It is interesting that every time a minister for railways changes, new policies are announced with much fan fare. However, irrespective of the person holding the portfolio, it has always been a charade by the "babus" who exercise the real power and every one knows of their inefficiency and insensitivity to passenger welfare as reflected by continuing complaints about quality of food served. Therefore it is with some reservation one has to listen to the recent announcement regarding the "intention" of Indian Railways (IR) to radically transform the system to serve the passengers better. Credits have to go to the bureaucrats who have come out with new plan and if this is implemented it will go a long way to make travel more comfortable and satisfying.
"In an attempt to upgrade the existing catering system and to win the passengers' trust by serving them hot and delicious food, Railways have identified Lucknow and Varanasi to set up base kitchens under the new catering policy. The base kitchens would provide food to pantry cars and static units. The new policy has put an end to on-board cooking of food. The trains will have hot cases and facilities to prepare tea and coffee only. The sealed pantry cars will have sealed ready-to-serve food. Every train that has a pantry car will follow the same system. Under the new catering policy, zonal railways have been instructed to give priority to provision of good quality food and drinking water. They have to ensure availability of 'janta khana' besides introducing national and regional cuisines in catering. Railways will take over management of all mobile catering services. IRCTC will be responsible for running of food plaza, food courts, fast food units within the ambit of this policy. "We used sealed trolleys to serve food in a train from New Delhi and Agra during the Common Wealth Games and it was a runaway success," said PK Goyal, Chief Commercial Manager (CCM), Northern Railway. With a view to ensure high quality hygiene, cleanliness and use of standard ingredients for food served on trains, the mobile catering units will pick up meals from nominated base kitchens. The base kitchens would be managed and controlled by zonal railways progressively in phases to ensure good quality of the food served on trains".
A question that remains unanswered is why it took so much time for IR to realize that the catering system prevalent in the aviation sector has many merits and can be implemented in trains also. With the Railway R & D having capabilities in the area of coach design, it should have been possible to modify the rakes for accommodating trolleys carrying and distributing hot foods to the passengers. It is still not clear why the Railways had dispensed with its pantry car system where traveling public can sit and enjoy in a relaxed manner foods served in a running train. Is it because it wanted to increase the carrying capacity of the train for maximizing income? Scientifically eating food inside a passenger coach is not sound from the sanitation angle and no wonder that rats prowl around for scavenging the dropped foods and left overs. One hopes that the new plan will be implemented before another person replaces the present minister that an cause another rethinking!V.H.POTTY