Rail travellers will have to wait for a few more days to get branded, ready-to-eat meals on their journeys as Railways and packaged food manufacturers are busy sorting out pricing issues.
Flooded with complaints about the quality of the food served on trains, Railways had decided to provide ready-to-eat food as an additional option for its passengers by October 30.
Even as he admitted that determining the prices for the branded food items was a factor that has led to the delay in the launch of the new menu on mail and express trains, Railway Member (Traffic), D P Pande, said, "It is being resolved now."
While Railways is averse to the high price demand of the food manufacturers, the latter maintain that the rate of pre- cooked food like pav bhaji, chicken biryani, rajma chawal served up in sealed packages will be a bit more than the prices of the standard meals available in pantry cars.
"We have made them agree to our approved rate and now the policy is being finalised and expected to be rolled out in a month from now," Pande said.
He, however, said that the option will be launched on a select few trains in the first phase and more trains will be covered later on. It would be made available on mail and express trains which have a pantry car.
The service is likely to be initially launched on trains such as Karnataka Express, Frontier Mail, Paschim Express where the trial of these pre-cooked food items are already being carried out.
A committee comprising health officials and senior rail officials has been formed to examine the quality, hygienic condition and protein value of the packaged food.
Since these items are pre-cooked, the committee will have to certify about its bacteria-free shelf life, said a senior railway ministry official. The branded food would be served to passengers as an 'add on' option along with the standard items as part of the catering service on trains.
However, the national transporter insists that price of the pre-cooked food will be kept on a par with the standard meals currently available on trains.
Given the high volume and branding opportunity, the companies are being told to charge reasonable rates, the rail official said.
As to the trials, the official said that pre-cooked food by reputed brands like ITC, MTR, Kohinoor Foods, Quickmeal and Deleez were made available on a few trains and the response of passengers was encouraging.
"Our aim is to ensure quality hygienic food for passengers. It must also be seen that the brands of meals or food items -- their quality, quantity, rate, hygiene -- are properly maintained," the official added.
After the launch, senior railway officials will undertake a drive on the trains for checking the availability of branded and approved ready-to-eat food for the passengers.
A media campaign will also be initiated by all zones to publicise the pre-cooked food being served on trains.