Railways to ‘break cartels’, improve food quality

In a bid to overhaul the food served on stations and in trains like Rajdhani and Shatabdi by breaking the cartel of existing caterers, the Railways is planning to give out fresh contracts to vendors. The move will be implemented by May 22 when the temprorary extension given to caterers of 302 trains ends.

Ever since the New Catering Policy was notified in 2010 when Mamata Banerjee was the railway minister, the caterers have been continuing with temporary 4-6 month extensions, leaving the new policy in a limbo. Now the onus of implementing it has fallen on minister Pawan Kumar Bansal.

He will meet officials this week to take a call on the contentious issues of ceiling limit and food price. The officials are keen on hiking the food price that caterers charge on Rajdhanis and Shatabdis as it has not been revised since 1999.

The national carrier is now trying to enforce a ceiling limit of maximum 10 per cent of trains for each vendor in its bid to monitor quality. According to an internal estimate, currently around 65 entities serve 302 trains but in effect they are owned by a handful of families under various names and ownership patterns.

The Railways has also found that the licence holders of food stalls on stations have been holding a cluster of units and subletting it on rent, which is illegal.

The minister has sought data on ownership of all units. Majority of the licensees entered the business in mid 90s and by now have established a strong monopoly.

Sources said that railways is keen on implementing ceiling limits in such a way that those actually running the stalls on rent get the licence.

Interestingly, a majority of zonal railways have objected to the strict implementation of the ceiling on trains saying the limits could make it difficult to find eligible vendors. On strict implementation of limits for the stalls at stations, officials have reported that the number of license holders and their tenants could be too high to manage.