Punjab farm protest: Railways stares at loss, FCI at storage space crunch

Including passenger and freight trains, per day loss to the Northern Railways is over Rs 16 crore
The farmer protest in Punjab that started in September is hurting the finances of Indian Railways and could create a storage space crunch for Food Corporation of India (FCI) in the coming months. According to official data, Northern Railways has so far lost Rs 495 crore on the passenger front from October 1 to November 3, and on freight operations. This is owing to the financial impact due to the stoppage of passenger trains, which comes to around Rs 45 crore. 


The average loss of inward data per day is around 30 rakes, while for outward rakes, it comes to around 40.


Including passenger and freight trains, per day loss to the Northern Railways is over Rs 16 crore.


So far, a total of 1,373 trains got cancelled and 230 rakes are held up outside Punjab.


Out of these 230 rakes, around 78 are for coal, 34 for fertilisers and the remaining for steel, petroleum oil lubricants, container, steel and other commodities. FCI, which at this time transports huge quantities of freshly-procured rice from Punjab to various parts of the country, had to massively cut down its grain loading operations due to the blockade. This could lead to paucity of storage space as rice procurement has already risen 20 per cent this year. Also, wheat from the previous purchase season hasn't been entirely moved out from the state.


On September 24, farmers in Punjab started blocking railway tracks and stations, demanding the repeal of three Agriculture-related Bills recently passed by Parliament. Initially, the 'Rail Roko Agitation' was called for three days by farmer groups and unions, which, later on, continued till date.


Although, all coaching trains, including parcel train movements, had been suspended in Punjab since September 24, goods train movements were continuing in pockets till September in areas with no disturbance. From October 1, movements were suspended as the agitation spread all over Punjab. This affected complete train operations in Firozpur division and partially in Ambala, Delhi and Bikaner divisions. Later on, conditional goods train movement was allowed from October 22 by the agitators.



Two days after freight train movement was resumed, it was again suspended due to operational and safety considerations as sporadic blockades continued at various places, especially around Amritsar, Nabha, Talwandi Sabo, Firozpur and Moga. All inward and outward goods transportation, including essential commodities, was affected badly in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh. Information minister Prakash Javadekar said at a briefing of the Union cabinet that a solution lies in the Punjab government convincing its farmers. This is because the blockade is creating problems for winter equipment transport for troops serving in border posts.


The FCI — that transports huge quantities of rice and wheat during the procurement months from Punjab — had to severely cut down its operations due to the blockade.  The stoppage in transportation won’t disrupt distribution of grains through ration shops. This is because the corporation has increased its movement from other states such as Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to manage supplies. However, within Punjab itself, it could lead to a space crunch, said officials.


FCI usually transports around 27-28 rakes of foodgrains from Punjab every day, which since the blockade has come down to just around 2-3 rakes.


“Around 2.7-2.8 million tonnes (MT) grains are moved daily out of Punjab during these months of rice procurement. This has now come down to just 300k-400k tonnes,” a senior official said.  He said the problem has become all the more acute this year as rice procurement from Punjab has already crossed 16 MT, which is 20 per cent more than last year. FCI has a covered storage space  of around 24 MT in Punjab of which around 20 MT is already occupied by wheat and rice. That leaves a vacant space of around 4 MT and can be expanded to 5.5 MT.  “Therefore, unless the blockade is lifted quickly and we can move our rice from Punjab, we may face a storage space crunch in the coming months,” the official added.  Kissan Ittehad called off strike after talks with the government on Wednesday.

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