The Railway Ministry is considering several modalities to ring in changes in its catering policy, hoping to serve passengers with better meals and amenities.

The change promised in Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee’s budget speech for 2009-10 has not materialised thus far but the authorities maintain that she will announce the new policy in her budget for 2010-11.

A major issue under consideration before the Railway Board is whether to retain the pre-eminent position of its subsidiary, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), or to shear it of the catering job in the wake of criticism that the standard of food served on trains and in stations under its supervision had gone down considerably.

In case the Ministry intends to take over the supervision of the catering job, the IRCTC’s wings will stand clipped to just selling tickets, providing bedrolls in trains and managing tourism packages.

The Railway Board aims at simplifying the licensing system for vendors in a bid to break the monopoly of some big players in the catering sector. The lack of competition is seen as the prime factor responsible for the fall in the standard of food served by these caterers.

To encourage small players, the Ministry is considering putting a cap on the number of pantry cars a contractor could be allowed to operate. As against the present policy of allowing a contractor to run pantry cars in 30 trains, the Ministry is seeking to restrict the number to 10. The Ministry is also thinking of replacing the cotton bedrolls with polyester ones.

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