New Delhi: Indian Railways has encountered an unanticipated problem in its bid to transport essential commodities across the country during the lockdown period. With 700 of its trains stuck with non-essential commodities loaded before the nationwide lockdown, it has made them unavailable for transportation of essential commodities — a matter that the railways has taken up with the home ministry.
Top railway officials said that while the Railways had waived off the wharfage charges — levied on goods for not removing them from the railway after the expiry of the free time for such removal — on goods after the lockdown was imposed, it is now facing trouble since manufacturers are making no efforts to unload the trains.
“It is a very difficult time…Up to 700 of our trains are lying stationary since commodities like steel and cement which were loaded on them before the lockdown are not being unloaded due to shortage of labour,” said a top Railway Board official who did not wish to be identified.
“There is no decision yet on imposing fines for unloading since we gave manufacturers exemption till 14 April,” said the official. “Manufacturers have also been hit in a big way, so the railways does not want to impose whafrage charges on them, but we are trying to persuade them and request them to free these trains,” the official added.
The top priority is to have as many trains available for transportation of food grains, edible oil, salt, sugar, pulses, etc. “We are transporting double of the food grains of what we did earlier,” the official said. “So it is important that trains are made available to us.”
Matter taken up with the home ministry
Since the lockdown was imposed, freight movement through roadways has become increasingly difficult, increasing dependence on the railways.
Another railway official said, “We do not want to hurt the manufacturers, so we are asking them to cooperate with us…We have given special permissions in some states for unloading to take place,” the official said. “The matter has been taken up with the home ministry as well.”
“We might have to introduce fines, but since the manufacturing sector is also so badly hit, we have not taken a final call yet,” the official added. “Ideally, unloading of trains in a time like this should be marked as an essential service so that it can happen without any difficulty.”
“Labour can be made available for an activity only when the activity is marked as essential,” said the railway official. “So while you waive off wharfage charges, that should be done too.”