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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Punjab struggles with shortages as 230 goods trains stuck for a month

The Railways has declined to resume services in Punjab, saying it will either operate both freight and passenger trains or none.

Written by Raakhi Jagga | Ludhiana | November 10, 2020 1:16:12 am
The Railways first suspended trains when farmer unions announced their agitation on September 24. (File)

MOHAMMAD ALAM, 50, a labourer working at the dry port of Ludhiana, has been sitting idle with nearly 200 others since October 1. The reason: Railways have stopped all freight trains to Punjab amid an impasse over farmers’ protests between the Centre and state, leaving these porters without work.

“We used to earn around Rs 15,000 a month, and now we have been rendered penniless,” says Alam.

A few hours away, Amarjeet Singh, a farmer at Ferozepur’s Bhurekalan village, is worried about the urea he needs for his crop. “There is no trace of urea in the market. If the goods trains don’t resume soon, we will have to arrange trucks to get it.”

Industrialists too are feeling the pinch. Transportation of raw materials by road is jacking up costs. A steel coil for bicycles that was priced at Rs 54 a kg last month now costs Rs 60 a kg.

“Steel manufacturers are charging us more on the plea that their raw material is coming via road instead of freight trains,” says Onkar Singh Pahwa, MD of Avon Cycles.

Rajesh Bansal, owner of Rana Cycles, says even plastic parts come at a premium now. “There is black marketing of steel. Those who are ready to pay more get the stocks instantly, the rest of us are asked to wait for a fortnight. It is affecting our supply chain.”

The suspension of goods trains has dealt a blow to induction furnaces too. K K Garg, president of the North India Induction Furnace Association, says, “We have around 150 induction furnaces in Punjab, out of which 25 are in Ludhiana. It is with great difficulty that we started working round the clock in August, but now we are back to 12 hours… Besides raising our input costs, the road transport also slows down the pace of our operations.”

Farmers and manufacturers are not just battling shortage of inputs, but long power cuts too.

With the coal supply ferried by goods trains drying up, thermal plants have shut operations. A Venuprasad, chairman cum managing director (CMD), Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL), says, “We are facing a shortage of 7500 MW power every day as all our thermal plants have run out of coal. We have no option but to impose power cuts ranging from 2-4 hours.”

Ravi Dhingra, a farmer of Muhammad Pira village, close to the India-Pakistan border in Fazilka, rues that these blackouts have no fixed time. “I have orchards of guava, dates, dragon fruit, malta etc…but these days we get water for barely two hours against eight hours in our area. I have my house in Fazilka where unscheduled power cuts of four hours have become the norm.”

On Sunday, Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh had said he had sought Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s intervention into the issue even as the BJP state president accused the CM of trying to arm-twist the Centre by “instigating farmers” to continue with their protests against the farm laws.

The Railways has declined to resume services in Punjab, saying it will either operate both freight and passenger trains or none.

Amarinder appeals to farmers

Chandigarh: As the deadlock continues between the Centre and Punjab over running of goods trains to the state, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Monday appealed to the farmers to completely lift their rail blockade to also allow passenger trains to ply in the state, in view of the initiative taken by the Centre to discuss the issue of the farm laws.

The Centre has called a meeting of agitating farmer organisations on November 13.  —ENS

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