Over 700 goods trains full of various commodities are stuck in ifferent parts of India waiting to be unloaded, thanks to unavailability of labour in the coronavirus lockdown.
Fearing a deadlock, Indian Railways has told the Ministry of Home Affairs that while these goods trains do not contain essential commodities, the national transporter will need those wagons, as a large number of them are also used to carry foodgrains, salt, sugar and such.
The matter has received attention at the “highest level” officials said. The key commodity responsible for this is cement, it is learnt.
Thanks to a complete halt of construction activity, at least 300 such goods trains consisting of covered wagons full of cement are lying idle at unloading points.
Fed up of waiting, Railways has now decided to give the cement manufacturers three days’ time, like an ultimatum, to unload their consignment, failing which it will levy demurrage and wharfage charges for keeping its wagons occupied. In a key decision meant as a relief during the lockdown period, Railways had earlier decided to wave off these charges on freight clients.
“With the absence of these charges being levied, the cement clients are in no hurry to unload, because it does not cost them anything, unlike in normal times. So we have no choice but to levy these charges on them if they do not clear our rakes in three days. We need those wagons,” a senior official told The Indian Express.
Sources said one of the reasons for this satlling is that warehouses of cement are already full to brim in many places.
Thanks to slow unloading these days, goods trains carrying foodgrains and such essentials are taking around six days to return to their bases empty to reloaded. In this context, Railways has told Home Ministry as well as some states that it cannot afford to have a large number of its trains lying stationary indefinitely.
Trains carrying steel and some other material are also witnessing this deadlock in unloading in large parts of India, because even though steel is unloaded by cranes and hydra machines, the drivers and operators of those machines are not available.
Officials said that with the intervention of the Home ministry and coordination with states, the pain points regarding unloading are easing in many places, but “it’s still a continuous process.”
Foodgrains and other essential items have been moving smoothly, being in the exempted category during lockdown. Coupled with the fact that the road sector is almost unable to move any freight, train rakes carrying foodgrains have been increasing over the past few days, touching almost 60 this week. The usual number in normal times is in the 20s and 30s.
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