An app developer spent a week and a half in jail for creating an app to quickly book tickets. He was arrested following a complaint by the railway authorities. We share the details of this story.
On the afternoon of October 23, S. Yuvaraja was at his home in Tirupur, writing software, when police officers knocked on his door.
“Have you developed this app?Police asked, pointing to a phone screen with the Super Tatkal phone app, which allows train tickets to be booked much faster than IRCTC, the cumbersome Indian Railways website. Hearing in response “Yes“, They arrested a 32-year-old developer under the Indian Railways Act 1989 for” an unauthorized business of purchasing and supplying train tickets. ” Shortly after his arrest, officials also secured the deactivation of Super Tatkal and Super Tatkal Pro, which were previously available on the Google Play store.
Released on bail only after a week and a half and received a large financial burden in the form of legal costs, Yuvaraj still does not understand why he was so treated. Indeed, in fact, he simplified the process of ordering tickets, making a convenient service for people and ensuring a steady stream of sales for the railway company.
The story with the developer became a clear demonstration of how the idea of digitalization of technologies and progress in general crash into the rock-hard bureaucracy of India, which is embodied in the Indian railways, which turned 167 years old.
A young computer programmer who quit his job in the aviation sector to start his own (beneficial to society) business is an exemplary example of the Indian government’s mission to support the IT entrepreneurs that Prime Minister Narendra Modi encourages “take risks“And go”towards adventure“. But for some reason no one wants prison adventures.
According to IT people, the biggest obstacle to innovation is the many departments in his government. Yuvaraja considered himself an entrepreneur, but the railways press release announcing his arrest described him as a “speculator.”
The director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship of the Indian Business School commented on the incident as follows: “Regulatory requirements cannot be circumvented, be it IRCTC or any other government agency. But I think the developer should have been warned first to reach a compromise“. But IRCTC is clearly not willing to compromise. On your twitter the company saidthat the use of “illegal software” is prohibited by the Railways Act.
A little about the developer and the subject of the dispute
Yuvaraja first started programming in BASIC at the age of 11. He soon fell in love with coding and started looking at it as a career option when he got to know Java. In 2007, Yuvaraja enrolled as an aeronautical engineer at the Madras Institute of Technology, Tamil Nadu’s leading technical school. A very promising student, he received a scholarship of Rs 3,000 (3,080 rubles) a month from the Defense Research and Development Organization of the Government of India (DRDO). At the Madras Institute of Technology in Chennai, Yuvaraja met others like him. Those who love to program. He later received his master’s degree in aeronautical engineering and took a job with a good aeronautical firm in Bangalore.
While working in Bangalore, Yuvaraja would often book tickets to travel home to Tirupur. “That’s when I realized that the IRCTC application is terribly slow. Also, I have always wanted to develop applications, and it seemed to me that now is the right time ”, Says Yuvaraja. “This is how Super Tatkal was born.”
Launched in 2016, the app allowed users to quickly and easily fill in their trip details to insert into the IRCTC website. This made the process about five times faster than the time it takes to book tickets on the IRCTC website.
At first there were bugs in the application, but a constant group of users gave feedback, pointing out the shortcomings. By eliminating them, Yuvaraja realized that the app was gaining popularity. The first year it was free. Later when the maintenance cost cloud servers increased to 10,000 rupees per month, the developer asked users for financial support. This did not help, and then he decided to introduce an in-app shopping system, where the user could buy a stack of 10 virtual coins for 20 rupees (about 20 rubles). After the first three free bookings, the app asked for five coins per transaction, meaning the user had to pay 10 rupees (10 rubles) for the booking.
Railway workers claim that Yuvaraja earned Rs 20 lakh (2 million) through Super Tatkal between 2016 and 2020. This may seem like a large number, but it turns out to be about Rs 40,000 per month. At the same time, all users knew about the payment model and that the developer did not deceive anyone by forcing them to pay.
“We did not allow”
As Super Tatkal gained momentum, Yuvaraja decided to dive into the startup world. He quit his job in 2017 and, together with two of his friends, created the Speedbird trucks aggregator app. It was like Ola or Uber for trucks. But the company quickly got into trouble. It was difficult to convince people to use the trucks available in the app because existing contracts with well-known services seemed easier to users. The company was based on the savings of three young people and lacked a business model. The story ended in losses.
Meanwhile, Super Tatkal was doing relatively well. The number of users continued to grow and a second app, Super Tatkal Pro, was launched. It made it possible to book tickets through the IRCTC rail app in 2019. To support his startup and support his family, Yuvaraja also worked as a freelance programmer. The income was small but stable. However, Yuvaraja did not suspect that his application was being carefully examined by the railway police.
“Staff at the Chennai Southern Railway headquarters played a key role in analyzing the data and identifying the whereabouts of the fake application developer, and collected evidence such as server source code, application source code, end-user list, and criminal bank statements.“- proudly stated in the report of the railway police.
Yuvaraj’s mistake, according to one of the representatives of the railway company, was that “he did not receive the necessary permission from IRCTC and worked as a ticket agent.” According to the Railways Act, anyone who helps passengers with ticketing must register with the IRCTC as an agent. Does this rule apply to application developers? The company did not answer this question.
Yuvaraja still believes that he was trying to create something valuable for people and did not even know that he was breaking any laws. IRCTC could have sent him a warning or an order to shut down the application before arresting him. However, no one began to think about how to solve the problem. It was easier to arrest – and the developer was arrested.
When Yuvaraja returned home, journalists asked him if he planned to revive his application and establish cooperation with IRCTC if he was granted official permission. “I would really like that“They heard.
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