Principal farm products from the Northeast will continue to remain outside the purview of Kisan Rail as the government’s subsidy scheme on transportation of fruits and vegetables has not included major products grown in the region despite a proposal from Railways and demand from the fields.
The Ministry of Food Processing and Industries (MoFPI) has refused to give assent to the Railways proposal last month to include seven major items — tea leaves, bamboo, rubber, betel nut, black pepper, mustard, and soyabean — under “Operation Greens-TOP to Total”, which provides 50 per cent subsidy on transportation of fruits and vegetables.
The reason cited is that they are neither fruits nor vegetables.
“…there is a significant demand to transport tea leaves from the tea gardens of Upper Assam, bamboo, rubber, betel-nut, turmeric (raw), black pepper, mustard, soyabean, and mandarin from the Northeastern region of the country,” the letter from Railways to the Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI) stated. “Hence, it is requested that it may please be confirmed that the benefits of subsidy under Operation Greens- TOP to Total scheme can be extended.”
According to official data, 240-odd trips of Kisan Rail on 31 routes have transported agriculture produce between several areas in the country. While several Kisan Rail trains originating from Maharashtra, Punjab, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, among other states, have transported farm produce to the Northeast, no such train has originated from the region to other parts of the country.
In response, only turmeric and mandarin — a citrus fruit — from the list of proposed items have been included in the subsidy scheme.
“For Railways, all fruits and vegetables are included. Items that are not fruits and vegetables are not included. The Operation Green scheme is only for perishable fruits and vegetables,” an MoFPI official told The Indian Express.
MoFPI sources said that while “non-food items” like bamboo and rubber are outside its purview, to include other proposed products would require changing fundamental objectives of the scheme.
Even the Northeast Frontier Railway had requested that products like bamboo be included as an agriculture produce to be transported through the Kisan Rail scheme, but to no avail, sources said.
While the Kisan Rail, launched in July last year, has transported over 80,000 tonnes of fruits and vegetables so far from various parts of the country to bigger markets, it has not been able to take unique products of the Northeast to elsewhere in India.
Without the subsidy, talks with various local stakeholders like farmers, aggregators, and agents to offer price incentives at a zonal level have so far not been fruitful, officials said.
“We have been in touch with the tea industry so that they use Railways and not roadways. A lot of turmeric and organic ginger go from here to other parts of the country and also further for export. We are in talks with farmers to get that traffic,” said a senior official.
Officials said the top offices of the government are keen that unique products grown in the Northeast are connected to bigger markets in other parts of the country through new transportation schemes like Kisan Rail and Krishi Udan, aimed at transporting agricultural produce by air.
Speaking about the Krishi Udan scheme in Rajya Sabha, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Like our Northeast… so many wonderful things, but due to lack of transportation the farmers there were not able to benefit.”
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