Mango Special to Banana Special: Kisan Rail gets on track

Mango special, Banana Special, Onion Special, Sapota Special.

These are some of the routes of Kisan Rail — special seasonal trains identified by the government for farmers to send fresh fruits, vegetables and other perishable goods to buyers across India.

Officials said the Rail and Agriculture ministries are working to institutionalise these “corridors”, or dedicated routes, to make them season-specific to a fruit or vegetable. The plans also include carrying fish and meat in refrigerated containers at some point in the future, they said.

The service assumes significance with the new farm laws that enable farmers to sell their produce to buyers of their choice. So far, the identified routes and seasons include:

* Onion and Banana Special from Nashik and Jalgaon to Delhi between March and December.

* Mango Special from Andhra Pradesh to Delhi from April to June.

* Banana Special for export from Anantpur to Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust in Mumbai.

* Sapota (chiku) Special from Surat, Valsad and Navsari in Gujarat to Delhi between April and November.

* Protein Special for packaged meat from the Dadri or Kanpur areas in UP to ports in Gujarat and Mumbai — this is already an established route.

Officials said the agriculture, animal husbandry and fisheries departments of state governments are being sounded out to identify more routes and products.
So far, officials said, at least four test trips have been completed without any delays:

*Last month, farmers in Andhra Pradesh’s Anantapur travelled to Delhi on Kisan Rail carrying mango, tomato, banana, pomegranate, musk melon and water melon. Another trip on the same route arrived Monday but this time without any farmers.

* Recently, a train from Bengaluru to Delhi carried multiple consignments of fruits and vegetables.

* In August, onions and bananas were brought from Kolhapur and Devlali in Maharashtra to Muzaffarpur in Bihar.

“Another Kisan Rail will start soon from Nagpur to Delhi. We are getting a good response from farmers. Whenever there is demand for Kisan Rail, we will run it,” Railway Board chairman V K Yadav said.

“This helps because a few farmers can get together to book a truck to send the load to the railway station. No matter how small the quantity, it gets transported,” said Mohammad R, who was part of the group from Anantapur.

“We were given contact numbers of wholesalers in Azadpur Mandi, and everything was arranged. We don’t have to travel with the produce all the way to Delhi every time,” he said.

“The farmers wanted to see how the system worked so a special passenger coach was attached to a parcel train. While half the consignment was from farmers, the rest was from traders who had procured the goods from local farmers,” said an official about the train from Anantapur.

If the initiative gains ground, the Railways plans to create a “hub and spoke” arrangement wherein trains will bring in produce from smaller points to big stations from where they will be transported in one train.

“Any large trader can book a bulk consignment of fruits and vegetables and transport them by train. But this new project accepts even the smallest of quantities from small farmers, cutting out the need for businessmen or business houses to be involved,” said a senior government official.

Officials estimate that for a distance of around 2000 km, farmers will save around Rs 1000 per tonne when compared to trucks, apart from the assurance of a set timetable and guaranteed schedule.

Said a senior official of South Coast Railway: “From around 30 per cent wastage in trucks that takes several days to transport fruits from Andhra Pradesh to Delhi, the wastage in trains has so far been next to nil, and goods have reached destinations within two days.”

However, based on feedback, multiple rail divisions have proposed a tariff discount to convince farmers to switch over. “At least 50 per cent discount should be given to farmers. We have conveyed that in our meetings and also in writing. This is not end-to-end transport so we have to arrange trucks at both source and destination,” said Ketan Nayak from Amalsad Vibhag Vividh Karyakari Sahakari Khedut Mandali, a cooperative society in Gujarat with over 3,000 active members. Officials said a decision is yet to be taken.