The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has approached two lower courts in Delhi, saying that the online food ordering services provided by RailYatri and TravelKhana are illegal, Business Standard reports, citing unnamed sources. In February, IRCTC said in a tweet that it didn’t support or encourage orders placed via “unauthorised aggregators” such as RailYatri and TravelKhana. It said that it wouldn’t be responsible for the quality of food or any other concerns, and recommend that passengers order their meals through its e-catering website or app.

TravelKhana sent MediaNama the following statement: “TravelKhana and IRCTC have been under the E-catering agreement signed between us in 2016. Some disputes appeared more than a year ago because of some arbitrary clauses and mechanisms applied by IRCTC from time to time and upon the whims and fancies of the officials managing this aspect of the business for them. These arbitrary clauses went over and beyond the agreement between IRCTC and Travelkhana as well as against the policy and the principles laid out by the Railway board initially for e-catering business. We could not quite comprehend the reasons thereof but in our limited understanding the work that we were doing was definitely harming a lot of vested interests in the IRCTC food ecosystem. Since the matter is sub judice it would be inappropriate for us to state anything on it till it reaches a conclusion.” We have also reached out to RailYatri for comment and will update this once they reply.

On April 23, we reported that RailYatri was seeking a licence from IRCTC to continue its train ticket booking services after the Delhi High Court ruled earlier that month that it was doing so illegally. The ruling was in response to a complaint filed by IRCTC in 2017. Now IRCTC is clamping down on the food services that RailYatri and TravelKhana offer train passengers, saying these are unauthorised as well.

Last December, Business Standard reported that IRCTC was in talks with food delivery platforms such as UberEats, Zomato, Foodpanda, and Swiggy, to deliver food on trains.

MediaNama’s take

(Nikhil adds) Would IRCTC also determine that someone buying food from a platform or even outside a station be deemed as unauthorised service? In this case, no one is holding the railways accountable for food being delivered, and frankly, consumers should have the right to buy food from outside, just as they have the right to bring their own food. From a structural perspective, the person delivering the food in the train can be seen as delivering it on behalf of the train passenger.

Why should people be forced to only eat the food that the Railways is providing to them? There should be an unbundling of food from the Railways and consumers should be given sufficient choice. Why isn’t the Railways partnering with Travelkhana and RailYatri instead of suing them?

IRCTC’s high court battle with RailYatri

In 2017, IRCTC filed a complaint against RailYatri, alleging that it was providing train bookings illegally. IRCTC said the company was not registered with it as a principal service provider (PSP) or a retail service provider (RSP). PSPs are companies appointed by IRCTC to sell train tickets; each has several hundred RSPs working for it. Every RSP has a unique identification number to access IRCTC. RailYatri, IRCTC said, worked with RSPs to connect customers to IRCTC’s network using the RSP’s credentials, and charged customers a nominal access fee.

IRCTC said it was the only entity authorised by the Ministry of Railways to sell e-tickets, and that RSPs were delegated agents, who could not transact with third-party entities such as RailYatri. It also told the court that many of the firm’s customers had complained about not getting refunds for cancellations. Stelling Technologies, which owns RailYatri, claimed that it was only an online platform that facilitated interaction between the customer and the RSP. But the court ruled in IRCTC’s favour, saying, “[RailYatri] is neither a PSP nor an RSP and has no privity of contract with IRCTC. No money has been paid by Stelling Technologies to IRCTC to be involved in e-ticket booking or to be integrated in the IRCTC network, which according to this Court is a prerequisite… and for which integration fee and annual maintenance fee is required to be paid.”