Wednesday, November 5, 2014

"ACHE DIN" promise for commuters of Indian Railways yet to take off-The branded food dilemma

Though we have been hearing about dramatic changes being brought about in the Railway Catering services by the new government in Delhi, nothing much seems to be happening to justify such a big hype. If this government monopolistic agency is to be believed introduction of branded packed foods to passengers in some luxury trains is imminent to avoid complaints about food quality which are overwhelming the Railways with respite. A layman still does not understand what is the problem for this premier transportation agency to change the mindset and attitudes of its employees to take the travelers for granted. First of all it is still not clear why Railways want to undertake catering responsibility, considering the past bitter experience of government undertakings in hotel industry which is no match to well run private hotel chains in the country. It should have best left the catering to private players with tight supervisory role for the Railways to get responsive service from them under a strict deterrent regime and protocols. It is sad to see that in spite of decades of promises of providing better catering services, Railways failed to deliver on them. Recent explanation from the "Babus" regarding the catering fiasco is reflected in the following media report. 

"Flooded with complaints about the quality of the food served on trains, Railways had decided to provide ready-to-eat food as an additional option for its passengers by October 30. Even as he admitted that determining the prices for the branded food items was a factor that has led to the delay in the launch of the new menu on mail and express trains, Railway Member (Traffic), D P Pande, said, "It is being resolved now." While Railways is averse to the high price demand of the food manufacturers, the latter maintain that the rate of pre- cooked food like pav bhaji, chicken biryani, rajma chawal served up in sealed packages will be a bit more than the prices of the standard meals available in pantry cars. "We have made them agree to our approved rate and now the policy is being finalised and expected to be rolled out in a month from now," Pande said. He, however, said that the option will be launched on a select few trains in the first phase and more trains will be covered later on. It would be made available on mail and express trains which have a pantry car. The service is likely to be initially launched on trains such as Karnataka Express, Frontier Mail, Paschim Express where the trial of these pre-cooked food items are already being carried out. A committee comprising health officials and senior rail officials has been formed to examine the quality, hygienic condition and protein value of the packaged food. Since these items are pre-cooked, the committee will have to certify about its bacteria-free shelf life, said a senior railway ministry official.  The branded food would be served to passengers as an 'add on' option along with the standard items as part of the catering service on trains. However, the national transporter insists that price of the pre-cooked food will be kept on a par with the standard meals currently available on trains. Given the high volume and branding opportunity, the companies are being told to charge reasonable rates, the rail official said. As to the trials, the official said that pre-cooked food by reputed brands like ITC, MTR, Kohinoor Foods, Quickmeal and Deleez were made available on a few trains and the response of passengers was encouraging. "Our aim is to ensure quality hygienic food for passengers. It must also be seen that the brands of meals or food items -- their quality, quantity, rate, hygiene -- are properly maintained," the official added."

This Blogger had suggested way beck in 2011 that the catering services can be best provided by established processed food manufacturers, many of them able to supply a variety of foods, centrally processed that can be just warmed before serving to the passengers. This can be done by providing a dedicated pantry car in each train to a selected player with responsibility to maintain the same with some rudimentary facilities to warm/heat pre-prepared packed foods. One gets nostalgic about old days when a passenger could walk through the vestibuled train to the pantry car, order for the foods he wants and eat the same in a relaxed manner. Such pantry cars should have a few tables and chairs and a menu that satisfies most of the customers. The success of any catering will depend on the ability of the caterer to provide what the customer wants at a time desired by him during the duration of the travel. For the sake of a few more seats in each train pantry car system was dismantled landing the organization in a mess vis-a-vis food service.


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