Railway Minister Piyush Goyal this week ordered that asking for tips from rail passengers and overcharging for food be stopped within 48 hours. Accordingly, letters have gone out to all zonal railway units across the country, asking them to ensure that the practice is stopped with immediate effect.
While Railways has tried to tackle the problem of overcharging by the catering staff in the past, a strict deadline is a first. The issue of tips, however, has never before figured in policy intervention beyond advising catering staff to not ask for tips and passengers to not encourage it.
After Goyal’s orders and the ministry’s directive, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has promptly contacted its catering contractors to convey an ultimatum. Violation will invite heavy penalty.
From Monday, Railways’ catering inspectors will fan out across trains to check if the practices are still prevalent. Social media platforms will be monitored to look out for passengers complaining either of overcharging or about waiters asking for tips.
The “bakshish (tips)” has been a legacy of the Rajdhani Express culture, which, in turn, is a practice from the Raj era, when appreciation was doled out to lower staff for satisfactory service. However, over time, asking for tips from passengers at the end of the journey, especially in trains where the price of meals is built into the fare, has become a part of the deal.
While some trains carry stickers to sensitise passengers to not tip, pantry staff invariably appear with a tray at the end of the journey asking for a tip. In 2015-16, a Union minister travelling on a Rajdhani had clicked a picture of a catering staff asking for tips and sent it to former Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu.
Overcharging is a more serious menace, one that Railways policymakers have been trying to address without success. Last year, an internal note prepared by the ministry as a prelude to the new catering policy said overcharging formed the single biggest chunk of complaints from passengers. Typically, passengers are not made aware of the actual rates and are overcharged by the private catering contractor. In its latest audit, the Comptroller and Auditor General has indicated that overcharging had become central to the financial model of most private catering contractors in the Railways.