The availability of decent meals at reasonable prices still being a far cry for a bulk of the 1.70 crore passengers travelling daily by trains, the Indian Railways has plans to start as many as 100 'cell kitchens' at stations across the country to provide economy food packs on 468 trains that do not have pantry cars attached to them.
Most of these kitchens will be run by private licencees who will supply snacks and light meals in disposable hamper packs on stations and their food quality will be closely monitored on running trains by a large team of mobile inspectors attached to quality control cells that have been set up at the headquarters of five railway zones.
The entire operation will be supervised by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) which provides about six crore meals for train passengers annually through its base kitchens on prominent stations.
Currently, only about 250 long-distance trains are serviced by pantry cars while the rest have to depend on food items sold by vendors at en route stations.
According to IRCTC Managing Director PKGoel, they are currently in the process of recruiting diploma holders from hotel management and catering institutes to serve as food quality inspectors on trains. As many as 71 candidates have already been selected for the 100 posts that are being created to carry out the task.
The quality of food provided to passengers having always been a sore point, with even the Delhi High Court having pulled up the Railways on the issue, the IRCTC is now making all -out efforts to carry out improvements in this area.
Goel said some of the cell kitchens have alrady been started while many more will soon get underway and their food items will be supplied in IRCTC branded packs at prices fixed by the agency. Passengers will be asked to lodge their complaints regarding the quality of these items to the inspectors moving about in trains as well as on phone lines to the control rooms being set up in New Delhi, Mumbai, Howrah, Chennai and Secunderabad.
With Railway Minister Lalu Prasad putting great emphasis on taking care of the needs of the aam aadmi (common man), the IRCTC has recently launched economy food packs of popular items like puri-aaloo and Bihari delicacy litti-chokha at a large number of railway stations.
For the more affluent passengers, about 40 food plazas run by private caterers have been set up at different stations. "Our target is to have at least 100 such food plazas for the more well-heeled and discerning clientele of the Railways who can afford to pay more," Goel stated.