The refusal by a member of the Indian Parliament to pay a fine of 8,000 rupees (HK$1,290) for travelling in an air-conditioned train without a ticket has sparked a fierce row between the politician and unionised rail staff. Brahmanand Mandal, the MP at the centre of the controversy, belongs to Railway Minister Nitish Kumar's Samata Party, one of the key constituents of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's coalition government. Mr Mandal, who represents Munger constituency in Bihar, was caught travelling ticketless on Saturday on his way to the capital, New Delhi, to attend the new session of Parliament. He was reportedly accompanied on the superfast Guwahati-New Delhi Brahmaputra Mail by 15 associates who also did not have tickets. 'The honourable MP not only refused to pay up as everyone else has to on these occasions but abused ticket checkers and threatened to get them dismissed from service,' said Vijay Kumar Mangalik, the divisional railway manager. Ticket checkers at Malda railway station - where the MP was caught - have threatened to go on a strike if he does not apologise and pay the fine. The aggrieved workers have also petitioned the Railway Minister demanding immediate legal and disciplinary action against the MP. 'We caught 1,200 ticketless travellers last week and collected 150,000 rupees as on-the-spot penalties,' Mr Mangalik said. 'Except for the MP and his associates, everyone else paid the fine. Those who could not pay were arrested and produced before a judge.' The MP later claimed that he had been framed by the railways inspector and that his associates had boarded the train without his knowledge. Ticketless travel is rampant in the lawless Bihar province but this is thought to be the first time that an MP has been caught. Rail rage attacks are common and a proposal has beem mooted to train rail staff in self-defence to tackle drunk and ticketless passengers who get violent if caught. Indian railways, which has the world's second largest network and carries 13 million passengers daily, loses billions of rupees each year because of commuter cheats. Policemen in uniform and college students are notorious for travelling without tickets and most checkers do not even attempt to approach them for fear of reprisals. Railways authorities deployed canine squads at some stations three years ago to curb the menace but the measure proved to be shortlived because of opposition from human rights and animal rights activists. Teams of Dobermans were pressed into service to 'arrest' ticketless travellers - the dogs were trained not to bite but to grab between their jaws the right arm of those who tried to dodge checkers. Fine collections rose dramatically in many cities, including Mumbai, but the campaign ended after protests.