Hit with the coronavirus outbreak and over two months of lockdown, the Indian Railways has so far suffered a freight earnings shortfall of Rs 8,283 crore when compared to this period last year. Barring foodgrain, the national transporter carried all commodities in its freight basket much less than it did during the corresponding period last year.
Sources said passenger earnings shortfall so far — of April and May — could hover around Rs 9,000 crore by May-end, with all passenger trains suspended since late-March and with only some truncated services running since May 12, over and above the Shramik Special trains.
For running Shramik Specials, the Railways has earned more than Rs 300 crore so far, officials said. But, they added, it has to be squared up with expenses incurred on food and other consumables provided in those trains.
For coronavirus-related expenses, the Health Ministry has given the Railways an allocation of Rs 350 crore. However, the transporter is given to understand from discussion with top offices of the government that how much the Railways spent, and is continuing to spend on account of the outbreak, will be calculated separately.
But freight business, the bread and butter of the national transporter, shows little signs of picking up, with the economy just about attempting a revival after the lockdown. In the ongoing fiscal, the Railways has carried 148 million tonnes (MT) of freight — around 60 MT less than this period last year– and has earned Rs 13,412 crore, which is Rs 8,283 crore less than the corresponding period last year.
Riding on the government’s priority of ensuring that essential supplies remain well stocked in all states during lockdown, the Railways has moved 11.9 MT foodgrain during the period, earning Rs 606 crore. This is the only commodity in its freight basket that saw a growth over last year’s figures by a marginal 5.83 MT.
But considering that foodgrain is carried at highly subsidised rates, the performance has not translated into much earnings. Earnings from coal, its main breadwinner, has seen a shortfall of Rs 5,312 crore — this where the Railways has taken the worst hit. During lockdown, it carried 70 MT coal, approximately 35 MT less than what it was during this period last year.
The amount of fertiliser carried across the country — another commodity in the essentials list — was marginally less than the last-year period with an earnings shortfall of around Rs 289 crore.
With a lukewarm economy over the past at least one year, the Railways has been having a tough ride in its freight business since it survives on derived demand. In the fiscal year ended March 31, it fell short of its previous year’s freight loading figures for the first time in four decades.
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