The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has filed a report with the Parliament that the food served by the Indian Railways is not fit for human consumption.
Indian Railways is the fourth largest railway network in the world and ferries nearly 22.2 million passengers every day. It does come as a very tragic news that CAG discovered that the food served to the passengers is unhealthy and unfit for consumption.
CAG did a survey of 80 trains across 74 stations. The criteria for the survey were hygiene, affordability, quality and availability of food to passengers of the Indian Railways. In the survey CAG found the following flaws:
- Lack of pantry cars in several long distance trains.
- Unauthorised food being sold by hawkers on trains.
- Water that has not been purified and straight from the tap is being used in the preparation of beverages.
- Waste bins remain uncovered, not emptied regularly and are also unwashed.
- Prepared food is not covered to keep out flies, dust and insects.
- Rats and cockroaches were also found in trains among other things.
- Lack of a uniform tariff card and non-issuance of bill for the food being sold.
- It was found in several zonal railways that the meals were being collected from outside base kitchens where there were no quality checks of any kind.
- Only 16 base kitchens were located in railway station premises. 115 base kitchens were located outside the railway premises and were not subjected to quality check.
- Many pantry cars have not yet switched over from gas burners to electric power equipment.
Recommendations By CAG
CAG has drawn out certain guidelines to rectify this issue.
- A complete makeover of the system in place.
- Transfer of the catering units to IRCTC.
- Low-cost janta meals at stations.
- A monitoring mechanism to ensure cleanliness.
- Establishment of suitable rates in Catering contracts so that the quality of food is not compromised as the workers will be well paid.
- As per the report, there is a dearth of necessary infrastructure in terms of base kitchens, static catering units, and train side vending arrangements.
Indian Railways Steps Up To Bring Reforms
Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu has instituted a “Zero Tolerance policy” towards catering. The Ministry of Railways has come out with a list of steps that it is taking to improve catering services.
- Identifying the need for improving the quality of “food at source” and taking steps to permanently eliminate all problems related to catering services.
- In the last 6 months, Indian Railways has terminated 7 contracts, blacklisted 16 contractors, taken action against 21 officers and imposed fines in excess of Rs 4.5 crores.
- According to the new Catering Policy 2017 issued in February this year, IRCTC has been asked to upgrade existing kitchens and also set up new ones
- Vendors will require credentials to sell food on trains. The eligibility criteria for vendors is also being re-looked at.
- Technology will be put into use so that passengers are not overcharged.
- Attempts will also be made to mandate pre-booking of food in all trains to avoid overcharging and linking performance of the vendor to feedback from passengers.
- IRCTC is also facilitating booking of meals through a specified phone number/website/SMS/ Mobile Apps etc.
- Water vending machines to provide potable R.O water at affordable prices are being installed in stations.
- Ready to Eat meals with a longer shelf-life are being provided by Railways.
- IRCTC has also signed an MoU with DRDO for ‘Dehydrated Meal Technology’ that will help in making better packaged ready-to-eat meals.
- Baby food, milk and hot water from nominated catering stalls at Railway stations will be provided for mothers travelling with small children.
- Steps are being taken to initiate Self Help Groups (SHGs) which will help towards providing wholesome and healthy regional cuisine at an affordable cost to the travelling public through e-catering.
- Indian Railways is in the process of collaborating with the private sector and getting on board companies such as Domino’s etc so that train passengers can pre-order pizzas and burgers for their train journeys.
- There will be Third Party Audit of catering services at periodic intervals to ascertain parameters such as personal hygiene, cleaning and sanitation, food safety, storage facilities, etc.
- A pilot project of Optional On Board Catering has been introduced in two trains where the passengers can opt out of catering services and the same will not be charged in the ticket.
- Grievances regarding catering services can be recorded at the Twitter handle @IRCATERING, as well as the pan-India helpline number – 138 – for rail users in a moving train.