One is amused by the "grand plan" of the railways to provide 'good and safe' foods to their clients, the millions of passengers using the rail net work to go places. It does not dawn on the ministry that people use the services not out of love or admiration for them but due to no other options before them as railway travel happens to be the cheapest mode of transport in the country. No doubt Indian Railway (IR) is a mammoth enterprise connecting the country and in spite of the passenger unfriendly nature of the services, passengers show enormous patience and forbearance true to the Gandhian tradition. The latest 'service' is to set up toll free telephone numbers for the commuters to contact and make suggestions regarding foods that should be served in the trains. One positive outcome of this new proposal is that the railways implicitly admit that the food served can be improved. This is in sharp contrast to the earlier pompous attitude with senior officials looking after the catering who were very categorical in their assertion that "India Railways always serve the best food in the world"!
Coming to the new so called 'service', can there be a more ridiculous proposition than making suggestions for food improvements through telephone? Every one knows how difficult it is to access any public number in any government department or public utility office with the phone giving engaged tone in spite of calling repeatedly, either because some one is talking or the receiver being kept down deliberately. What can an average citizen expect by talking to an unknown operator with no knowledge of food about improving rail foods? If this is not sheer skullduggery, what else it is? All know what has happened to the earlier plan of the very same manthri to ban plastic cups and replace them with earthern ware cups which to day are only adorning the show cases of the caterers, since they found the idea impractical to implement on a scale warranted by the demand.
Now comes the latest plan to set up Food Plazas under PPP mode with private participation. Already 53 such plazas are claimed to be operating and this is sought to be expanded by adding another 52 to ensure availability of hygienic foods to customers as one of the objectives but more important to add to the burgeoning profits being recorded year after year. This had earned global attention and even a 'professorship' for the concerned 'manthriji' by adulating management students from some colleges. There is already 'rail neer', being manufactured by IR for travelling public and another two plants are scheduled to be set up. It does not make any sense why IR wants to set up new water plants when there are more than 1000 plants set up by the private sector with hardly 30% capacity utilization. If IR truly believes in the PPP concept, the best way would have been to use this idle capacity to meet its demand. The most troubling aspect of food plazas is the real repurcussions these restaurants will have on the hapless travelling public since the railway stations are invariably crowded all the time with the meager passenger facilities over stretched to maximum extent possible. Why does IR want to attract more crowds to the vicinity of these stations through food plazas? Probably IR may derail what ever little comforts being enjoyed by the passengers while earning profit has become its major objective .
Many travellers in IR trains must not have missed the rat nuisance even in air conditioned coaches and sleeping in such trains can be a disturbing thought. These rail 'choohas' are indeed smart with their fast movements and ability to grab foods under the very nose of the passengers! It does not cost much for the railways to clean up and fumigate the trains regularly after each trip to ensure that cockroaches and rats do not make these coaches their permanent abode. Probably IR may be doing it but what ever is being done is grossly inadequate. Most of the rail yards where racks are parked in between trips, can breed these vectors as litter and garbage mounts are created by indiscriminate dumping of refuse near these places. As long as food is eaten inside the train, it will attract these vectors and an efficient disinfestation team must be in place to preempt this problem. A better alternative is to include pantry cars with serving facilities in vestibuled trains, so that eating within the coaches can be avoided as much as possible. It is unfortunate that a plea by this blogger earlier to involve major food processors in providing pantry service in important trains, a truly PPP model, has fallen on deaf ears!