Madhya Pradesh farmers want Kisan Rail back, but with better facilities

Madhya Pradesh farmers want Kisan Rail back, but with better facilities

Madhya Pradesh farmers want Kisan Rail back, but with better facilities

The service neither had cold storage facility nor a fixed running schedule, but farmers are ready to give it a second chance provided these issues are sorted out  

Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh: When the Kisan Rail service ran for the first and only time on Chhindwara-Howrah route on October 28, 2020, Om Raghuvanshi (48) did not take the potatoes from his three-acre farm in Chhindwara to the Nagpur market in Maharashtra, even for sheer curiosity. 

“Nagpur mandi is just about three hours from Chhindwara by road. If I send my potatoes by train, it will take another one hour. Also, the train will not come inside our fields. We have to load it onto the trucks and bring to the station, from where it should be unloaded from trucks and loaded into the train. This cycle does not end here. Again, there is unloading at the destination station and boarding in another truck to take it to the market,” reasoned Raghuvanshi, hailing from Kurlai in Sankh village panchayat of Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh.

Like him, most of the farmers along this route did not entertain the experimental run, which they thought would bring losses only as the produce has to be loaded and unloaded two times more compared to the hassle-free truck journey. Besides the extra labour and related costs, the chances of spoilage of fresh fruits and vegetables increased manifold due to the constant handling. No wonder, the train never ran on this route again.

To use Kisan trains, farmers were to pay a fixed fare decided according to the weight of the produce they transport and the distance covered. The trains had a minimum of 12 coaches and a maximum of 24 coaches. “It costs me around Rs 4,500 [Rs 111 per quintal] to take a potato-laden truck to Nagpur. If I had used Kisan Rail, train fare would have been Rs 3,200 [Rs 80 per quintal after Railways subsidy]. But it is the labour charges related to multiple loading and unloading that really make the difference.”

Eight labourers are needed to harvest 40 quintals of potato from the field in a day. Labourers are not easily available when work availability is high. Moreover, they demand up to Rs 400 per day against the usual Rs 250. Wages will soar further if plucking and loading coincide with a local festival,” said Raghuvanshi. 

As the problems were not specific to Chhindwara route, the demand-driven Kisan trains stopped services across the country by January last year. 

Inauguration of the Kisan Rail (Photo sourced by Pooja Yadav, 101Reporters)

Blowing hot and cold 

The first Kisan Rail service was flagged off on August 7, 2020, from Devlali in Maharashtra to Danapur in Bihar. Up to January 31 last year, Railways operated 2,359 Kisan Rail services, transporting 7.9 lakh tonnes of perishables. Maharashtra had the highest number of outward services at 1,838, while Madhya Pradesh had 74.

In the 2020-21 Union Budget, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that to “build a seamless national cold supply chain for perishables, inclusive of milk, meat and fish, the Indian Railways will set up a Kisan Rail through PPP [public private partnership] arrangements”. This means the project was clearly envisaged with refrigerated coaches.

However, like in all other states, the Kisan service in Madhya Pradesh did not have a cold storage facility. On one end was the possibility of damage to fruits and vegetables due to repeated loading and unloading, and on the other was the risk of spoilage due to heat. If the trains ran late, nothing could prevent rotting of perishables.

Local farmers do not pluck green vegetables and fruits until the evening before to ensure that they stay fresh. They are packed in the fields and loaded onto trucks there itself. "Damaged fruits and vegetables do not fetch much money in the market, so heavy losses are bound to happen if the farmer is not careful...Forget cold storage, even the date and time of when the train would reach its final destination was not fixed. That was why the patronage was very low,” said Mithun Bhalawi (24) from Pachgaon in Chhindwara.

“In my farm, we begin potato harvesting eight days in advance. I start around 3 am and reach Nagpur early in the morning, right in time for the bidding. This would not have been possible if Kisan Rail service was utilised,” Raghuvanshi said.

The Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI) was the nodal ministry for implementing the Operation Greens (TOP to TOTAL) Scheme, under which Kisan Rail service operated. Up to March 31, 2022, MoFPI had allocated Rs 50 crore to cover the subsidy at the rate of 50% in freight to farmers. As it was not continued in 2022-23 fiscal, the Railways had been continuing the subsidy at a rate of 45%. 

The Centre has claimed to have distributed Rs 4 crore as subsidy to farmers who transport their produce using Kisan Rail services till January 31 last year. It was Rs 27.79 crore in the 2020-21 and Rs 121.86 crore in 2021-22 fiscal. According to a newsreport, when the operational costs of Kisan Rail increased beyond the MoFPI-allocated Rs 50 crore, the Railways in August 2021 wrote to the MoFPI seeking an allocation of at least Rs 150 crore. However, the MoFPI did not approve the proposal. As a result, the Railways was forced to write off Rs 71.86 crore it spent as excess subsidy on Kisan Rail services in 2021-22.

Santosh Patware, provincial vice president, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU)-Madhya Pradesh, said the intentions of the Central government were good, but the trains were not planned and run as per farmers’ needs. “There is still a need for these trains,” he asserted.

To run or not to run

Farmers are of the view that Kisan Rail service should be revived, but it should be run on time after preparing a suitable timetable. It should not be run in such a manner that a train reaches its destination after the market in that place is closed. This problem can be solved once the time is fixed on the lines of passenger trains, so that in case of a halt on tracks, it is cleared before other goods trains. They also want cold storage facilities to keep their produce fresh.

However, the Railways’ point of view is quite different. Railway Board Additional Director General (Public Relations) Yogesh Baweja told 101Reporters that Kisan Rail service was run for the benefit of farmers, but was stopped due to lack of demand. “If farmers demand for their operation again, they will be run again,” he assures. He, however, did not give a clear answer on whether the service was properly planned or not. 

When 101Reporters contacted Harshit Srivastava, Chief Public Relation Officer, West Central Railway Jabalpur Zone, he said Kisan Rail service was a special facility. “Running passenger trains is the first priority. Hence, the Railways can stop any special train if it wants. The decision to run these trains are taken by the Railway Board itself. The West Central Railway does not run any Kisan Rail at present.”  

Patware said BKU-Madhya Pradesh unit will write a letter to the Railway Board about the demands raised by farmers. Arun Awasthi, vice president, Madhya Pradesh unit of the Railway Up Downers Progressive Welfare Association, said he had earlier demanded that the Kisan Rail service be run in a timely manner, and will repeat that demand again.

Meanwhile, local railway officials wishing anonymity said that since freight trains are not run as per a fixed timetable, it is not possible at present to run Kisan trains on time. As dedicated freight corridors have been announced in the recent interim Budget, they hope goods will be transported more swiftly when the corridors come into existence. The catch is it will take many years before these lines are built and opened.

Edited by Rekha Pulinnoli

Cover Photo - Young farmer Mithun Bhalawi working in the field (Photo - Pooja Yadav, 101Reporters)


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