Amidst rising complaints of poor food quality, Indian Railways has once again handed over catering services to the IRCTC. Can the corporation save the face this time?
Text by Vishwas Dass, Photos by Arun Kumar | May 23, 2017
Poor quality”, “same menu since ages”, “unpredictable”, “not worth the money” – these are some of the terms used by regular train travellers to describe food served in the Indian Railways. After receiving several complaints by passengers on quality of food and overcharging, the ministry of railways circulated a price list of all food items sold on Indian Railways through its official Twitter handle on March 21. The NDA government has also introduced a new catering policy that seeks to address such problems.
Under the Catering Policy, 2017, the Indian Railways has once again given the job of handling food business to the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC). The corporation was handling the food affairs of railways from 2003. In 2010, however, the reins were snatched from its hands and given to the zonal railway units.
IRCTC’s first fully mechanised central kitchen was established in 2012 in Noida. Spread over a sprawling 43,000 sq feet area, it prepares around 10,000 meals per day
This frequent change of catering responsibility has drawn criticism from many. But this time, the ministry of railways seems convinced that the IRCTC will “yield fruitful results”.
The new policy, though good in its intent, is very much detached from the ground reality.
Unveiled after a gap of seven years, the new policy unbundles catering into two activities: food preparation by IRCTC and food distribution by private parties engaged by IRCTC.
Currently, the IRCTC serves food in 124 pair of trains, while the zonal railways look after 235 trains. The new policy mandates IRCTC to provide catering services to all 359 Rajdhani, Shatabdi, Duranto, mail and express trains across India.
In the first phase, 25 trains including Rajdhani and Shatabdi on the Delhi-Mumbai route have been chosen and 13 kitchen establishments on the said section have to be upgraded by the IRCTC.
Food is prepared in ultra-modern equipment that require minimum human intervention
Apart from upgrading the kitchens, the catering corporation also has to set up around 100 mechanised base kitchens. At present, the railways and IRCTC run only five base kitchens located in Noida, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Patna and Mumbai. Cooked food from these kitchens is delivered to hundreds of trains.
Equipment like Hackman Kettles, brat pans and ovens have been imported from Finland, Italy and France
The new policy has suggested that the proposed base kitchens would be set up on a public-private partnership model, yet it has not provided any clarity as to how the IRCTC would involve the private sector.
(The article appears in the May 16-31, 2017 issue of Governance Now)
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