Want to grab a samosa or soft drink while you wait for your daily local train? You’ll have to depend on privately run stalls and hope somebody is monitoring the quality of food and drinks they sell.
The Railway Board, in its revised policy announced on July 21, has suspended catering operations of the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd. (IRCTC), an award-winning government agency, on railway platforms. The policy says catering services handled by the IRCTC will now be returned to the zonal railways. The idea is to improve the quality of food available on railway platforms.
This means 120 IRCTC stalls on the Western Railway (WR) and 88 on the Central and Harbour lines will have to shut down.
While private stalls have been functioning for a long time, the IRCTC had set up food stalls only two years ago to provide commuters with quality snacks, prepared and packed hygienically.
The Railway Board had in October 2009 asked the IRCTC to float tenders inviting private players to set up stalls at railway stations. Owners of the existing private stalls protested against this saying it would take their business away. They approached the Railway Ministry and demanded that the catering policy be reviewed and they be allowed to run all stalls on railway platforms without IRCTC in the picture.
The new policy now says the zonal railways will be responsible for ensuring that standards are maintained and policy directives complied with. “We are only implementing the ministry's orders,” a Railway Board official said requesting anonymity.
The Central and Western railways will now have to select professional catering contractors and train people for the job. The IRCTC, meanwhile, will handle only food plazas, food courts and fast-food units. There are only four of these in Mumbai-at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Mumbai Central--and 90 units across India.
The IRCTC has been trying to standardise the prices of tea and coffee sold at suburban railway stalls. They were also planning to revamp the base kitchen for Rajdhani trains at Mumbai Central from August 15 at a cost of Rs 1.6 crore after selecting a contractor through a tender.
“We were trying to bring changes in the quality of food served to passengers and parity in pricing but now our wings have been clipped,” said a senior
IRCTC official requesting anonymity. The revised policy does even not talk about 5,000 employees of IRCTC who worked at the food stalls.
The IRCTC pays the Western and Central Railways Rs 2.5 crore each, every year, for using their platforms and trains. Private stall owners owe the IRCTC and the Railway Ministry Rs 16 crore.