New Delhi: Indian Railways is taking several measures to improve catering services on over its network. It is emphasised that improvement of catering being an on-going process. A new Catering Policy has been notified on 27 February, 2017 wherein with the objective to provide quality food to rail passengers, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC), a PSU of Ministry of RailwaysRail has been mandated to unbundle catering services on trains by creating a distinction primarily between food preparation and food distribution.
IRCTC shall set up new kitchens and upgrade existing ones. These kitchens will be owned, operated and managed by IRCTC. IRCTC shall retain the ownership and shall be fully accountable for all the issues pertaining to setting up and operation of the Base Kitchens and quality of food. All four Base Kitchens under departmental operation of Zonal Railways (Nagpur, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT), Mumbai Central (BCT) and Balharshah) and all kitchen units i.e. Refreshment Rooms at A1 and A category stations, Jan Ahaar, Cell Kitchens shall be handed over to IRCTC on ‘as is where is basis’. In the first phase, unbundling of catering services is under implementation on Delhi – Mumbai Sector. Base kitchens & Jan Ahaars at CSMT and BCT have been taken over by IRCTC from Zonal Railways.
Further steps being taken to ensure that good quality and hygienic food is served to the passengers are:-
(i) Introduction of station based E-Catering for widening the range of options available to passengers for ordering food of their choice.
(ii) Introduction of precooked food (‘ready to eat’ meals) in the range of options available to passengers.
(iii) Operation of centralized Catering Service Monitoring Cell (CSMC) (toll free number 1800-111-321) for prompt redressal of passenger grievances relating to the catering activities and real time assistance to travelling public.
(iv) Imposition of penalties in case of deficiencies detected in services.
(v) Operation of all India Helpline (No.138) for rail-users to lodge complaints/suggestions regarding food and catering services
(vi) A Twitter handle @ IRCATERING has also been made operational to cater to the complaints/suggestions with regard to catering services.
To effectively check and control unfair practices of overcharging, issues of quality as well quantity, the following measures are planned :
o In prepaid trains, optional catering is being introduced as a pilot project so that passenger has the option to ‘not eat’ if he does not want the food supplied onboard.
o A policy of zero tolerance towards bad quality of food served to passengers and overcharging is being followed and in the last six months, 16 catering contracts have been terminated for catering or other contractual deficiencies during the calendar year 2017. 16 contractors have been blacklisted for breach of contract term in the last one year.
o Third Party Audit of mobile units and base kitchen is to be undertaken by zonal railway periodically, by hiring an independent agency in accordance with Catering Policy 2017.
o As announced in the Rail Budget 2016-17, Tejas Train has been introduced on 22/05/2017. Management of on-board catering services on Tejas Express is done by IRCTC. Service-wise Catering services on Tejas Express are optional and for the passengers who do not opt for catering services at the time of booking, catering charges will not be included in the ticket fare. However, if the passenger asks for catering services at a later stage, an extra amount of ₹ 50/- per service is levied, in addition to the cost of catering charges.
o Instructions have been issued stipulating that Humsafar trains may have the facility of Automatic Vending Machines (AVMs) for the dispensation of beverages including Tea/Coffee/soup etc. On two such Humsafar Trains , such AVM’s have already been installed and are fully functional.
Proliferation of e-catering
o E-catering service on Indian Railway (IR) is managed by IRCTC. Initially, e-catering service was train specific and made available in 1350 trains which did not have services of Pantry car or Train Side Vending. As a major initiative during September 2015, this scheme has been reoriented to make it ‘Station Based E-Catering’ in place of train specific e-catering. In the first phase, a pilot project has been undertaken on 45 major stations and subsequently extended to all ‘A-1’ & ‘A’ category of stations which is presently under implementation. E-catering service is now available on 357 railway stations and the average supply of meals under this scheme is around 5000 meals per day (as on September’ 2016) against 2000 orders per day which was around 400 meals per day during October’ 2015.
o Passengers travelling from these stations are now able to access E-Catering facilities for all trains passing through these stations. IRCTC is facilitating booking of meals through a specified phone number/ website / SMS / Mobile Apps etc. Passengers having mobile number are able to book meals under this scheme. CoD facility to passengers under this scheme has also been made available.
o IRCTC has established a call centre and has also operationalized E-catering website www.ecatering.irctc.co.in for this purpose. Passengers can pre-order the meal from the different options available as per the choice, for delivery at the opted stations through the e-catering (website & phone/SMS call centre). The mode of payment in e-catering shall be Pre-paid i.e. online payment as well as Cash on delivery (CoD) basis. The shortlisted vendor shall deliver the pre-ordered meal to the customer on stationary train at the opted station. The opted meal is communicated to the Vendor through SMS as well as email at the time of booking and also again at about 2 hours in advance of delivery time (Delivery time is the train arrival time on a particular station). The Short-listing vendor can provide meals through his catering units on all India basis. Each unit/location, requested by vendor, to be included for e-catering project is required to have all statutory licences as required under the central/state laws and should comply with the laws of the land. The shortlisted entity may request for addition of more locations/units during the currency of the Short-listing. The shortlisted entity may supply food items under e-catering project only from its approved (by IRCTC) locations/units to the stations in the reasonable vicinity of the said units.
