Tuesday, 25 April 2017

INDIA: e-catering Introduced By Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited

Passengers of all trains originating can avail the facility of SHG cooked food through e-catering

Railways has roped in self-help groups (SHGs) for providing local cuisines in running trains through station-based e-catering service.

Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC), the catering arm of railways, has empanelled nine SHGs to provide authentic regional food cooked in hygienic conditions at 10 stations including Adra, Secunderabad, Vijayawada, Mysore, Ernakulam and Vishakhapatnam.

Passengers of all trains originating/stopping at these stations can avail of the facility of SHG cooked food through e-catering.

Currently, 11 lakh meals are served in a day at running trains across the country out of which private caterers provide majority of meals.

Railways had launched the station-based e-catering facility last year to widen the scope of catering options for train travellers.

The local cuisine scheme has been launched to encourage self-help groups to participate in the public transporter's catering system and also to provide multiple options for passengers to avail on the train journey, a senior Railway Ministry official said.

To begin with, nine SHGs have come forward to provide popular local cuisine at 10 stations and it is expected that more and more SHGs would join the scheme, he said.

Railways has announced a new catering policy with the aim of providing quality food at rail premises and reduce the number of complaints against the existing catering system.

Railways receives about 25 complaints against food quality in a day which are being addressed, the official said.

The new catering policy envisages separation of cooking from distribution of food on trains and encourages e-catering system.

Involvement of SHGs in e-catering provides scope for employment generation and proliferation of the scheme is expected in the days to come.

The world of commercials is set to invade the spaces of trains in India, both inside and outside, giving the passengers a feeling familiar to the experience of seeing billboards while driving along highways or sitting in Metro trains. To boost revenues, the Indian Railways will soon be inviting bids for vinyl-wrapped advertisements on trains.

The move is likely to cover 10,000 trains, garnering an additional revenue of Rs 2,000 crore for the national carrier. A tender will be floated later this month.

A total of 1,253 stations have been identified for modernisation out of which 1,022 railway stations have been upgraded so far, Parliament was told on Wednesday.

"The remaining stations are planned to be developed during 2017-18," Minister of State for Railways Rajen Gohain said in a written reply in the Lok Sabha.

Gohain added that modernisation and upgradation of railway stations was a continuous and on-going process and that, at present, upgradation of stations was being undertaken under 'Adarsh Station Scheme'.

What does it take to run a full train? Indian Railways are under the control of the central government which is the only provider of rail infrastructure and operations. Till now, the Railways have been vested with regulatory functions but that will soon change with the setting up of Rail Development Authority.

Limited private participation has largely been in infrastructure creation like private sidings, terminals and captive freight movement from pit head to project site. The operations, by law, are otherwise done by the Railways itself.

The government's latest move to allow private companies to run trains is not the first one being tried out. In January 2006, in order to promoted competition and break the monopoly of government-controlled Container Corporation of India, the Ministry of Railways allowed the entry of private and public sector operators to obtain licences for running container trains on the railways network.

As this was the first major attempt to get private companies, around 15 new entrants obtained licences to run container trains but the viability of the business is still in question and Concor continues to be the dominant player with 74 per cent market share.

Companies like Gateway Rail Freight, Arshiya Rail and APL Indialinx, Hind Terminals are in the market too but are largely marginal in business. Primarily, the haulage charges paid to the Railways make business difficult. Rail freight charges account for over 60 per cent operational costs for these operators.

The Railways expect cement, steel, auto, logistics, grains, chemicals and fertiliser companies to show interest in having their own fleet under the special freight train operations scheme of the railways. It expects 20-25 million tonne of additional freight volume to come through them.

In the passenger segment, private operators in the past have been selected for tourism trains but with freight, this did not take off.

Till now, private companies can book wagons and lease rakes to be run by the Railways. However, if the new scheme takes off, then the companies can carry freight on behalf of other customers too. Whether they are able to run the business unstrung from various regulations of the Indian Railways will be determined to a large extent by how the railway regulator evolves.

At the same time, with the investment climate yet to pick up, a correct assessment of enough cargo will be difficult, more for the new private players that do not have enough experience.

A track, a rake and other infrastructure may not be the only inputs in the business of running trains. There is a need to build a strategy to balance tariff and volumes in such a way that traffic does not shift to roads.

The operating ratio of the railways has witnessed a deterioration in comparison to previous fiscals indicating more expenditure and less saving for the public transporter, Lok Sabha was told on Wednesday.

The railways' operation ratio was 91.3 per cent during 2014-15. It improved to 90.5 per cent in 2015-16. However, for the fiscal 2016-17, operating ratio was 94.9 per cent, a deterioration over the last year.

In the railways, an operating ratio of 80 per cent or lower is considered desirable.

An operating ratio indicates how much the railways spends to earn a rupee. An operating ratio of 94.9 per cent means that the railways is spending 94.9 paisa to earn 100 paisa (one rupee). A lower figure of operating ratio is therefore regarded better and is indicative of better financial health of the system.

The recommendations of 7th Pay Commission with regard to pay and pension were approved by the government for implementation during 2016-17 and accordingly, the operating ratio of railways in revised estimates 2016-17 was estimated at 94.9 per cent, Minister of State for Railways Rajen Gohain said in the House.

Implementation of 7th pay panel has affected the railways as its expenditure for pay and pension has increased considerably.

Gohain said the railways sought assistance from the Finance Ministry to meet the additional liability arising out of 7th Pay panel recommendations.

However, the Finance Ministry advised the railways to explore raising own resources for implementation of the recommendations.
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