Rapped by the Delhi High Court for serving food prepared under "highly unhygienic conditions", the Indian Rail Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd (IRCTC) has announced a slew of measures aimed at revamping kitchens at railway stations at Nizamuddin, New Delhi and Old Delhi. A plan to improve catering services on trains is also on the anvil.
While the kitchen at the New Delhi station caters exclusively to passengers on board Rajdhani and Shatabdi, the other two, at Nizamuddin and New Delhi, serve restaurants managed and run by IRCTC.
The poor state of these kitchens was brought to light by surprise checks between July 26 and August 17 this year carried out by a four-member, High Court-appointed committee. The court was acting on a public interest petition filed by lawyer Varun Goswami.
Dirty walls, food kept uncovered, exhaust fans out of order, litter and stench were common at these kitchens. At Nizamuddin station chapattis were rolled directly on the stone slab of the kitchen.
Expressing shock at the committee's report, a Division Bench comprising Justice Mukundakam Sharma and Justice Hima Kohli asked IRCTC to take immediate corrective steps. "The report reveals the horrible and pathetic condition of the kitchens where meals are prepared for passengers," the Bench said.
In an affidavit filed before the Bench, IRCTC Manager Anil Gupta said the corporation was in the process of revamping the kitchens in these three stations.
Gupta said the process of inducting a staff well-trained in catering and cooking is under way and the new staff will be in place by October 11. He said precautions were being taken to keep the kitchens clean with an emphasis on personal hygiene of the staff. State-of-the-art kitchens with latest gadgets, including temperature-control devices, are also being planned.
Teams of quality inspectors have been nominated with the aim of monitoring the quality and quantity of food served and ensuring hygiene. Steps are also being taken to keep a tab on the behaviour of the staff and check irregularities such as overcharging and non-issue of bills.
Gupta said an eight-day menu had been introduced on an experimental basis on Mumbai and Howrah Rajdhani trains to add variety to food. After its successful implementation, the scheme may be extended to other trains as well.
Service monitoring cells are also being set up to redress complaints round the clock. The staff on duty will be given WLL connections with the SMS facility.
Hinting that the corporation was being unfairly criticised, the IRCTC manager said the three kitchens were being run by the Indian Railways through its departmental staff till 2002, and that IRCTC required more time to improve their conditions.
The court has now also asked the committee to inspect pantry cars on trains and kitchens maintained by private caterers who have been awarded contract for supply of food.