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Power crisis, urea shortage, piled-up grain stock — how goods train suspension has hit Punjab

With goods trains not plying in Punjab since 2 Oct, both govt & private thermal plants are facing acute coal shortage. Urea for farms is also not reaching state, leading to shortage.

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Chandigarh: Punjab seems to be heading towards a severe power crisis as its thermal plants are running out of coal stock due to non-plying of good trains in the state for a month now.

This apart, the state is also facing an acute shortage of fertilisers for sowing wheat and potatoes.

With no urea or diammonium phosphate (DAP), which is one of the most widely used phosphorus fertilisers, arriving in the state for the past one month, agriculture officials fear there will be a massive shortage when it is going to be first used in early December after the new crop is irrigated.

The non-plying of goods trains has also resulted in a shortage of gunny bags to store paddy and shelled rice, besides leading to piling up of huge stocks of grains waiting to be transported out of the state.

Why the situation is ‘alarming’

With no coal coming into the state for almost a month now, two state-owned and three private power plants producing almost 5,000 mega watt power are facing an acute shortage of coal.

“The single and last unit of the private plant GVK, which was functioning, will shut down Tuesday after which we will run our two government plants. But we don’t have coal to last for too long. There is a shortage of 1,000 MW of power today and we have ordered a power cut,” A. Venuprasad, chairman and MD of the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited, told ThePrint.

He also said the state had been buying power from the central grid for the past three days to tide over the crisis. 

“However, the finance department (Monday) has shown its inability to give us money to buy more power. The situation is alarming,” he told ThePrint.

Goods trains in the state have not been running since 2 October when protesting farmers launched their indefinite ‘rail roko (blockade)’ against the Narendra Modi government’s new farm laws.

Although a majority of the protesting farmer bodies called off the agitation on 23 October, a section of them are still squatting on some rail tracks in protest against the laws.

The Railways has refused to resume goods trains services until all the tracks are cleared and safety of the trains is ensured.

“The goods trains to Punjab will not run till the tracks are completely cleared by the agitating farmers,” Deepak Kumar, the Railways spokesperson, told ThePrint Monday.

Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh Sunday wrote an open letter to BJP national president J.P. Nadda, expressing concern over the continued suspension of goods trains by the Railways even after easing of the rail blockade by the farmers.

Earlier, the chief minister had sought Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal’s intervention for restoration of goods train services in Punjab.


Also read: Stubble burning in Punjab up 67%, govt officials blame lockdown for early paddy cultivation


Urea is not reaching Punjab 

Urea normally arrives in Punjab through trains from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. It is now trickling in through trucks from Ambala and Dabwali in Haryana.

In Punjab, wheat is cultivated over 35 lakh hectares and the total demand for urea for the rabi season is about 14 lakh tonnes. The state also uses 5 lakh tonnes of DAP during the season. 

“Four lakh tonnes of urea was supposed to come in October, but only 50,000 tonnes have arrived,” said Principal Secretary, Agriculture, Punjab, Anirudh Tiwari. 

The state has an allocation of another 4 lakh metric tonnes of urea for this month.

Grain stock waiting to be transported

The Punjab government is also concerned over the huge stock of grains waiting to be transported out of the state. 

Almost 137 lakh metric tonnes of wheat, stored in warehouses and in open plinths, are waiting to be transported out of Punjab. This includes almost 30 lakh metric tonnes of wheat procured in 2018-19. 

The procured wheat has to be shifted from Punjab to the wheat-consuming states. 

“In October alone, we have missed out on 20 lakh metric tonnes of grain movement,” said Dr Anjuman Bhaskar, Deputy Director, Food and Civil Supplies, Punjab. 

Similarly, a little over 57 lakh MT of rice procured by the Food Corporation of India in this season is waiting to be transported out.

This apart, 185 lakh MT of paddy, procured last month, is waiting to be shelled and stored. Once that’s done, the state will have no storage space available, said Bhaskar.

Gunny bags stuck in Delhi 

Gunny bags that are used to store procured paddy and shelled rice arrive in Punjab from West Bengal. 

As many as 1,150 containers, carrying 48 bales (each bale has 500 bags) each, have been stuck in Delhi since October.

“Since the Punjab government has already paid for the transportation of these gunny bags through trains till their delivery points, we cannot make alternative arrangements to get the bags into the state,” said Bhaskar.

During procurement, when the paddy is sent for shelling and the shelled rice is taken back by the procurement agencies, 50 per cent of the jute bags are usually provided by the government, while the rest are arranged by the shellers.

“However, this time… shellers have to organise 70 per cent of the gunny bags while the government will arrange for the rest. But the rice shellers are also facing an acute shortage of jute bags…,” said Bhaskar.


Also read: Punjab has some good news finally, sees sharp drop in Covid cases, positivity rate at 2.16%


 

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