In this blog post, Charvi Arora, a student of University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun gives you an overview about the poor standard of food being served in the Indian Railways and the initiatives that have been taken by the Railway Department to improve the same.
The problem faced by almost all of us while traveling in the Indian Railways is the poor quality of food served. So, if the food served to you in the train is smelly or stale, don’t worry everyone is sailing in the same boat.
The quality of food served while traveling for a long distance is a major issue that is yet to be resolved by the Indian government. In some trains, the packed food items are expired and kept in unhygienic conditions and are considered sub-standard. While in some trains, the food has been pre-cooked 4-5 days ago and this makes it all the more stale and smelly. This problem is faced all over the nation, especially in the sleeper class section of the train where the environment is very unhygienic. The problem has not been looked into even after several complaints have been made to the Railway department. The condition of kitchen is extremely unhygienic and the cooks are not of the expected standard. The kitchen is poorly ventilated and the vegetables brought from the market are rotten.
All the helplines or the toll free numbers either do not work or are already dead. But the railways are still under the misconception that the availability of food is a problem while the actual menace is its quality. They were however unsatisfied about maintenance of bathrooms.
Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) were fined for Rs. 1 lakh because a cockroach was found in the food in the Kolkata Rajdhani Express. There have been many instances in the past for which the Railways have been fined.
Railways have imposed heavy fines totaling Rs. 11.50 lakh on nine caterers including IRCTC for serving ‘bad quality’ food in trains.
The Tourism Industry has a major drawback in the field of Railways as the tourists remain unsatisfied due to the poor quality food served to them. Railway catering has always been an insignia for poor quality. There is a plethora of poor feedbacks against the standard of food and beverages supplied to the passengers and the tourists traveling in the train. It lowers the reputation of the nation as less people would prefer travelling by the Railways. The actual standard is not maintained as the food inspectors’ visit these trains rarely and therefore no action is taken and nobody takes the responsibility to manage it. The quality of the food offered in the trains and on the platform can’t be guaranteed to be hygienic at all.Even after all the progress in restoring and improving the conditions of food stored in the pantry, there have been many complaints.
Reasons for poor quality of food
- Catering services are usually outsourced; quality check has not been done regularly.
- Contracts are usually taken by small time vendors who want to earn more money than serve quality food during contract period.
- No background checks are done while choosing vendors.
- There is no sense of responsibility as they focus on earning more profits than serving their duties.
- Visitor entry is allowed via pantry to different coaches who actually bring in more dirt then revenue.
- Inadequate facilities to preserve large quantity of food.
- Majority of the passengers are not fully satisfied about the cleanliness of coaches.
Passengers are unsatisfied about the maintenance of bathrooms. However they are satisfied about the behavior of railway employees. Passengers are also not fully satisfied with pantry car employees’ services. Railway must improve the quality of food served by pantry coach to passengers and instruct pantry staff to be courteous and responsive towards passengers.Some of the food items were adulterated by the chefs before serving the passengers in the train.
Solutions to be implemented by the Railway authorities
Strict quality checks should be done before selecting food vendors and contracts should be given to big and established vendors who would provide good quality and service. High penalty should be imposed on defaulting or non performing contractors. Standard dispensing machines should be installed for items like milk, cornflakes, coffee, tea, pre made snacks, etc. Passengers should be able to pre-order from a fixed menu decided by the Railway department. Menu cards should be displayed in the coaches of each train and they should not be priced too high. Food contractor’s name and contact number along with the concerned IRCTC supervisor’s name and contact number should be displayed in each bogie of the train. The serving boys should necessarily wear a clean uniform with identity cards. Pantry boys should be trained on maintaining hygiene and cleanliness. CCTV cameras should be installed in the pantry cars. The waiters should be provided with trolleys in the same way as done in the airplanes. The unauthorized vendors should not be allowed to enter the platforms. Regular quality checks of the pantry should be done by senior officials. An effective online or mobile based citizen feedback mechanism should be set up so that passenger feedback is sent immediately after the service is provided. Citizens should be able to rate Food and Service via their feedback. Railway officers must take action on any complaint within specified period of time. Pantry coach should be redesigned with modern facilities and amenities. IRCTC should consider consulting with a Food Technological Research Institute for comprehensive advice on food quality, food safety and nutrition.
The Present Scenario
Now the Indian officials’ have given the passengers the assurance that good and hygienic food would be served to the people. As said by the Indian officials, they have tied-up with Foodpanda which has been another big step towards the development of Indian Railways. The solution to this big menace has been strictly implemented by the employees. IRCTC officials have promised to provide the best quality services in little time and the quality of the food would be far better than what was served earlier. The Indian Railways caterers have also tied up with major food joints like KFC, Dominos, etc. Haldiram has also shown great interest in collaborating with the Railway caterers.
According to the ministry, it is also a part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative of Swachh Bharat campaign to provide better service to passengers traveling in trains. Railway services have improved its system by managing on-board catering services in the local trains as well.It has also introduced station-based catering on 45 major stations all over the nation for the traveling passengers and their reach has expanded over time. They have also tried to manage the concept of e-catering through various sellers but this will develop in the future at a tremendous rate. Now the passengers can book tickets and manage the food served to them according to their choices online for the delivery of food while traveling. Indian Railway passengers can now feel satisfied with the food served in the train.
“The feedback service is in line with the emphasis given by Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu on the best connects between railway administration and railway users,” the railway ministry said in a statement.
In my opinion, the food contractors should be instructed to have their place of cooking made pest free & certificates should be obtained for doing periodical pest control measures. Another most important thing sold by the pantry car is water. There is no quality control at all. Focus on this area to avoid water borne disease is a major requirement. IRCTC should be entrusted with the job of collecting the feedback, which should be done through a speedy mechanism. Under this system, passengers must be contacted randomly on their mobile phones to gather their feedback about the facilities provided by the Railways regarding all aspects such as cleanliness of the train and the respective station, quality of catering, punctuality of trains, etc.
On an average 60-70 calls per day, per train are being made and efforts are on to make approximately one lakh successful calls per day to passengers of mail/ express trains, the ministry added. The service is being initially being tested on a few trains. I hope after these initiatives taken by the Railways Authority of India, the condition of the railways improves as a whole.