Restricted issue of general and seasonal tickets coupled with the prevailing Covid-19 scare has impacted the livelihoods of Railway canteen owners.
Bengaluru: Imran Sheik, a native of Bihar came back to Bengaluru, after the lockdown to reopen his tea stall on Platform 8 of K S R City Railway Station, expecting that the storm had passed. But to his dismay, the waves were still buffeting the market.
“I was not getting any income since the last eight to nine months during the lockdown. I had to shut the stall and go back to my village; I am in huge debt trying to restart the business. If the current situation continues then I’ll probably have to shut down this stall and find some other means to feed my family and keep a roof over their head,” he said. He added that he did not receive any kind of support or aid from the Indian Railway or the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).
This is the plight of many food stall owners of the City Railway station, Bengaluru, who rely on passengers of the Indian Railways for their livelihood. Their business has barely picked up since the lockdown, and most of them are incurring losses. They are surviving on the hope that things might get back to normal once the railway starts full operations.
Station Master, B P Kumaraswamy, said the passenger count is picking up gradually but most people prefer to bring their own food and beverages as they are hesitant to use the railway canteens and stalls due the pandemic. “At present, the Railways is operating about 70 percent of mail and express trains, so we have around 80 trains running from this station per day. In order to prevent a rise in Covid-19 infections we are not issuing the seasonal tickets and we are also restricting the number of general tickets for express trains.”
He went on to say that currently the Railway is trying to tap more on logistics and cargo trains to recover the losses incurred during the lockdown period. “We hope to start operating in full capacity after April if the situation is under control,” he added.
Pradeep, the manger of Sell Kitchen, a canteen operating in Platform 1 said that they are incurring huge losses and does not have much hope that the business will pick up anytime soon, pointing towards the empty tables of the canteen. “There is around 80 percent fall in customers. We barely get any profit; we had to lay off a lot of our staff to cut the costs.”
Tarak Chowdhary, a native of Howrah, West Bengal runs a small cafe called Food Track inside the Railway Station since the last eight years. He said that he experienced one of the worst blows to his business last year and the situation still isn’t any better. “I can now barely meet the expenses of rent, electricity bills and staff salary. I’ve hardly received any profit from this cafe since the last 10 months. I used to have 10 people working for me and now it’s reduced to just two,” he said. He added that in the current situation, he finds it extremely difficult to pay fair wages to his remaining staff.
Arun Kumar, a PhD scholar in Business Management thinks that both the Indian Railways and the State government should come forward and actively take measures to improve the situation. He said, “It is a difficult situation and the current economic climate is making it more difficult for the food stall owners in Railway stations. The railways should consider providing relaxations for license fee, subsidy for electricity and water to the stalls operating inside the railway station.”
He suggested that the government and the Indian Railways should jointly consider organizing advertising campaigns to promote these stalls by ensuring that the food stalls and canteens inside the railway station strictly follow all the Covid-19 safely protocols and that it is a safe place to be accessed by the passengers.
“This would help develop a sense of trust and safety among the passengers and thereby encourage them to buy food from these stalls and canteens,” he said.