There was hope that things would change for the better after the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) came into existence in 2006. Basic hygiene would improve; retailers dealing in food products would serve eatables with plastic gloves instead of using dirty bare hands; all eatables shall be kept covered from dust and flies; eatables shall be served in packets and not on flimsy pieces of paper. However, eleven years later little seems to have changed on ground. At least in the trains one discovers the unhygienic conditions still prevail. For instance travelling by Kota Jan Shatabdi one discovered a boy wearing dirty, stinking shirt selling ‘samosas’ placed in an open cardboard box. He was serving the samosa on a piece of dirty newspaper with his dirty bare hands. The same hand he was using for taking currency notes and scratching his ear often.
This comes after the Railways made a tall claim of its new catering policy already been notified on 27 February this year 2017 with the objective to provide quality food to rail passengers by unbundling of catering services on trains. Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC) has been mandated to carry out the unbundling by creating a distinction primarily between food preparation and food distribution, which makes it obvious that the authority now responsible for food standards is the IRCTC. The boy selling the samosa was wearing a dirty shirt with inscription of IRCTC on it. Seemed he was working for the corporation, but unfortunately the corporation staff seems to be unaware of the quality standards of food and its service.
Yet another one came selling ice cream. It was the prominent market brand which was making the ice cream sell and not the yelling by the boy doing so. Here again, he gave the ice cream but the spoon to eat it came bare, not covered in a paper jacket. So one licks the spoon which must have been dirtied by the boys hands a dozen times as he counted the money with the same hands he used for giving out the ice cream cup and the spoon.
What more? The storage of edibles was dome in an extremely unhygienic way; dirty and shabby manner making the food coming from the pantry unfit for human consumption.
The new catering policy includes features for unbundling of catering services which say that IRCTC shall manage catering services on all mobile units. Meals for all mobile units will be picked up from the nominated kitchens owned, operated and managed by IRCTC. IRCTC will engage service providers from hospitality industry for service of food in trains. IRCTC shall not outrightly outsource or issue licenses for provision of catering services to private licensees. IRCTC shall retain the ownership and shall be fully accountable for all the issues pertaining to setting up and operation of the base kitchens and quality of food.
The onus of providing quality food under hygienic conditions lies on IRCTC.
As per the new catering policy there was no service provider from the hospitality industry for service of food in the trains. This was obvious when a co-traveller ordered a pizza. The pizza served bore no popular brand. The traveller was shocked to see the pizza and its quality which was not expected.
Same was the condition of the chap selling tea in addition to the regular menu of breakfast. He carried a big boiler drum containing ‘ready-made’ tea and held plastic glasses in other hand, the usual way those selling tea do on the trains. There was no change, neither in the way of service nor the attitude of the serving staff.
Yet another chap sold snacks of different local brands. The new catering policy of the railways has in the meantime become old and there seems to be no change in service or quality of food. Will things change on the Indian Railways ever?