Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC), at the best, can be said to be an agent/licensee of the Railways and the ownership of the Fast Food Sites at the railway stations remains with the Railways, observed the Bombay high court.
A division bench of Chief Justice DK Upadhyaya and Justice Arif Doctor, on November 28, dismissed a plea by Dinesh Singh Tomar Catering Services challenging the e-tender issued by the Railways on August 2, 2022, for setting up and managing a fast food unit at Satara, which has been lying vacant for years.
The IRCTC is a Government of India Undertaking which has been created by the Centre and the Ministry of Railways to provide catering and other related services. To boost IRCTC’s business, the Ministry of Railways issued Catering Policy 2017 which is embodied in the Circular dated 27th February 2017.
Railway Board's commercial circular
A Commercial Circular was issued by the Railway Board on March 8, 2022 containing certain guidelines for setting up of Food Plaza/Fast Food Units/ Multicuisine restaurants by Zonal Railways at the vacant/non utilised spaces available at Railway Stations. It contemplated that the units were to be allotted through an open tender process.
IRCTC, instead of acting in accordance with the Railway Board’s circular, issued a tender notice on March 11, 2022 inviting bids for operating the Fast Food Unit at Satara Railway Station. After following due process, the contract was awarded to the petitioner, who deposited Rs 1,66,875 as security.
A request was then sent to the Group General Manager, Western Zone of IRCTC, to hand over the site to the petitioner. Since the site was not allocated, the petitioner approached the HC.
The Railways itself issued a tender notice on August 2, 2022 for the said unit and it was awarded to a Madhya Pradesh based company, M/s. Star Foods Associates.
"IRCTC floated the tender in an illegal manner"
Opposing the plea, Railways’ advocate JS Saluja, said that IRCTC floated the tender in an illegal manner on March 11, 2022, within three days from the date of its circular.
The court noted that if an administrative need was felt by the Railway Board to takeover control and management of the vacant sites from IRCTC, “no exception can be taken by anyone, including the Petitioner, to such a decision”.
“The IRCTC is, in fact, not the owner of the sites. The owner of the sites is the Railways which… handed over the sites to IRCTC only for the limited purposes of managing the same,” the court noted. It further added that IRCTC could not have floated the tender On MArch 11, 2022 and dismissed the plea.