Indian Railways Catering & Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) was essentially created over 2 decades back to manage the non-rail business of the world’s largest railway network that is Indian Railways (IR). In the pre-covid era, over 60 lakh passengers traversed everyday across over 1 lakh railway stations in the country. The whole network came to a halt on 27 Mar. ‘20 when the country’s first ever lockdown was announced in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. At present, daily rail traffic ranges between 15-20 lakh passengers.
In a recent order, the Indian Railway Board has announced that IRCTC shall move out of handling F&B concessions within the premises owned by IR. Instead, IRCTC shall allow the Zonal Offices to identify suitable spaces for running commercial outlets. The Zonal Offices shall choose the operators to run food and beverage outlets, fast food units, restaurants and other commercial businesses within the railway premises including platforms. The operators shall be chosen through a Tender process as approved by the Government of India for PSUs.
IRCTC, however shall continue to manage the F&B services inside the trains as well as providing passenger amenities such as blankets, towels, etc. The company serves food for passengers who travel in Shatabdi and Rajdhani trains at their seats and also operates the pantry car attached to several trains, which is in turn sold at subsidised prices to passengers.
The news has brought much cheer to commercial F&B operators, books and magazines sellers, retailers, etc. This could increase the business opportunities within the premises at thousands of railway stations and also drive employment opportunities to several lakh people. The Central Government went on an overdrive to privatise trains and railways stations in 2019 and 75 cities / towns were chosen for the purpose. However, much of this was kept in abeyance or shelved to the intermittent lockdowns.
Passengers preferred private transport instead of trains due to chances of getting affected with Covid-19 virus and variants such as Omicron. Therefore, there has been a steep fall in travel bookings, even until Q3 FY21-22. But all this could change with most of the eligible population getting vaccinated and the entire skipping the so called “third wave”. The scare remained a mongering and most people in the country went about doing their chores.
The passengers at large have been impacted due to the closure of food outlets all these months. But this situation would change for the better in the next three months with powers given to Zonal Offices.