Hoping catering for railways comes back to IRCTC: A K Manocha

By: | Published: August 8, 2015 12:36 AM

The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has helped ease rail ticket booking, improved the catering in a few high-end trains and has introduced a few other services...

The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has helped ease rail ticket booking, improved the catering in a few high-end trains and has introduced a few other services — water vending machines at the railway stations and executive lounges, for instance — for the benefit of passengers. This 12-year-old arm of the Indian railways with a modest revenue of less than Rs 1,200 crore, could have ventured into more capital-intensive activities including station development and commercial use of vacant rail land, had it been given more operational freedom.

Approvals from the railway board often take long, even as the IRCTC, according to its chairman and managing director A K Manocha, is raring to go, ready to mobilise resources from lenders and has a vision for rapid growth.

“The IRCTC is ready to get into virtually everything, we just need the required approvals,” he told Bilal Abdi in an interview. Excerpts:

Tell us briefly about IRCTC’s operations and the new projects you are working on.

We get our revenue almost evenly from four areas — catering, tourism-enabling activities, Rail Neer (packaged water supplies) and e-ticketing. Our ticketing operations have been a huge success and around 5.5 lakh tickets are booked via our portal every day.

The railways is able to save roughly R1,200 crore per annum  thanks to the outsourcing of ticketing to us, besides providing passengers a hassle-free experience.  From 60% now, e-ticketing could be nearly 100% of the tickets furnished by the national transporter over the next few months.

As far as catering is concerned, our services are restricted to some 37 pairs of trains. In May 2009, Mamata Banerjee decided to reclaim the catering business for Indian Railways and implemented a new catering policy in 2010 which took contractual catering away from IRCTC. We are hopeful that in the near future, catering will come back to us.

Also, we have recently floated tenders for water vending machines and more than 21 companies have been selected to carry out Phase I of this project, in which we  will set up over 4,500 RO-grade, WHO-compliant machines with minimum discharge at railway platforms across the country. We will recycle the discharged waste water and use it for other activities. The plan right now is to put a minimum of two machines per platform.

We planning to open executive lounges in Gorakhpur, Lucknow, Agra, Jaipur and Vijayawada. We will also provide e-wheelchairs and e bed rolls soon. Offering golf cart services at various stations is also under consideration. We have tied up with 71 vendors all over India to provide food in trains. The e-catering service is currently available only in select trains, but we have identified 1,144 more trains to offer this service. IRCTC is also planning to tie up with food aggregators, but the modalities are to be finalised.

Will IRCTC play any role in the redevelopment of A1 and A class stations as proposed by finance minister Arun Jaitley?

No, we wished to, but only the Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA) will handle the redevelopment programme.
What has IRCTC been doing to improve the quality of e-ticketing operations?

E-ticketing is the future and we are constantly upgrading our server capabilities. On June 1, IRCTC installed two Linux-enabled servers. The recent installation of five new HP Itanium servers will enable the servers to handle more traffic.

We are also planning to increase the network bandwidth from 1.4 GB to 1.7 GB.

What is your vision for IRCTC?

Firstly, I would like IRCTC’s profit to go up by 100%. Secondly, we want better e-catering services for everyone. I am also hoping that the whole catering business for the railways is given back to IRCTC. We would introduce a real time gross settlement (RTGS) system so that direct cash transfer can take place between the ministry and IRCTC, replacing the system of issuing cheques every morning. We are also focusing on running direct buses from the station to different destinations in the cities as last-mile connectivity will be a big boon for travellers.

How are the finances of IRCTC ? Was there any growth in its PAT and revenue?

We have been performing well. For the fiscal year 2014-15, our total income was approximately Rs 1,141 crore as compared to Rs 954 crore in the previous fiscal, showing a growth of 19.54%. Our profit after tax is approximately Rs 130 crore, a record increase of 81% from previous year’s profit of Rs 72 crore. Currently, IRCTC’s net worth stands at Rs 444 crore.

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