It is for the first time in decades that the country will import rice in such significant quantities for PDS purpose.
The idea is to import from the neighbouring country for a year, as the mega block would likely exist for that period of time, even though the railways has targeted to complete the work by March next year.
The cost of transporting rice from surplus states like Punjab or Andhra Pradesh to Tripura and Mizoram roughly works out to R3,200 per quintal, taking into account the FCI's economic cost of rice at R2,755 per quintal. As against this, a senior official said, importing rice from Myanmar would be economical at around R2,400 per quintal ($400 per quintal) even after including transportation cost from the border.
In 2013, Myanmar had exported around 1.8 million tonne of rice mostly to China and Africa.
After getting the cabinet's nod, a state-owned trading firm, MMTC or PEC, would ask for tender for rice imports. As NE states have low grain storage facilities, we will expedite rice imports so there is no disruption in grain supply," an official said.
Food ministry sources said that because of closure of Lumding-Agartala metre gauge section, the transportation of foodgrains, mostly consisting of rice and wheat to be distributed through PDS, is expected to slow down, particularly in parts of Assam (Silchar), Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura.
According to a food ministry official, the Food Corporation of India needs to
be prepared to supply uninterrupted grains to NE states for at least two years.
At present, more than 70% of PDS foodgrain of around 3.2 LT a month for the seven NE states is transported through the railways, while the rest moves through the road network.
At a recent high level meeting at Guwahati attended by senior officials from FCI, North-east Frontier Railways, National Highway Authority of India and NE state governments, it was acknowledged that the national highway (NH-44) which connects Shillong to Tripura is in a "bad shape", thus hampering smooth movement of traffic.
The four laning or expansion of NH-54, which connects Assam to Mizoram, is also yet to be complete.
India recently transported 10,000 tonne of rice from Andhra Pradesh to Tripura through Bangladesh on a pilot basis. Further transport of grain through Bangladesh to NE states is yet to discussed between the two countries.