New Delhi:

Usually at this time of the year, the Food Corporation of India machinery across the country is busy coordinating procurement of wheat. This year, the focus is on moving grains to meet the requirement from “deficit states” such as Bihar, UP and West Bengal which have to supply twice the amount of foodgrains through the public distribution system to ensure that 80 crore poor do not go hungry during the lockdown.

On Tuesday, FCI moved 58 rakes, a record, through Indian Railways with around 1.6 lakh tonnes of wheat and rice — against an average 30-35 rakes. It was a similar story on Wednesday with 53-55 rakes expected to leave surplus states such as Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Given the massive production and stocks in Punjab, nearly 60% of the grains are moving from the state.

Since March 24, when the government announced additional 5kg of grains free of cost over and above the 5kg entitlement, FCI has moved close to a million tonnes in over 350 rakes — around 40 rakes a day. Some 250 rakes have been unloaded in states, which have to make the first round of supplies by April 15.

FCI plans to move close to five million tonnes of foodgrains in April, using an average 50 rakes a day, its chairman D V Prasad said. “FCI has sufficient stocks of wheat and rice to meet the requirement of all states, including the additional allocation that the government has announced,” he told TOI.

While most states had stocks for four to six months, if the regular 5kg was to be supplied through PDS, it’s the additional requirement that has led to the rush. Besides, several states are looking to give the option to beneficiaries to draw the entire quota of 30kg for three months in April itself. The list includes Punjab, Odisha and MP, even as large consumers such as UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Maharashtra have opted to stick to the monthly quota of 10kg (including the additional 5 kg).

With roads blocked, can rail put supply chains back on track?


A week into the 21-day India lockdown that has snapped supply chains, choked borders and stalled movement of goods across the country, companies and logistics firms are working to relink the chain, exploring alternative routes for essential goods to reach shops, godowns and directly to consumers.

“Our teams are exploring all possible collaboration ideas including railways,” said Rajneesh Kumar, chief corporate affairs officer, Flipkart.

Freight transport in India is road-dominated, accounting for 59% of movement, as per a Niti report, while rail meets about 35% demand; less than 1% is by air.

Though relatively costlier than rail, road offers greater flexibility in terms of destination and volume of goods to be transported. The main advantage of trains is they can transport huge volumes.

The lockdown jammed road freight systems across states. Taken completely offguard, drivers were forced to leave their trucks and trudge to nearest points for food and shelter to wait it out after the 8pm announcement on March

22. While road freight is expected to suffer state-level and local hurdles, the Railways could take some of that load off.

An official said trains are cheaper only if volumes are there. “With the railways now announcing the movement of special parcel vans, we expect more packages like medicines, equipment, food 

Staggered delivery in some states

In case of a few states, the deliveries are being staggered. Instead of providing 30kg per beneficiary to Jharkhand in one shot, FCI will provide 15kg this month and the rest in the first week of May.

The absence of passenger trains is also helping in faster movement of “food trains” with goods moving from Punjab to Assam in 3-4 days against the 5-6 days that freight trains usually take.

“How quickly we move fresh stocks also depends on the pace at which godowns empty. Most states do not have sufficient storage facility,” an FCI officer said.

Over next couple of weeks, the focus will be back on procurement, which is expected to start in a staggered manner in the middle of April.