Indian Railways New Catering Policy 2010 to improve quality of food served in Indian trains

Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation

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By H. C. Kunwar
Deputy Director (M & C), Press Information Bureau, New Delhi

New Delhi, India, Oct 4, 2010 (Washington Bangla Radio / PIB India) To build lasting relationships with passengers based on trust,  satisfaction and mutual benefits, the Ministry of Railways has decided to manage catering and hospitality services at stations and on trains at its own in a phased manner under the new Catering Policy-2010 which was unveiled last month.

The need for a new Catering Policy has emanated from a variety of consideration.  First and the foremost is the need to address the public perception and concerns regarding steep decline in the quality of catering services as substantiated by the ever increasing number of complaints received.  Secondly, given the fact that Catering is a passenger service first and profit centre later, there is a need to redefine Railways’ approach towards catering in this direction.  Moreover, with the majority of rail users consisting of General and Sleeper Class passengers, there is a need to reorient the Policy towards addressing the need to cater to this section especially in view of the fact that most long distance trains are having fewer halts and that too for a very short duration.  Given the vast expanse of railway network, it was felt necessary that to effectively supervise and monitor catering services, the reach and the resources of the railway network had to be leveraged in order to ensure a better supervision and monitoring of the catering services.  Lastly, there were issues regarding contract management and emergence of oligopoly in the catering contracts which was against healthy trade practices and against the spirit of mobile catering services.

The Policy seeks to have an all inclusive approach wherein quality catering services will be provided to the entire spectrum of passengers by adopting good governance standards and prudent selection of service providers.  It seeks to manage catering services under direct departmental control and supervision and envisages setting up of a trained cadre within the Department which will be drawn from among the existing railway cadres and the deputationists of IRCTC who would be repatriated to the parent department i.e. the Railways.  This cadre will be trained at reputed institutions of the hospitality industry and will form the core of railway catering.

Under the new Policy, it is proposed to have a nation wide Grid of Base Kitchens which will be state-of-the-art in terms of technology and processes which will supply meals to the Mobile Catering Units on IR network.  The monitoring and supervisory mechanism will be institutionalized by the Zonal Railways and the performance of the service providers would be closely monitored by means of scheduled inspections, quality checks and annual performance appraisal.  There will be provisions for strong punitive action against the non-performers and these powers will be delegated to the Zonal Railways down to the Divisional level for bringing about an effective check on the quality of services.  IRCTC would continue to play an important role in the railway catering and it will primarily be responsible for the setting up of the management of premium catering units like Food Plazas, Fast food units, etc.  They would also be responsible for encouraging the setting up of multi cuisine Food Courts at the major stations in order to offer the passengers a variety of food at market determined prices.

The selection of good quality service provider and adoption of good governance standards in contract management is being accorded significant priority in the new Policy.  Standard Bid Documents will be prepared by enlisting necessary assistance from the best in the industry.  Strict clauses against subletting and monopoly will be incorporated in the same and the contract will be so designed that the penal clauses are readily enforceable.  Given the diverse culinary preferences in the Country, the Zonal Railways will be free to design the Menu of the economy Jan Ahar Combo meals and the a la carte items sold from various outlets.  However, the Menu for Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto trains and of the Standard Meals will continue to be fixed by the Railway Board.  However, inputs from Zonal Railways would be taken in case of any revision.

The ceiling limit has been imposed to curb monopolies in railway catering and in case of stalls, the limit has been fixed at 2 units at a station with a maximum of 10 units per Zonal Railway.  In case of suburban sections, the ceiling limit of 2 units per Division will be in force.  In case of the premium units like, Fast food units, Refreshment Rooms, etc., a single entity will be allowed to hold a maximum of 2 units per Division subject to a maximum of 10% of the similar type of units over IR.  In case of Pantry Cars, a ceiling limit of 10% of all such units over IR is imposed (from the earlier limit of 15%).

As far as the allotment of catering stalls are concerned, in case of General (Unreserved units) at large stations (A, B and C class stations), a two packet tender system will be followed.  In case of reserved units at all categories of stations, and unreserved units at D,E and F class stations, the present system of selection by calling for applications in newspapers and its scrutiny will be continued.  However, the parameters for selection have been earmarked more categorically to ensure selection of quality players.  The reservation as provided by the earlier Policy would be continued.  It would, however, be subject to the outcome of the various cases pending in courts of law.

As far as the issue of tariff revision is concerned, the Railway Board will periodically look into the issue of tariff revision as and when required and will consider the proposals coming from zonal railways on the same and issue necessary directives from time to time.

In case of stalls allotted through tenders, there will be a provision for the renewal of contract after every 3/5 years as the case may be as is being done in the case of reserved units. However, it has been clarified that the renewal would not be a matter of right and would be subject to satisfactory performance and payment of all outstanding dues and the renewing authority will have to issue speaking orders while granting renewals.

The new Policy endeavours to encourage the provision of Pantry Cars in as many long distance trains as possible.  In trains running without Pantry Cars, a system will be devised whereby meals will be supplied through vending by Major Catering Units (Refreshment Rooms, Food Plazas, etc.) located enroute in order to make fresh and quality food available to passengers.

To sum up, the Catering Policy 2010 is a mid course correction by the Railways in its aim towards achieving good standards of catering services for its passengers.  It seeks to achieve quality at affordable prices for the common passengers and by means of a trained and dedicated cadre, selection of quality service providers and sound monitoring and contract management. (PIB Features)

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