The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation or more popularly known as the IRCTC is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Indian Railways, Government of India. Established as a public sector company on September 27, 1999, the IRCTC is authorised to provide services like online ticketing, catering and selling drinking water on trains and at railway stations for the Indian Railways.
IRCTC pioneered internet-based rail ticket booking through its website as well as its mobile app. It offers services like the Tatkal scheme, allowing passengers to book tickets on short notice. It introduced pantry cars for long-distance journeys, serving freshly cooked meals to passengers. It also launched an e-catering service in 2014 allowing passengers to pre-order food from partner restaurants.
IRCTC also operates and manages air-conditioned waiting lounges, retiring rooms, and budget hotels in partnership with private players. It also organizes budget and deluxe package tours for domestic and foreign tourists. In 2020, IRCTC began operating India’s first private train, The Tejas Express from Lucknow to New Delhi.
In 2019, IRCTC was listed on the National Stock Exchange following which the Government of India’s stock holding in the company was reduced to 87%. By December 2020, the Indian Government further reduced its holding to 67% as it divested another 20% to be publicly traded.
IRCTC’s Tender Issuance
A total of 100 million users, 75 million of which are active users, make the extensive databank of IRCTC, which has been collecting user data since 2002. It recently floated a tender in a bid to hire a consultant in an effort to monetize its passenger and freight customer data to generate a revenue of INR 1000 crore. The tender document mentions that the data to be studied would include information that was captured by its various applications like name, age, mobile number, gender, address, email ID, class of journey, payment mode, log-in id and password and other personal details.
An IRCTC representative clarified that as a commercial entity, IRCTC is constantly exploring new business sectors, apart from its existing enterprises like rail ticket booking, retiring room booking, hotel booking, catering service, bus booking, air ticket booking, etc. Additionally, it does not save the client’s financial information on its servers as the control is transferred to the appropriate payment gateway or bank for due process when the client makes an online payment.
This move by IRCTC, however, has given rise to certain media reports claiming that it is selling consumers’ personal information in an effort to monetize the information. Even as the Railways has since denied these reports, the tender document can be viewed on the IRCTC website.
IRCTC, however, has withdrawn the controversial bid and told the Parliamentary standing committee on Information and Technology that the intention behind floating the tender was only to leverage the information to improve its own services. There was never any intention to sell the data to a third party. An IRCTC spokesperson has clarified – “IRCTC has withdrawn tender for appointment of consultant for suggesting business strategies using data available.”
From the conversations with the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, it seems that its intent is to position India as the World’s Artificial Intelligence Model Making Capital and IRCTC may have aspired to be seen among those with the ‘first mover’ advantage. These include pharmaceutical giants, e-commerce firms and fintech companies which are consistently pushing the boundaries of technology while having unfettered access to personal data.
The reason behind such a move from IRCTC can be attributed to the outdated privacy protection laws that still rely on the IT Act of 2000, which only states that a person can claim compensation if his data is misused. This law does not specify the ownership of the data, hence an individual can lay no claim of ownership on personal data.
For close to a decade now, the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill for India has been in limbo, which, if introduced, was finally expected to guarantee the right to privacy and data protection this year. It was shelved as the panel which was studying the bill suggested a total of 12 recommendations and 81 amendments. This has forced the government to completely redesign the bill which is expected to be tabled in the parliament by December 2022.
Data is the new oil and for companies that deal with enormous primary data, it can be relatively easy to monetize it as secondary data without stringent laws to govern it. While the government is responsible for national security and safety and could very well be exempt from this law, IRCTC’s brief tryst with data monetization has stressed the importance and urgency to introduce the Data Protection Bill. It is the hope that the Data Protection Bill will become law by 2023.
What does IRCTC do?
IRCTC stands for Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation. It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Indian Railways, Government of India and is authorised to provide services like online ticketing, catering and selling drinking water on trains and at railway stations for the Indian Railways.
How many users does IRCTC have?
IRCTC has more than 100 million users, 75 million of which are active users.
Is IRCTC selling user data?
IRCTC recently floated a tender in a bid to hire a consultant in an effort to monetize its passenger and freight customer data. However, later it withdrew the bid and clarified that the intention behind was only to leverage the information to improve its own services and explore new business opportunities.