IRCTC locks horns with RailYatri, TravelKhana over food delivery

The India Railways’ catering arm — Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) — is now at loggerheads with private sector service providers and applications — including Nandan Nilekani-backed RailYatri and TravelKhana — that were supplying food on trains.

According to people in the know, IRCTC has approached two lower courts in Karkarduma and Rohini (New Delhi), saying that the online food ordering services provided by these companies are illegal. This comes after the Delhi High Court recently ruled that railway ticketing services by the website and mobile application RailYatri was unauthorised.

The court rejected a plea filed by Stelling Technologies, which owns and operates RailYatri. The firm is backed by Nilekani and investors like Helion Ventures and Omidyar Network. The firm had approached the Delhi High Court after IRCTC reportedly filed a petition with the Delhi Police, stating that the ticket booking services provided by RailYatri was illegal.

An Indian Railways official told Business Standard that IRCTC has already approached the two local courts against the on-track food providers, and expects a favourable judgement, following the ruling by the Delhi High Court. Any impact on the food business may affect RailYatri’s business, given about 20 per cent of its revenue stream comes from this.

This comes at a time when IRCTC is in talks with food-delivery service providers and restaurant aggregators such as UberEats, Zomato, Foodpanda, Biryani Blues, Faasos, PizzaHut and Swiggy, to deliver food to trains. 

At present, the Railways’ arm has a tie-up with players like Dominos, RelFood, RailRestro, Comesum, Rajdhani Online Food and Zoop.
“We are now working with the concerned authorities to complete the required compliances according to the operating framework of IRCTC, and expect this to be completed at the earliest,” said Manish Rathi, chief executive officer and co-founder of RailYatri, regarding the Delhi High Court ruling. TravelKhana, however, did not respond to queries by Business Standard.

At present, RailYatri is one of the largest private sector data providers for train passengers. 

The concept of RailYatri came to the minds of promoters when they worked with Indian Railways and Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) to develop in 2012, where they realised that passengers had other needs, which can be well communicated in a visual and graphic manner. 

Its application is currently available in eight languages – Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada.
Delhi-based Duronto Technologies runs TravelKhana that had also raised funds from seed funds such as Astarc Ventures and some high net-worth individuals.

At present, IRCTC’s e-catering services are available at 409 A and A-1 class stations, for which 136 vendors and 12 aggregators are empanelled. 

The average number of meals booked daily has now increased to about 10,000. This average daily bookings under e-catering for FY18 stood at 5,188 meals. IRCTC provides a total of around 1.2 million meals per day, out of which around 1 million are travelers on train.

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