Optional catering service
o The trial of optional catering services to passengers was initially started on the following two train’s w.e.f. 09.06.2016 onwards for journeys to commence on the opening day of ARP (Advance Reservation Period).
§ Train No. 12954-53 AG Kranti Rajdhani;
§ Train No. 12025-26, PUNE – SC Shatabdi Exp.
Passengers had to ‘opt out’ from the mandatory food option
This scheme has been started from 09.06.2016 onwards for journeys to commence on the opening day of ARP i.e. 7.10.2016 to 20.11.2016 (for 45 days).
o Now instructions have been issued to provide optional catering service, as a pilot project, to passengers booking tickets w.e.f. 01.08.2017 onwards for the journeys to commence on 01/08/2017 and onwards. This scheme has been introduced on 31 Rajdhani/Shatabdi/Duronto trains under the management of Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC) w.e.f. 01.08.2017 for an initial period of 180 days, subject to mid-term review after 3 months.
Water Vending Machines (WVMs)
o With the objective to make available potable drinking water of prescribed standard to passengers at affordable price, Water Vending Machines Policy has been notified w.e.f. 16.06.2015.
o IRCTC to select the franchisee/agent for installation of machines through two-packet tender system. Bids can be invited for group of stations having similar type of WVMs. Group of platforms can be considered to form a composite offer.
o Pure water, conforming to BIS (Bureau of Indian Standard) specifications IS 10500:2012 and in compliance of the requirements of FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) & other regulations made by the government from time to time, will be dispensed through these WVMs for passengers in a much less price as compared to packaged drinking water.
o Provision of Microprocessors and interlocks to ensure correct quality and quantity with Reverse Osmosis (RO) technology or alternate superior technology, depending upon the level of contamination in the water.
o IRCTC has been mandated to select the franchisee/agent for installation of machines through two-packet tender system.
o As on 30.06.2017, 350 stations have been provided with the facility of Water Vending Machines by IRCTC and as on 31.07.2017, IRCTC has already awarded license for installation of 2900 WVMs over IR out of which 1300 WVMs have already been commissioned at 350 stations.
o Award of contracts for another 400 WVMs is to be finalized shortly.
o Further, 1100 more WVMs will be commissioned shortly at various stations.
Zero tolerance policy
o A policy of zero tolerance towards bad quality of food served to passengers and overcharging is being followed and during last six months, 16 catering contracts have been terminated for catering or other contractual deficiencies during January to August 2017. 16 contractors have been blacklisted for breach of contract term in the last one year.
o A fine of ₹. 4.56 crore has been imposed during January to June’2017 as compared to ₹. 4.05 crore imposed during 2016, ₹. 2.61 crore in 2015 and ₹. 1.73 crore in 2014.
o Disciplinary action has been taken against 21 railway officials in the last one year.
o More than 40,000 inspections done by railway officials to improve the catering services.
Third party audit
o The third-party audit of the catering service to examine the quality of food, hygiene and cleanliness in the pantry car and base kitchen, which will be carried out alongside the in-house audit.
o Food safety & Hygiene audits are being conducted regularly in Base Kitchens, both Departmental & Licensee owned, Food Plaza/Fast Food Units and Pantry Cars of IRCTC managed Trains by Third Party Auditors.
o Third Party Audit of catering services are also to be conducted at periodic intervals by independent and reputed auditing agencies accredited by NABCB (National Accreditation Board for Certification Bodies) as empanelled by the zonal railways.
o Empanelment of Food Audit Agencies has been completed on Western Railway.
o IRCTC has awarded Food safety, hygiene audit for 96 trains, 206 Food Plazas/Fast Food Units.
Compliance and Monitoring of Catering Services
On Indian Railways, catering services is monitored 24×7, very closely through the following mechanisms:-
o Operation of centralized Catering Service Monitoring Cell (CSMC) (toll free number 1800-111-321) for prompt redressal of passenger grievances relating to the catering activities and providing real time assistance to travelling public.
o Operation of all India Helpline (No.138) for rail-users to lodge complaints/suggestions regarding food and catering services
o A Twitter handle @ IRCATERING has been made operational to cater to the complaints/suggestions with regard to catering services.
o CPGRAMS (Central Passenger Grievance Monitoring System), COMS, SMS, Email, Facebook etc. are also used to register public complaints and monitor feedback on catering services.
o Complaint books are provided at all major, minor static and mobile catering units.
Detailed instructions/guidelines have been issued on 24.07.2017 to the Zonal Railways for conducting joint inspections by Medical, Commercial and infrastructure maintenance departments to inspect each and every catering unit (mobile and static) including base kitchens/cell kitchens on all Railway divisions/zones. Apart from this, regular and surprise inspections are done by Food Safety Officers, Designated Officers and Joint Food Safety Commissioners. A joint team of ticket checking staff and RPF/GRP staff also conduct surprise checks to prevent unauthorised vending on stations and trains. General Managers of the Zonal Railways have been requested to monitor such drives personally. Food samples collected by Food Safety Officers are sent to the nominated accredited Laboratories under Food Safety & Standard Act for analysis and testing. Penalties are imposed in cases of unsatisfactory food samples and prosecutions are carried out as per provisions of Food Safety & Standard Rule -2011.