The next time you go on a long train journey, carry your own food. For the fare from pantry cars or station kitchens is anything but what the doctor ordered.
The unhygienic conditions in which railway food is prepared were exposed when Metro accompanied the railway ministry’s Passengers’ Services Committee chairman Derek O’Brien on surprise inspections of kitchens at Allahabad station and on trains. The Rajdhani kitchen at Howrah station, however, got a clean chit.
Railway canteen, Allahabad: Many long-distance trains without pantry cars that touch Allahabad — the divisional headquarters of North Central Railway — serve food from the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) base kitchen at the station. Other passengers and visitors too eat the food.
Rats and cockroaches were crawling all over the kitchen, when the inspection team dropped in on Tuesday morning. The cooks and other kitchen staff paid no heed to the insects and animals as they went about preparing food for thousands. Vegetables and raw food items lay in the open, beside heaps of garbage spilling out of the bin.
Water had accumulated on a portion of the floor. “Last night’s heavy rain caused the water accumulation. We will immediately clean the floor,” said a kitchen employee to the inspection team.
Food Plaza, Allahabad: The IRCTC has outsourced the running of the facility to a private operator. The condition of the kitchen was just as bad — down to the accumulation of dirty water. An employee was trying to clear the drain with bare hands. Those serving customers were, however, neatly dressed. None of the workers was carrying an identity card, making it impossible to find out whether outsiders were working in the kitchen or not.
Dwarbhanga-New Delhi Swatantrata Senani Express: Garbage was floating on the water that had accumulated on the pantry car floor.
Patna-Mumbai Janata Express: The pantry car was clean and the employees properly dressed but the four heating equipment and the boiler had been lying defunct for two months. “We have to serve the food immediately after preparing it since we cannot store it,” said the pantry car manager.
“We are going to take strong action against those operating the kitchens and pantry cars,” said O’Brien after the inspection.
“While the pantry car on the Rajdhani Express and its kitchen at Howrah station are maintaining satisfactory standard, there are others that need marked improvement and we have started implementing plans towards improving their service,” O’Brien said in Allahabad after a meeting with senior rail officials.
Over the past four days, the committee cracked down on two private pantry car operators. The contract of the private pantry operator of the Ernakulum-Guwahati Express, where several students fell ill because of food poisoning, has been terminated. The pantry operator on the Ispat Express has been slapped a fine of Rs 50,000.