has one less section (only 64 seats/berths), so the side berths are a little longer, a 2-tier air con carriage is the same as a 3 tier carriage, but it has no middle berths (losing 16 berths) and 2 berths (inside, not side berths) are replaced by air conditioning units, making a total of 46 berths.

The photos below show non air con Sleeper Class (top) and 3-tier air con side berths (those used for RAC), the photos show the lower berth as seats and as a berth.

RAC gives a chance of ending up in a side lower berth, and this can be a problem in Sleeper Class, here’s the Side lower berth measurements:

Sleeper Class = L 166.5 x w 55cm
3-tier air con = 180 x 59cm

The following thread may be useful if part of your journey is during the day.

RAC for daytime portions of long distance trains.

Please Note, Garib Rath trains (3A only) and a few normal trains now have 3 side berths in both sleeper Class and 3-tier air con, this changes the layout of RAC seats, and I don’t know the seat positions used for RAC seats in these carriages, although I’ve heard there’s no RAC in these carriages.

Don’t be put off by massive RAC numbers, it just means there are more carriages.