Last month, the government had approved import of a lakh tonne of rice in the next five months from Mynamar to North-East in view of the disruption of grain supplies due to the commencement of a long-pending railway gauge conversion work also termed as mega block on the 220-km Lumding (Assam)-Badarpur-Agartala (Tripura) line.
After getting the quote on rice prices from the tender, the food ministry would move a Cabinet note for import of grain. For the first time in decades, India would import such significant quantities of grain for PDS purpose.
The cost of transporting rice from surplus states like Punjab or Andhra Pradesh to Tripura and Mizoram works out to approximately R3,200 per quintal, after taking into account the Food Corporation of India (FCI)s economic cost at R2,755 per quintal.
Against this, importing rice from Myanmar would be more economical at around R2,400 per quintal ($400 per quintal), including the cost of transportation from the border, said a senior official.
In 2013, Myanmar had exported around 1.8 million tonnes of rice, mostly to China and Africa. Bangladesh, which shares border with north-eastern states, has imposed ban on rice export.
Food ministry officials said that although railways has proposed to complete the gauge conversion work by March 2015, it might be delayed. As over 70% of transportation of foodgrain from Assam to rest of the North-Eastern states is done through railways, the government is importing rice to increase grain stocks so that the TPDS distribution is not disrupted, an official told FE.
MMTC and STC have been assigned the task of importing 20,000 tonne of rice monthly from Mynamar to Mizoram and Manipur, respectively.
A food ministry official said that initially the government would approve import of 20,000 tonne of rice monthly from Myanmar for five months and subsequently, depending on the availability or stock of grain in Tripura, Mizoram and Manipur, further imports would be carried out.
Meanwhile, Mizorams food and civil supplies minister John Rotluangliana on Wednesday visited Tiddim in Myanmar from the Zokhawthar border trade centre by road to inspect the route for import of rice. Rotluangliana said the rice would be imported via Zokhawthar village from where it would be distributed to various other districts.
While major parts of Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland have broad gauge rail connectivity, the grain transportation to South Assam (Silchar district), Mizoram, Tripura and parts of Manipur was currently done through shifting to metre gauge rail from broad gauge line at Lumding, part of Nagaon district of Assam.