Sources told FE that state-owned trading firms MMTC or PEC would be assigned to go for exploratory tender on September 8 to get the price at which the rice would be imported from Myanmar.
An official said that initially, the government has approved import of 20,000 tonne of rice monthly from Myanmar for five months and subsequently, depending on the availability of grain in Tripura and Mizoram, further imports would be carried out.
After getting the quote on rice prices from the tender, the food ministry would move a cabinet note for import of grain. This is for the first time in decades that the country will import such significant quantities of grain for PDS purpose.
Supply of rice from mainland India to the northeastern states is likely to be hit by railway gauge conversion work starting October 1 on the 220-km Lumding (Assam)-Badarpur-Agartala (Tripura) line.
The cost of transporting rice from surplus states like Punjab or Andhra Pradesh to Tripura and Mizoram works out to about R3,200 per quintal, taking into account the Food Corporation of India (FCI)s economic cost at R2,755 per quintal.
"As against this, importing rice from Myanmar would be more economical at around R2,400 per quintal, including cost of transportation from the border," said a senior official.
In 2013, Myanmar had exported around 1.8 million tonne of rice, mostly to China and Africa.
Food ministry sources said that due to closure of the Lumding-Agartala meter gauge section, the transportation of foodgrain is expected to slow down, particularly in parts of Assam (Silchar), Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura.
According to a food ministry official, although the railways have said the
gauge conversion work will take around six months to a year to complete, FCI needs to be prepared to supply uninterrupted grain to the northeastern states for at least two years.
At present, more than 70% of monthly requirement of PDS foodgrain, around 3.2 lakh tonne, to the seven northeastern states is transported through railways while only 30% moves through the road network.