KOLKATA: Minister of state for railways Adhir Chowdhury on Monday squarely put the blame for the Sealdah Rajdhani stale-food fiasco on a policy implemented by former railway minister Mamata Banerjee, because of which proper monitoring of food is not always possible.
The minister told RailNews that a change in policy was in the offing. “The existing catering policy came into being when Mamata Banerjee was railway minister,” said Chowdhury. “This policy is responsible for the mess. We can’t change things overnight but discussions are on. Apolicy change is under consideration,” he added.
The railways may have taken over charge of on-board catering from the IRCTC under the catering policy of 2010 but officials say little has changed, as far as monitoring of services by private caterers is concerned. “Under the catering policy, Eastern Railway (ER) took over catering on the Howrah and Sealdah Rajdhanis,” said an official.
“There are few problems on the Howrah Rajdhani as on-board catering is handled directly by the railways and food is prepared at the base kitchens. For catering on the Sealdah Rajdhani, a tripartite agreement was signed between ER, IRCTC and a private agency. The private agency prepares the food to be served to passengers. Monitoring is possible when the train starts from Sealdah as the ER headquarters are located in Kolkata. However, in the return journey, proper monitoring is not always possible,” he added.
Sources said that the private caterer which prepares food for the Sealdah Rajdhani has its kitchen somewhere in Hazrat Nizamuddin, which is 9km from the New Delhi station. With midday temperatures in Delhi soaring beyond 45°C, there is every possibility of food getting spoilt in a few hours unless proper care is taken.
“For the Sealdah Rajdhani, the caterer must complete preparing the food by 1pm. It would take an hour longer to pack it. So far as we know, the agency doesn’t have refrigerated vans to transfer the food from Nizamuddin to New Delhi station. At the station, the food is loaded on the train. Passengers are served dinner around 8.30pm. There is every possibility of some of the food getting spoilt in the intervening hours. Though the railways have taken over monitoring, nothing has changed as the catering agencies remain the same,” said another railway official from Delhi.