The Railways is considering linking its Kisan Trains with seasonal fruits and vegetables to benefit small farmers, senior ministry officials said Sunday, even as a political storm rages over the new farm bills that promise one nation one market. First off the mark could be an Orange Special Kisan Train between Nagpur and Delhi and a Keenu Special from Punjab to West Bengal and Odisha during December and January, the officials said. The Kisan Rail services were launched last month and have so far carried around 4,100 tonne of goods from farmers to markets across the country. The officials said they are still finalising details, but added that they have received feedback from zonal railways about the viability of running dedicated trains linking them with seasonal produce.
“The Orange and Keenu special trains are likely to be the first ones to take off,” a senior official told PTI. “We want to ensure that these trains are beneficial to small scale farmers who are not able to book the entire train," he said. “They can book as little as they want and still avail these services.” Data available with the PTI show that the smallest consignment carried by Kisan Rail was a 3 kg pomegranate packet from Nasik to Muzaffarpur, and around 17 dozen eggs from Manmad to Khandwa on August 14. Farmer in some states are protesting against three proposed legislations: The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020. They have been alleging that once passed, these bill would pave the way for dismantling of the minimum support price (MSP) system and leave the farming community at the “mercy" of big corporates. The Shiromani Akali Dal, the oldest BJP ally, has quit the NDA over the bills, while Opposition have been vehemently demanding their withdrawal.
The government has, however, said the MSP regime would stay and called these bills as historic reforms. It has said the bills would allow farmers to sell their produce anywhere in the country, fetching them better remunerative prices. The Railways officials said that the three Kisan Rails in operation — between Devlali-Danapur, Anantpur-Delhi and Yashwantpur-Nizamuddin — are running on 85 per cent capacity. Besides the Orange Special and the Keenu Special, on the anvil are also: Mango Special (Andhra Pradesh to Delhi between April to June), Onion Special (Nashik to Delhi, during March and December), Banana Special (Jalgaon to Delhi, during March and December); and Chiku Special (Surat, Valsad, Navsari to Delhi) between April-November.
Officials said that the farther the goods are sent, the cheaper the cost of ferrying them. Within a distance of 0-500 km, the Railways services are expensive, but they are at par with the roadways for over 1,000 km distance, they said, adding that for over 2,000 km, the Railways is cheaper than the roadways by at least Rs 1,000 per tonne. These Kisan Trains will be part of the zero-based time table that will be in effect soon, so even if regular services begin post-COVID-19, these trains will have dedicated routes and paths to operate on. The government and the Railways are committed to rapidly increase the farm incomes, said the official quoted above. “Ensuring that farmers are able to sell their produce across the country to get best possible remuneration for the produce is one of the important ways to do so.” Kisan Rails represent one such determined freight marketing effort of Railways and it is expanding fast, he said.
“Earlier, farmers preferred to use trucks, now they have started using the Railways,” he said, adding zonal teams are coordinating with the Ministry of Agriculture and actively pursuing local authorities to encourage farmers to use the national transporter. “They can bring us as little as they want and as much as they want of their produce and we will ferry them to their chosen destination,” said the official.