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...Stinking dal on board elite express

Are we paying more for stale lunch? Passengers of Howrah-bound Duronto Express asked each other in disbelief after the high-profile train, which recently jacked up ticket prices like all others of its ilk, served up a meal of rice, dal, paneer and chicken on Monday.

Although the torment started around noon soon after the train left Bilaspur station and pantry employees dished out trays of foul-smelling food, disgruntled passengers of the B-3 coach launched their protest after 4pm at Tatanagar station, where Duronto makes a three-minute halt.

Armed with a copy of the complaint, which they had lodged with the pantry car manager, the 25-odd hungry passengers sought justice. Their brief protest, however, did not delay the train.

“As soon as I opened the packed dal, it let out a stink. The paneer and chicken smelt bad too. I couldn’t eat fearing food-poisoning,” said Abhinav Chaturvedi, a Mumbai-based businessman.

Shanu Banerjee, a medical representative returning to Calcutta, his hometown, from Mumbai rued that the railway fare had recently been hiked by Rs 400, but train services remain disappointing. “For a Mumbai-Calcutta Duronto ticket, we now pay Rs 2,500 instead of Rs 2,100. But, the food has gone from bad to worse.”

Mumbai businessman Vikas Sood pointed out that the pantry car manager had, initially, refused to take their complaint. “I have never come across such an awkward situation. First, I am not able to eat lunch and somehow survive on home-made snacks I am carrying. Second, our pleas go unheard,” he recalled.

The agitated passengers raised anti-railway slogans at Tatanagar and blamed IRCTC, a subsidiary of Indian Railways that handles catering, for the loathsome lunch.

IRCTC officials said they were aware of the problem faced by Duronto passengers. “We have asked the pantry car manager, who was on duty, to collect food samples. Necessary corrective action will be taken after lab tests,” said Jagannath, the group general manager of IRCTC. The senior official added: “We will also initiate a probe against our approved agency, which had supplied the food from Bilaspur.”

Insiders claimed that catering agencies approved by the IRCTC at the time of filing quotation promise quality food, but often further outsource the job, resulting in unhygienic food being served to unsuspecting passengers.