BENGALURU: “Ever since the Railways was set up, catering on trains and at railway stations was entrusted to private contractors. The selection of vendors from among the numerous applicants was done by a panel very similar to a job interview.” However, there was no transparency in the process and the same contractors kept getting the contracts repeatedly, said a top catering official while explaining about the Railway Catering Policy.
Finally, in 2000, the Railways decided to change the selection process by bringing about transparency. “Only the highest bidder and the most qualified technical bidder would be given the contract under the changed policy,” he said. The contractors went to court against this new selection process. It took till 2005 for the verdict to delivered in favour of the Railways. In the meanwhile, the contractors continued to serve food.
“The catering contract for Railways was entrusted to the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation in 2006 and this continued up to 2010. The Corporation also hired contractors to carry out the job, but it was done in a transparent manner,” he said.
In 2010, then Railway Minister Mamta Banerjee wanted IRCTC to hire at least 60,000 catering staff and run the whole catering business within the Railways without contracting it outside, the official said. “IRCTC expressed its inability to manage the show by hiring such large numbers and Railways took back the catering responsibility,” he said.
Complaints have flooded the Railways in the last six years over the poor quality of food served on trains and at stations. Social media was used by passengers to lodge complaints even with the Railway Ministry. The Ministry announced in the 2016-2017 Railway budget that IRCTC will take over catering responsibility in a phased manner.
The new catering policy announced in February 2017 states that the food will be prepared at state-of-the art base kitchens and distributed through service providers from the hospitality industry. Cooking and distribution have been delinked to professionalise it.