Alarmed by controversies of an alleged scam following CBI’s recent raids at a Rail Neer plant in Delhi, railways minister Suresh Prabhu is planning an ‘exit route’ for the public transporter from the on-board catering business as well.
With the railways unable to fix the critical issue of ‘cartelisation’ in the catering business in past, Prabhu has started weighing options of empowering the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) with catering responsibilities – five years after the corporation was divested of the job by then railways minister Mamata Banerjee.
If this happens, the railways will have to bear an annual loss of `350 crore that it now earns by way of license fee from contractors, who serve approximately seven lakh daily meals on 224 mail and express trains.
Despite persistent efforts, the country’s public transporter has neither been able to effectively tackle the ‘catering mafia’, nor find a lasting solution to persistent passenger complaints. “We are giving it a big stab once more. If our e-catering initiative takes off, the cartel will automatically break down”, said a close aide of Prabhu.
Approximately 60% of the catering business has continued over the past years to be monopolised by one firm that has been able to circumvent the provisions of the catering policy of a 10% cap on contracts by setting up firms under different names.
“Our complaints in this regard have been gathering dust. The same group has been setting up new firms by the day. If the trend continues, the other players will get completely wiped out in coming years,” said IK Dogra, president of the Indian Railways Caterers Association.