Weeks before she presents the budget, railways minister Mamataa Banerjee's new catering policy is threatening to go awry.
Violating guidelines laid out by Banerjee's new catering policy of July 2010; the Northern Railways have allowed backdoor entry of "non-operational" catering units (food stalls and trolleys) - causing huge revenue losses.
HT is in possession of three similarly-worded official letters of January 13, 2011 and November 11, 2010, wherein the Railways permitted Ms Seth Manohar Lal, Ms Mohinder Singh and Ms Bimlawati and sons to reopen their catering units at the Bhatinda railway station after making token payments of Rs 2,69,261, Rs 10,02,583 and Rs 2,50,338 against the huge dues pending against them for non-payment of licence fee.
These were the same firms, which were evicted last year on July 5, for non-payment of outstanding licence fee amounting to Rs 1,69,4784, Rs 39,26,014 and Rs 25,89,373, respectively.
These firms have been permitted to conduct business without valid legal agreements or a renewal of licences and without obtaining the mandatory food licence.
Through these inexplicable decisions, the railways have opened up the Pandora's Box, with scores of other defaulting contractors having started to make a beeline of railway offices to demand similar concessions by citing the Bhatinda precedent.
In a PIL filed in the Delhi HC on February 8, one Balwinder Chawla has also alleged the existence of "bogus contractors", who are conducting business on a power of attorney obtained from the original vending contractors, who have expired.
The Ambala-based senior divisional catering manager GM Singh refused to comment.
The Northern Railways chief commercial manager Dr PK Goel - who heads catering operations - pleaded ignorance about the matter.
However, issues about illegality of decision of railways to finalise interim arrangements with non-operational contractors remain, as some of these units were allowed to be reopened even before IRCTC had handed over the operations to the railways.