Friday, January 13, 2012


It is a "startling" news of the New Year that the railway catering specialist IRCTC is mulling over extending its arm beyond the trains and the platforms of Indian Railways seeking greener pastures so that it can justify its existence. Railway Board, whether in its wisdom or recklessness, took over catering services in the trains from IRCTC purportedly on account of persistent complaints from the traveling public regarding indifferent quality of foods served by the latter in some of the prestigious trains. Whether this move has satisfied the passengers is a moot question as they have no option but to eat whatever is offered by whoever has the licenses to do it. But IRCTC with a large infrastructure and personnel with experience in catering is left with no choice but to seek to diversify its activities beyond the trains and the stations. The news of IRCTC planning to establish food outlets in petrol bunks, Malls and other public places is welcome in one way that it is utilizing its experience to justify its existence as a viable entity in the public sector. Here is the take on this new development. 

"After complaints related to poor quality food being served to passengers began pouring in, the Indian Railways (IR) took over from the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd (IRCTC) the job of arranging food on its long-distance trains. Unfazed by the move, the IRCTC, a Miniratna company in its bid to recover the losses it suffered, will now be trying its hand at opening food stalls, multi-cuisine cafeterias and food courts at petrol pumps and outside shopping malls in the city. To do so, IRCTC had hired professionals from the catering and hotel industry to check out whether the idea of serving food beyond railway stations and platforms is feasible or not. At present, the IRCTC is on the lookout for spaces for inaugurating food courts and cafeterias at different locations all across the city. "We have already signed a memorandum of understanding with Hindustan Petroleum for setting up our cafeterias at their petrol pumps. These outlets will be operational after April," said an IRCTC official, requesting anonymity. Sources added that the IRCTC is looking forward to similar tie-ups with other petroleum giants, such as Bharat Petroleum and Indian Oil, and have initiated talks for the same. Apart from petrol pumps, IRCTC is also exploring the option of starting food stalls outside multiplexes, shopping complexes and malls, and is keen on hiring contractors who can provide it with regional delicacies. Currently, IRCTC runs a food stall at BARC and at Loni in Pune district". 

One disturbing question about this decision is whether the bad publicity IRCTC gained in railway catering will strain its credibility as a standard operator vying with established food chains. The biggest problem that was troubling IRCTC was the rigid bureaucratic management style and government connections that hampered its style of functioning. However with less constraints in public catering area and no pressure of time IRCTC has the potential to perform better, though government controlled businesses invariably languish for many obvious reasons. One can only wish the organization better luck for its venture out side Indian trains and railway stations!


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