Citizens' Issues
Steps initiated for good quality catering in trains, says Gowda

Imposition of "stringent punitive action including heavy penalties in case of deficiencies in services" and quality assurance programmes by means of third party audit are being taken to improve catering in trains, the minister said


The union government on Thursday said various steps, including imposition of heavy penalties on entities for deficient services, are being initiated to ensure good quality catering in trains.


Acknowledging that there are many complaints about catering in trains, Railways Minister DV Sadananda Gowda said measures are being taken to serve "quality and hygienic food at reasonable and affordable rates".


"This is one area where we are getting so much of complaints such as catering facilities are not good, hygiene issues, overcharging for food and misbehaviour by caterers," Gowda told the Lok Sabha.


Listing out measures for improvement, the Minister said imposition of "stringent punitive action including heavy penalties in case of deficiencies in services" and quality assurance programmes by means of third party audit are being taken.


Besides, Gowda said introduction of pre-cooked food to improve quality and hygiene is being proposed.


"A pilot project for feedback of the passengers through Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) has been launched in five trains," he said during Question Hour.


According to him, zonal railways ensure quality, and affordable food items are served to passengers through static and mobile units.


"A detailed mechanism for monitoring through regular, surprise and periodical inspections of the units has been put in place by the zonal railways.


"Catering Services Monitoring Cells have been set up for real time redressal of complaints on zonal railways," Gowda said.


In July 2010, a new catering policy was introduced.


Unquoted: Midland Polymers
Despite no business activity for years, the stock price of Midland has shot up by 271%

Midland Polymers used to manufacture polypropylene film used in packaging. Its plant was shut in 2009 and, since then, there has been no income from operations. In 2013, this Indore-based company started ‘exploring’ projects in textiles, pharmaceuticals, securities trading and real estate. However, none of these businesses has taken shape and no operating income has been reported over the past year. The only income generated has been from interest on investments. Midland has been suspended in the past for not complying with listing agreement. It has also failed to comply with other regulatory requirements (submitting shareholding pattern and corporate governance report). For the quarter ended March 2014, Midland reported ‘other income’ of Rs42 lakh and net profit of Rs18 lakh. You would think that the share price of a dormant company would also remain dormant. Not in India where stocks can be manipulated at will. Despite no business activity for years, the stock price of Midland has shot up by 271% from Rs5.66 on 1 January 2013 to Rs21 on 10th July this year. We don’t expect the market regulator or the stock exchange to either notice this rampant manipulation or do anything about it. 


Ambitious aviation plans: Private airport getting ready near Durgapur in West Bengal
Durgapur, the steel city can hope to welcome visitors by air ,when the new and first private airport in  West Bengal begins its operations at Andal
Decades ago, India's first Prime Minister, Late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru called various gigantic steel projects and huge dams as India's temples of the future. He was referring to the steel mills at Bhilai, Durgapur and Rourkela as they began their operations. In those days, for most of these industrial towns, the only means of transportation was by road or by rail. Aviation facilities, for most came much later.
Now, Durgapur, the steel city can hope to welcome visitors by air when the new and first private airport in West Bengal begins its operations at Andal, nearby. At present its nearest major international airport, is at Kolkata, some 200kms away.
The Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Ltd (BAPL) is responsible for the airport. It is spread over 2,000 acres and has Changi Airport of Singapore as its largest shareholder. This new private airport is expected to follow the successful work pattern practiced at Changi.
To make this economically viable and attractive for airlines to use, West Bengal Government has already offered a three year remission of Aviation Turbine Fuel taxes (ATF). It may be remembered that ATF amounts to 45% of the operational cost of airlines and this waiver would make the airport attractive for a number of airlines for refuelling. Both national and regional airlines would benefit from such a move. BAPL may also offer attractive overnight parking rates to invite regional airlines to use the facility.
It appears, from the newspaper reports, that the airport was completed more than one year ago but the delay in removing the high tension transmission lines, running across the airstrip has obstructed BAPL plans. This appears to have been caused by land acquisition problems in the alternate route. It has been overcome, by revised plans to lay cables under the ground. Once, this job is completed, BAPL is likely to seek DGCA's final clearance.
Regional airlines may find this new airport at Andal, named after famous Bengali poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, convenient and competitive for their flights to and from the North Eastern Region. Zav Airways, which has recently received the approval for its planned operations to this region, is likely to enjoy the benefit from the outset.
Civil Aviation Minister, Ashok Gajapathi Raju has ambitious plans ahead for developing the aviation industry in the country. According to the press, although there are about 400 air strips, only 120 are functional and just 65 of these are used every day. In due course, the Ministry may carry out actual field tests to find out how many of these could be made functional. This is important considering the ambitious plans of the government to have at least 200 operational airports in the country.
However, the development costs for airports are not cheap. Hence, it is most likely that the government may choose the route to permit private airports, after studying how some of these do in their operations.
The other issue that the Ministry may also study seriously is the current rule of distance made mandatory between airports. It is fixed at 150kms. Should this be continued, or waived? There are many cities in the world, where there are two airports operating, and Kuala Lumpur is a good example. This has helped the flow of traffic and easy passenger movement. For successful operation of regional airlines, which may be using smaller aircrafts, low cost airports in two and three-tier cities and towns would be a boon.
In the meanwhile, in reply to a question in the Lok Sabha, it was confirmed that 15 green field airports have been granted in-principle approval. All these would increase the economic activities in the country and the employment potential.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)


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