By Pratik Mantri:
If you happen to travel in railways and have their food, you might as well be in need of some assistance later. The Indian rail pantry catering, which has been dishing out mediocre food for God knows how many years is a pain for the passengers, particularly for those travelling on long distance journeys. While the passengers have to trust the pantry (sometimes with no other option) for food, the contractors and the concerned authorities stick to their old inefficient ways. All this happens under the so called watchful eyes of the government. The food in airlines is comparatively better but it’s not like anything you will remember for long time. The food has always remained a problem with railways and airlines and little has been done to improve the taste.
There is no doubt that food in railways (even in trains like Shatabdi) tests your ability to digest. The food charges do not commensurate with the quality that is put on board. Soups look like unpleasant watery stuff, obnoxious rolls are called chapattis and smelly daal are some of the items on the menu in trains. Most of the time the tea and coffee remain the sole attraction in the entire trip. There have been frequent instances of presence of cockroaches, flies and other insects in the food. The pantry is as dirty as a garbage truck. If the food is judged purely on the basis of taste leaving out the hygiene and other such criteria then also it is far from being appreciated. There was a scene in the movie ‘Aparichit’ which aptly showed the kitchen used for making food for passengers. In the case of airlines, some of them provide food that would be just enough for an average person to survive. There is some sophistication in airlines but the fact of the matter still remains the same; the taste is not so much to talk about.
The problem which has plagued the railways’ catering department is the same as faced by our country; Corruption. The rampant corrupt practices and the endless administrative inefficiencies have made life worse for passengers. The contractors who are given contracts do not fulfil the conditions of the contract which has been observed many times in the past. They assert their monopoly and try to squeeze in more money by using stale veggies bought at prices lesser than actually shown in registers. Similar is the case with airlines but on a smaller scale. Lack of accountability is another reason due to which the concerned authorities haven’t been able to crack down on carelessness. Every material used is of substandard quality and coupled with inefficiency it manufactures one of the worst kinds of food. In fact, calling it food is already an insult to other consumables. Airlines have their in-house catering division but in a haste to prepare food they also don’t pay heed to quality and just want to quickly finish their work.
Few things need to be done to improve it. One of them is doing away with the pantry cars. The Government has recently decided this and will set up 250 kitchens across the country to prepare about six lakh meals and snacks per day, pantry cars will be used to store meals. Proper cleanliness needs to be ensured, more wash basins in pantry cars will help. General hygiene of cooks and workers remains a concern which also needs to be looked after. More surprise checks from the government’s side will help to keep the catering department on its toes. Sometimes there is also dearth of people with good man management skills; to address that recruitment should be done keeping the requirements in mind.
Above all this, if cleanliness along with efficiency and honesty is maintained then there is no reason why railways and airlines can’t produce sumptuous food.