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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Suspension of freight trains to Punjab: Capt dials Centre, Railway minister seeks assurance on safety

The Centre had on Sunday suspended movement of goods trains to Punjab. On Monday, the Centre extended the suspension by four more days.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh, Ludhiana, New Delhi | Updated: October 27, 2020 8:51:23 am
Suspension of freight trains to Punjab: Capt dials Centre, Railway minister seeks assurance on safetyAgitating farmers block train tracks in Jandiala Guru area of Amritsar district on Monday. (Express Photo)

With Union Ministry of Railways suspending freight movement to Punjab till October 29, the state — which is already facing shortage of coal, fertiliser and bardana — now fears that the situation will worsen in the coming days if goods trains are not back on track. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Monday sought the personal intervention of Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal for the immediate restoration of freight movement. Goyal, in turn, sought an assurance from the state’s Congress government of the safety of trains and crew members to restore freight services.

The Centre had on Sunday suspended movement of goods trains to Punjab. On Monday, the Centre extended the suspension by four more days.

While state-owned thermal plants including Bathinda, Ropar and Lehra Mohabbat are not producing any power, the government was depending on production from Rajpura, and Talwandi Sabo thermal plants while purchasing power from other sources. The Goindwal Thermal Plant had also shut down a few days ago due to non-supply of coal. In case of Rajpura and Talwandi Sabo, only one unit each is functional. Sources said the Rajpura plant only had coal stores enough to last only a few days. If the coal supply is not restored, the Rajpura plant may have to shut down.

“We have coal stocks to last only for a day now. It is going to be a problem. Our peak load is 6,000 MW every day. We are purchasing 1,000 MW from outside sources. This is causing us financial losses and also there is fluctuation in voltage,” A Venu Prasad, CMD, PSPCL told The Indian Express.

Might provoke farmers further: CM

On Monday, the Chief Minister spoke to the Union Minister Piyush Goyal and said that Railways’ decision to discontinue freight movement in Punjab subsequent to partial success of negotiations with the farmers had negated the efforts of the state so far. He added that Centre’s move could further provoke agitated farmers protesting against Centre’s farm laws.

Citing the grave impact of the non-restoration of freight traffic by the Railways, the Chief Minister also wrote to Goyal expressing serious concern that if the freight movement is not started immediately, “not only Punjab will face serious disruption in economic activities and shortage of essential supplies, but Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Leh & Ladakh will also face serious economic crisis”. He cited various requests received by the state government from different quarters, including Central ministries and departments for immediate resumption of freight movement through Punjab.

The agitating farmers had allowed the goods trains traffic from October 22. In three days till October 24, as many as 173 goods trains reached different destinations in the state. But the traffic is suspended since Sunday.

Railways had unilaterally stopped movement of all freight trains in Punjab, Amarinder pointed out in his DO letter to Goyal.

Incidentally, pointed out the Chief Minister, freight trains had continued almost uninterruptedly throughout the lockdown period even when the passenger trains operations were completely stopped.

“There is now no plausible reason to stop freight operations in and through Punjab,” he said, adding that his government was also continuing with its efforts to persuade the protesting farmers to restore the passenger railway traffic also.

Train drivers need security to operate: Goyal

In a letter written in response to Punjab CM Monday, Goyal said that around 200 freight rakes were stranded in the railway system waiting to go to or move through various places in Punjab. Around 20 empty rakes are stuck inside power houses which agitators are not allowing to be drawn out, he said.

“Petroleum and container rakes are not being allowed. Railway drivers need to have confidence and security to operate freely. Indian Railways started freight trains and started moving empty coaching rakes to maintenance depots for maintenance on October 22 and 23 after an assurance was given by the local police that dharna has been lifted,” Goyal said in the letter.

He added that sporadic obstruction of tracks is still continuing at many places, especially around Amritsar and outside the power plants at Naba and Talwandi Sabo, and also outside the FCI silo at Moga.

The minister said some of the freight trains and empty coaching rakes were obstructed again on October 23 after which railway drivers and guards refused to operate trains in Punjab unless they are assured that trains will not be obstructed.

“They are apprehensive that there may be some incidents of run over people obstructing the trains. They are asking for assurance from the state government that all train movements (freight and passenger) will be allowed without any obstruction and necessary security will be provided by the state,” Goyal said.

“Indian Railways is ready to resume train operations, passenger and freight immediately after assurance from Punjab government is received on safety and security of its rakes and trains running staff,” a Railway Ministry spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Divisional Railways Manager (DRM), Ferozepur Division, Rajesh Aggarwal, said, “As our trains are lying stranded for more than a month, we need to run them on tracks for their regular maintenance. When on October 21, farmer unions had announced to lift rail roko for goods trains, we had started operations of 173 goods trains on October 22 and 23 but on these two days, one empty rake of passenger train was stopped at Romana Albel Singh which was being run by Ferozepur division for maintenance purpose and even a few goods trains had been stopped on the way, due to which our operations did not run smoothly. Hence, it was decided to stop operation of goods trains in Punjab which has now been extended till October 29. We appeal to farmers to clear the rail tracks/stations completely so that we can provide services to Punjab.”

He added: “We cannot run operations in these conditions of uncertainty and we want to make it clear that operations and planning have to be done by us only and not by anyone else.”

Chief Secy speaks to Railways chairman

Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan also spoke to the Chairman, Railway Board, and noted that the Chief Minister had set up a committee of three ministers to discuss complete lifting of their ‘Rail Roko’ blockade to allow even passenger trains.

However, as far as goods trains are concerned, no main line is blocked for goods trains as on date and only a single track that goes and ends at the private thermal plant Talwandi Sabo is currently blocked, she pointed out, adding that there was no justification for the continued ban by the railways on movement of goods trains in Punjab.

‘Centre is arm-twisting farmers’

Punjab Cooperation Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa said that not just the coal but the fertilisers, to be supplied to the state from Kandla port, were also stuck as the goods trains were not coming in. “The farmers have now allowed the freight movement. But the Centre is trying to arm-twist them. This is dictatorship. They want to hit Punjabis. If coal is not supplied then our thermal plants will be shut and there will be a shortage of power. The fertiliser that we need in mid-November for wheat, should have been in stock with us now. They want farmers to suffer by no getting fertiliser in time. Also, the movement of bardana is also affected and also of the foodgrains being sent to other states.”

On shortage of bardana, Food Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu said that they received two rakes of bardana when the movement started.

‘Many more rakes are awaited’

He added that the movement of foodgrains to other states was hit badly.

“We need space. This is not done,” he said. The minister added that the industry that was limping back to normalcy after Covid-19 lockdown was suffering as their raw material was stuck at Kandla port. “They are waiting,” he said.

SAD chief Sukhbir Badal too urged the Centre to immediately resume normal goods train services in the state.

“The decision to further extend the ban on goods trains in Punjab would completely devastate the entire business, trade and industry, apart from agriculture here. The decision needs to be reversed immediately,” Sukhbir said in a statement here.

(With inputs from ENS)

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