Indian Railways is being re-empowered to provide for on-board catering services in passenger trains in a phase-wise manner — divesting the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) of such responsibilities.
Flooded by complaints of over-charging and poor food quality, the Railways has decided to take ownership of catering responsibilities in all passenger and mail trains beginning with the Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duranto trains.
Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee is likely to unfold the contours of a new catering policy in her speech on Wednesday.
Pursuing the idea of breaking the monopoly of a group of contractors engaged in catering jobs, a Railway Board sub-committee had highlighted the need to end the present situation of duality of authority between the IRCTC and Railways. Presently, catering licenses are awarded by the IRCTC, while the Railways maintain electrical gadgets and cooking equipments in pantry cars.
The monopoly practices of contractors has been an issue. Just 31 contractors have catering licenses for all 264 passenger trains that provide pantry car services and several of these companies have remained in the business for decades.
Besides allegations of cartel operations, complaints are also related to contracts obtained by multiple firms owned by members belonging to the same family.
Ms RK Agarwal, Ms RK Associates, Ms RK Enterprises are companies owned by the same family and operate catering contracts for more than 20 trains between themselves.
Ms Hakim Chand and Sons also has licenses to operate more than 20 trains. Ms Brandavan Food Products operates more than a dozen trains.
“These are moneyed and networked individuals and capable of exercising their rights to obtain stay orders from courts against orders canceling contracts,” said a Railways official.