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OPINION | Rajdhani Express Pantry Car Gives Birth to New Untouchables

If someone wants to experience the pain of an untouchable, he/she must travel as a non-food passenger on Rajdhani. The person would not get a single cup of tea from the pantry car even in extreme cold or when the train is running late by 10-12 hours.

Anil Chamadia |

Updated:January 17, 2018, 2:10 PM IST
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OPINION | Rajdhani Express Pantry Car Gives Birth to New Untouchables
File photo of Rajdhani Express. (Getty Images)
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The Rajdhani Express, one of the premium trains of the Indian Railway, treats passengers who refuse to buy food from private companies as untouchables.

In order to provide food and snacks to the passengers during their journeys, a provision of pantry car has been introduced in Indian trains. The responsibility of supplying food articles in trains lies with the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) Ltd., a subsidiary of the Railway ministry.

But this company is not directly involved in the supply. Instead, it awards contracts to big private firms which deal in food and catering services. Earlier, it was mandatory for the passengers of Rajdhani Express to pay for their food, tea – coffee and snacks even if they don’t use food and beverages services during their journey.

But in July 2017, the Indian Railway was forced to announce that passengers of Rajdhani Express, on their will, may opt out of the food services provided in the trains. The decision came in the backdrop of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), during an audit, lamenting the government for a poor food and catering system in the trains.

The premier audit agency also found that rotten food items, not fit for human consumption, were being served to the passengers. Thus a new breed of passengers came into existence in an elite train like Rajdhani Express. They are now known as non-food passengers.

If someone wants to experience the pain of an untouchable, he/she must travel as a non-food passenger on Rajdhani. The person would not get a single cup of tea from the pantry car even in extreme cold or when the train is running late by 10-12 hours. The situation would not change even if he is travelling with his ailing wife. If one were to ask for something, the manager of the pantry car would give a terse reply that there is no order to serve non-food passengers under any circumstances.

After July 2017 announcement, I have travelled in Rajdhani Express several times as a non-food passenger. On the first occasion, I was shocked with the behaviour of the waiter of the private firm that was providing catering services to the passengers. More than once, while serving food and snacks to my co-passengers, he looked at me as if I was inferior to others and was not entitled to board the train.

But nothing beats my latest experience. While returning from Howrah to Delhi, the Rajdhani was initially running late by just one hour. It then got delayed by around 12 hours. My food stock, which I carried from home, was exhausted. Meanwhile, a boiled dish of mixed rice and pulses, termed as khichdi by the food company, was served to my co-passengers during lunch.

Since childhood, I am familiar with the aroma of khichdi. The khichdi served to the other passengers was quite similar to the muddled food policies of the Indian Railways. It was evident that with the increasing delay of the train, the private catering firm was shamelessly lowering the dignity of a passenger. In such a scenario, the plight of a passenger who dares to opt for non-food category can be easily imagined.

During my journey, I felt the urge to sip tea in the evening. But the manager told me that he would not allow me to avail the services of the pantry car. The situation became more complex when the Running Rail’s Superintendent used the same language as the pantry car manager and refused to provide me with the complaint book, stating that as a non-food passenger I cannot complain about lack of service from the pantry. Both of them were instead asking me to file an online complaint.

The message was loud and clear – those who don’t have online facilities cannot lodge a grievance!

The pantry car manager and Rail Superintendent informed me that according to Indian Railways’ policy, none of the pantry services will be available to a non-food passenger. The superintendent suggested that I call a certain company and order food, which will be delivered to me at the next station.

Here too, for ordering food, I had to fulfil a certain condition. I needed to have a mobile phone with adequate balance! The superintendent also said that he was not aware of the cost price of that food. I would have to pay whatever price the company charges at the time of delivery. In other words, to become a passenger, one has to essentially equip himself with modern technology.

Now I have become enlightened with new wisdom that Indian Railway segregates passengers into two categories – privileged and untouchables. I must try to understand, in my next train journey, how social moths remain active during policy making.​

(The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.)
| Edited by: Aditya Nair
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