Passengers can now call 1800111321 any time between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Railways Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal on Wednesday unveiled a new food catering policy for providing hygienic food at increased prices and to the satisfaction of passengers.

A toll-free phone number (1800111321) has been created to take complaints. Mr. Bansal said complaints about quality, quantity or charges would be redressed on a basis.

The Railways have so far received 26 complaints in the four days of activating the service. “It is not popular as yet. It will take time. But the lesser the number the better for us,” Mr. Bansal emphasised, underscoring that overcharging happened to be the biggest problem.

The service would be available between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. covering the meal times and complaints would be responded to immediately.

Mr. Bansal said that if extra money had been charged it would be returned.

Caterers would be impressed upon the need to issue receipts for the food supplied and provide the brand fixed for various eatable items. This would be to avoid cheating on price and quality. Checking squads would make surprise inspections and exemplary action would be taken against erring caterers, Mr. Bansal said.

Apart from the Railways and the IRCTC, there are about 232 licensed contractors engaged in the Rs. 2,000-crore business. There will be a sea change in the supply of food by May end. Prices are set to be revised. The last time a revision was done in December.

He said the Railways had renewed food licences for only four months, after which a review of the licence fee, the Railways’ own share and the quality of food to be served would be made.

The catering licence will be for five years and extendable by another five years if the quality of service is found satisfactory.

The caterers will be required to have state-of-the-art base kitchens close to railway stations to prepare first class food untouched by humans, packaged and delivered on conveyor belts.

Land will be given for setting up base kitchens at major originating stations and at some en route stations for the benefit of passengers of long distance trains. The number of such kitchens might go up to 250 across the country. Stringent standards would be laid for preparation of food in very hygienic conditions and enhanced standards of checking would be put in place, Mr. Bansal said. A proposal for a food laboratory was also under consideration.

In regard to bottled water, Mr. Bansal said Rail Neer accounted for just three lakh bottles of the 30 lakh bottles required daily and it would go up to six lakh bottles after new bottling plants were commissioned.

The Ministry would determine the other brands of bottled water that could be sold on the railway network.

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