Confessions of a ticket examiner

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“I have to collect a minimum of Rs 35,000 a month in penalties. Targets often turn railway officials cruel”

There are two kinds of ticketless travellers: those who don’t buy tickets by mistake and those who don’t by design. The former are those who might have jumped into a train at the last minute because they were late. They are apologetic and I feel their humiliation when they stand up before me with a helpless gaze. In the second category are those who deliberately don’t buy tickets. It is hard to catch them red-handed. They know how to cheat the squad and the Railway Police.

Being based in Kerala, I find Malayali passengers more law-abiding than people from other states. Another honest category who always travel with tickets are migrant labourers. I meet at least one such group daily. Most are from Bihar, West Bengal or Assam, and travelling to the north. They live on the margins of society but I have never come across a migrant labourer without a proper ticket. Sometimes, they get into reserved compartments with an ordinary ticket, but they are ready to pay the additional amount.

We have a monthly target. I have to collect a minimum of Rs 35,000 a month in penalties. Targets often turn railway officials cruel. They can’t be kind to people when they work under pressure.

But I do try to be kind. Once I met an old woman on a train to Chennai without a ticket. I had to fine her Rs 360. She paid up without a word. Later, I saw the lady sitting in a corner and weeping. I tried to talk to her. Initially, she was scared, but finally she opened up. She was a domestic help travelling to Trichy to meet her daughter who was studying in a nursing college. Her daughter was in need of money. She had only Rs 500 on her, of which Rs 360 had been given to me. I was distressed. I tried to give the money back, but she refused. She said. “It’s okay, my son. You are so kind to me. I did not even expect nice words from you people.”

(He is a 27-year-old Train Ticket Examiner working in the special squad of Southern Railways)

As told to Shahina KK