TRAIN PASSENGERS were often served filthy food under unhygienic conditions, zonal railways had no plan in place to provide food in long-distance trains, and the Railways Ministry failed to ensure quality food served at reasonable prices — an audit of stations and trains by the CAG between July and October 2016 has found. The CAG report on Railway catering was tabled in Parliament on Friday.
Auditing a sample of 74 stations and 80 trains last year, these are some of the mentions in the CAG report: rats and cockroaches in one train, nail in cutlets served to a passenger, unpurified water used in cooking, pantry staff handling contaminated food items, among others. It also found food “not fit for human consumption” in one instance.
Taking a swipe at the new catering policy launched by Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu recently, the CAG said even the new policy is not clear on how zonal railways will be held accountable. It held policy shifts in catering responsible for the mess. In 2005, the Railways gave all catering contracts to IRCTC, its PSU, but took it back in 2010. It gave the contract back to IRCTC under the new policy this year.
This, the auditor noted, created confusion in the sector. According to the report, high licence fees charged by zonal railways leave vendors with little option but to overcharge and cut corners. For instance, if the contract calls for 100 grams of curd to be served, the vendor served 90 grams, it pointed out.
The Railways said it is aware of the problems listed. But, it said, of 11.5 lakh meals served every day, it received only 24 complaints related to food on average every day. “In last one year, we terminated seven contracts, blacklisted 16 contractors, took action against 21 officers and imposed fines in excess of Rs 4.5 crore,” an official from minister Prabhu’s office said. In his first budget speech, the minister had announced launch of e-catering services on train, which would allow passengers to order food from brands of their choice.
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