Chennai: It is often with scepticism that rail passengers eat food supplied by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) while travelling in trains. But good news awaits them as IRCTC will soon upgrade and redesign pantry cars to offer hygienic meals. The upgraded pantry cars will have better storage facilities for food items.
Sources say that food will be prepared from the base kitchens set up at railway stations and then sent to the pantry cars. Hence, cooking at pantry cars will gradually reduce.
In July 2017, a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) declared that the food provided by IRCTC was not fit to be eaten. The report said during the inspection, the audit noticed that cleanliness and hygiene were not being maintained at catering units at stations and on trains.
It further added that un-purified water, straight from the tap, was being used in the preparation of beverages while waste bins were not found covered, nor were they emptied regularly or washed. They also reported that food items were not covered to protect them from flies, insects and dust. Even rats and cockroaches were found in trains during the audit.
Following the publication of this report, IRCTC had taken steps to improve the condition of the pantry cars and the meals they serve. Sources say that soon pantry cars across the railways are proposed to be upgraded at an estimated cost of up to Rs 250 crore, over the next three years. “The proposal has just been issued at our corporate office in Delhi” said a senior IRCTC official from Chennai.
“Soon, we will get orders from higher authorities and only then can zonal offices of IRCTC implement them,” he said.
According to the plan, once the pantry cars are upgraded, IRCTC will then take over the responsibility of maintaining them. The previous catering policy of Indian Railways 2010 saw that both zonal railway divisions and IRCTC looking after the catering services on trains. But the policy was again revised in 2017 and, as a result, it had transferred the responsibility of serving food to IRCTC.
Also, recently, the Ministry of Railways issued orders to change the revenue share of licence fee between railways and IRCTC, received from pantry cars. Currently, IRCTC receives about 60 per cent of the revenue while 40 per cent is for the respective zonal railway division where trains with pantry cars ply through. But the new order enables IRCTC to earn 85 per cent of the revenue for five years once the redesigned pantry cars come into service.