Did you know that Indian Railways needs 7000 mobile food outlets to serve meals to 13 million captive customers, DAILY?

16 OCT 2014

Railway Foods

   That’s right: 13 million people travel, DAILY, on 7000 passenger trains of Indian Railways. The food available to these 13 million captive customers, on the trains and on 6800 railway stations, is usually unhygienic, tasteless, shoddily served and certainly not worth the price.

Left with no choice, the customers accept what is on offer, or carry their own food.

Indian Railways have now decided that railway catering needs to be looked at afresh. They are toying with the idea that passengers should be offered ‘branded ready-to-eat meals, in all express and mail trains, from reputed brands such as ITC, Kohinoor Foods and Kellogg's’. I do not dispute the fact that these brands are reputed, but do they have a track record of cooking and delivering the kind of food that the average Indian would prefer to eat on a train journey? People want wholesome and nutritious food on a train journey, not snacks and fast food.

It seems that this decision to offer branded foods is based on the positive feedback of a pilot project and a subsequent survey. However, was the survey carried out only on mail and express trains, or on the less glamorous and slower passenger trains too? Did the survey cover only the passengers who eat railway meals, and not the vast majority of passengers who avoid the railway meals and bring along their own food? My gut feeling, emanating from my years of travelling on Indian trains, tells me that the AVERAGE Indian passenger does not relish and cannot afford branded ready-to-eat meals.

Here are a few unsolicited suggestions to Indian Railways from some of their customers, that is, people who travel by trains:

A. Seek the professional help of organisations which have a proven record of supplying fairly wholesome meals – not snacks – to thousands of persons daily. A few examples of such professional organisations are:

1. Large religious trusts which serve meals to thousands of devotees daily.

2. Large hospitals which serve nutritious meals to thousands of patients daily.

3. Big schools which serve meals to thousands of students daily.

4. Large industries which run excellent industrial canteens to serve meals to their workers.

5. Some of the state governments which have an enviable record of handling school mid-day meal programmes.

6. NGOs which serve mid-day meals to government schools. For instance, the Akshaya Patra Foundation serves mid-day meals to 1.3 million school children every day.

The above examples are not imaginary. If you stop to think about it, you will realise that your own region or district has several institutions which have an excellent track record of preparing and supplying acceptable low-cost meals daily to thousands of customers. For example, Vadodara has at least one institution in each of the above 6 categories.

B. In each railway zone, invite private companies like ITC, Kellogg’s, Kohinoor, McDonald’s etc., to replicate the above meal production facilities and quality standards, ensure adherence to the quality standards, and incorporate the latest packaging technologies.

C. Separate the production and distribution activities. For instance, there could be 50 franchised production centres all over India and 500 distribution agencies (franchised by the Mumbai Dabbawalas maybe?).

When it comes to cooked food production we have a lot to learn from India’s big-kitchen institutions. And when it comes to managing distribution, the Indian Railways could possibly take some tips from Mumbai’s Dabbawalas.

Do my suggestions appear to be improbable? Well, once upon a time, an organisation like the Indian Railways would itself have appeared improbable. But now we do have 6800 railway stations, and 7000 passenger trains carrying 13 million passengers daily all over a sprawling country. Serving acceptable and economic meals and tea and coffee and water on this railway network should be child’s play in comparison. Are we not the same country that just sent a little gadget all the way to Mars, that too the only country in the world so do it successfully the first time?

One affected Indian Bakra/bakri in the service of the people of India.




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