Drought has also meant a rain of foodgrain for the railways which is experiencing a 80-90 per cent increase in foodgrain loading during July.
According to sources, the Centre has agreed to pay the Railways for carrying water to the drought affected states. The payment will be made out of the National Calamity Relief Fund.
The Railways till now used to carry water free of cost to affected areas in tankers meant for carrying petroleum products. This meant a loss of business on account of petroleum traffic which gives the Railways highest profit margin.
A senior railway official said that the charges for carrying water would be “reasonable” but would not equalise freight rate for petroleum. “But movement of petroleum will not suffer since we have spare tanker trains for moving water,” said the official.
A good monsoon and a good harvest helped the Railways to get over the economic slowdown which was casting a shadow on its loading last year. But with the government declaring as many as 320 out of 524 meteorological districts spread across the country as drought affected recently, the Railway’s freight business was expected to take a hit. However, senior officials deny this.
“Business is actually good for us. We are moving 20 rakes (trains) per day of foodgrain as against 11-12 rakes last July. This amounts to almost 44,000 tonnes per day,” said an official. However, he added that fertiliser loading on account of both indigenous production and imports might get affected due to less demand by farmers. “We are hauling 3,243 fertiliser wagons per day as against 3,236 wagons earlier. The loading might further come down.”
Foodgrain is mainly moving from Food Corporation of India’s godowns in Punjab and Haryana towards Assam and other north eastern states, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka. There is also movement towards Kandla, Kakinada, Visakhapatnam and Tuticorin ports for foodgrain exports.
The Railways’ fortune also depends on how much of this increased volume translates into revenue. Foodgrain is carried by Railways on subsidised rates despite attempts at rationalisation of freight structure in the recent budget. However, an official pointed out that the Railways is making good of its empty rakes for moving foodgrain. There is enough availability of rakes this time of the year since cement movement during monsoons is less. Therefore, loss on account of empty rakes has been avoided.
The Railways is also expected its revenue from foodgrain loading to increase to Rs 230-235 crore during July as against Rs 228.53 crore in June when it was 91.6 per cent of the total revenue generated from freight movement.