An audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Catering Services in Indian Railways has exposed Prabhu charisma in railways. In a 301 pages audit report, which was carried out to assess adequacy and availability of good quality and hygienic food to railway passengers as well as other factors has observed that Railways are good only in advertisements and on Twitter.
Important findings of the report:
Due to frequent policy changes, IR could not take effective steps to bridge the gap to provide necessary infrastructure in terms of base kitchens, Static Catering Units, Trains Side Vending arrangements and Automatic Vending Machines etc. (Para 2.2)
Zonal Railways were required to prepare a Master Plan (Blue Print) of catering services to be provided at each station and onboard trains. Blue Print for provision of catering services was not prepared in seven Zonal Railways (ECR, ER, NFR, NWR, SER, SWR and ECOR). (Para 2.3)
Gas burners were to be progressively switched over to electric power equipment in pantry cars in trains as per policy. However, ICF manufactured 103 pantry cars during April 2011 to March 2016 with provision for centralized LPG cylinders, which were distributed to Zonal Railways. (Para 2.4.1)
Zonal Railways did not ensure provision of pantry cars in a number of long distance trains. During joint inspection, it was seen that in nine trains having a run of more than 24 hours, no pantry car was provided. No Train Side Vending Services were provided by NCR, SECR and SR for the trains which run for more than 12 hours during the day time. (Para 3.1 and 3.6)
Base kitchens were to be set up in railway premises to monitor and control the quality and hygiene of food served in trains. However, only 16 base kitchens were located in railway premises. 115 base kitchens were located outside the railway premises and were not subjected to quality check. In respect of 128 trains of seven Zonal Railways, meals were picked up from outside base kitchens. (Para 3.2)
Railway Board instructed (January 2012) Zonal Railways to make efforts to improve the sale/availability of Janta meals so as to provide good quality food at affordable price to railway passengers. However, out of 74 stations where joint inspections were conducted by Audit, Jan Aahar units were not provided on 46 stations. Share of Janta meals sold to the overall meals sold in six Zonal Railways was declining in the last three years. (Para 3.7)
During joint inspections of selected trains, audit observed a number of unauthorized vendors on platforms and trains. During 2013-14 to 2015-16, 2,39,096 cases were prosecuted by Railway Protection Force and fine imposed in eight Zone Railways. (Para 3.9)
Audit checked 124 contracts awarded by eight Zonal Railways and observed that a major portion of contract value was paid as license fee to Zonal Railways, leaving a small margin of the contract value for the licensee for providing catering services. It may not be workable for the licensees to cater to the needs of passengers within the available margin and may result in compromising the quality, quantity and prices etc. (Para 4.1)
During the joint inspection of selected 74 stations and 80 trains over Zonal Railways, Audit noticed that
Cleanliness and hygiene were not being maintained at catering units at stations and in trains. Unpurified water straight from tap was used in preparation of beverages, waste bins were not found covered, not emptied regularly and not washed, food stuff were not covered to protect them from flies, insects and dust, rats and cockroaches were found in trains etc.
Unfair practices were being followed in execution of catering services at stations and trains. Bills were not given for the food items served in mobile units in trains. Printed menu cards with tariff for the list of food items sold in the mobile units were not available with waiters and Catering Managers in trains. Food stuff served was less than the prescribed scheduled quantity, unapproved packaged drinking water was sold, Proprietary Article Depot (PAD) items were sold at the railway stations at maximum retail price (MRP) with weight and prices different from the open market and per unit price of food articles sold in railway premises is significantly higher.
Deficiencies in respect of quality of food served were noticed. Articles unsuitable for human consumption, contaminated foodstuff, recycled foodstuff, shelf life expired packaged and bottled items, unauthorized brands of water bottles, etc., were offered for sale on stations. (Paras 5.1 to 5.3)
Audit observed that though a complaint redressal system has been put in place, there is no reduction in the number of complaints over the years. It was also seen that the major share of complaints pertained to overcharging and quality issues. (Para 5.5)