The Wire: New Delhi: Wednesday, May 3, 2017.
An official response to recent right to information (RTI) application indicates the Indian Railways has been buying catering supplies for passengers at prices much higher than the market price. The RTI reply provided to activist Ajay Bose stated that the central railway’s catering department stocked up its warehouses with goods purchased for a price several times higher than their actual market price.
A report first published in The Hindu said that the catering department purchased 100 gram cups of Amul curd – which sells at Rs 25 – at an astronomical price of Rs 927 per kilogram, a litre of refined oil at Rs 1,241, and a kilogram of Tata salt for Rs 49, instead of its market price, Rs 15. Similarly, the reply said that water bottles and soft drinks were purchased for Rs 59 per bottle by the central railways.
These items were bought by the division’s catering department in March 2016 and were stocked at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CSTM) station in Mumbai. They were distributed to IRCTC’s Jan Ahar canteens, railway base kitchens and several trains that pass through or originate in Mumbai.
Bose filed his application when he learnt that the catering department was running huge losses. But getting a response from the railways soon became an uphill task.
“I filed the application in July 2016, but didn’t get a reply from central railways. It appeared they wanted to cover something up. I filed an appeal and the appellate authority show-caused the railways asking them to provide the information sought by me within 15 days. Despite this, there was no reply even after several months,” Bose told The Hindu.
Bose said that he realised the department was deliberately ignoring his appeal and, thus, he filed a second appeal as per the rules of RTI Act. The railway officials replied to his second appeal, but with shocking details. Barring items like samosas, potatoes, and onions, all other purchases – including chicken, tur dal, moong dal, besan and even tissue papers – were made at highly inflated costs.
According to the reply, around Rs 1.55 crore was spent by just one catering warehouse at CSTM for purchasing select food items in March, 2016.
The RTI reply also pointed towards poor record-keeping and a consequent mismatch in distribution. “While 250 kg of flour was purchased for Rs 7,680, the railways claimed to have distributed 450 kg of flour (90 kg to base kitchen and 360 kg to the IRCTC-run Jan Ahar canteen). Similarly, 35 kg of maida was shown as distributed, though only 20 kg was purchased. It also bought 255 kg of Basmati rice, but said it distributed 745 kg to the base kitchen and Kurla-Hazrat Nizamuddin Express,” the report in The Hindu said.
Bose said that the RTI reply gives the actual picture, contradicting the reasons previously given for the losses made by Jan Ahar canteens and stalls.
It appears that the central railway officials have not taken the RTI reply seriously enough. Responding to the RTI reply, Ravindra Goyal, divisional railway manager of central railways said, “This must be a typing error, but I will look into the matter. Another former general manger of central railways, Subodh Jain, told The Hindu, “There is a proper channel for purchasing the items. The purchase committee finalises the rates.”
Soon after the news broke, railway officials have said that the RTI reply was wrong and actual figures were different, even as union railway minister Suresh Prabhu ordered a probe. The central railways also suspended three officials and transferred one for “providing wrong” information.