Railways bear the brunt of Gujjars, Punjab farmers protests

Mamuni Das New Delhi | Updated on November 10, 2020 Published on November 10, 2020

Gujjars protest, blocking railway tracks in stretches of lucrative Delhi-Mumbai route causing business losses to the national transporter (file photo)   -  PTI

Weeks after the protests against the farm reform laws caused a steep 11 per cent drop year-on-year in Northern Railway’s business in October, another protest seeking caste reservation for the Gurjar community threatens to disrupt business of a neighbouring railway zone –West Central Railway.

Kirori Singh Bainsla, the leader of Gujjar protests, is a familiar name in railway corridors.

For many years now, he has led Gujjars protest, blocking railway tracks in stretches of lucrative Delhi-Mumbai route causing business losses to the national transporter. This year is no different Gujjar community protests have started in parts of Rajasthan. This is even as the national transporter struggles to resolve the blockade in Punjab as protests over the farm reform laws continued leading to Northern Railway recording a drop in loading in the festival month of October.

Diverse businesses hit

Inability to unload cargo in Punjab has started affecting businesses — from food to fertilisers. “Coal-based power plant shut down has started. Punjab is also a hub of other industries like hosiery that may bear the impact. There are Inland Container Depots of Concor as well that will hit the export and import of cargo,” said an official. “All of this is also leading to Railways’ wagons getting stabled or parked on railway tracks. Such cargo for Punjab is loaded from Western and Central Zones. Northern Zone mainly loads foodgrains,” the official added.

In October, when the farm Bill protests played out, the freight loading by Northern Railways dropped 11.64 per cent year on year, reversing the trend of higher growth that this zone had seen in the previous months despite Covid-19, according to Railways data. On a cumulative basis, till September, Northern Railway, traditionally a people moving zone, had seen a 33 per cent growth in loading against a nine per cent shrinkage for the national transporter.

Services stalled

As of last week, over 2,200 and 1,300 passenger train movement were stopped in 40 days due to Punjab. “Coal, cement, fertiliser, container, petroleum products have been hit, including power plant sidings, HPCL Mittal refinery were also hit” another official from the affected zone said.

“Till November 9, 2,650 freight trains not loaded, 1,700 trains were cancelled, 230 freight rakes heading to Punjab and up north are stabled along the railway tracks leading to potential network congestion. The stranded rakes parked midway comprise 102 containers rakes (set of trains), 78 coal rakes, 34 fertiliser rakes, eight petroleum product rakes and several cement trains,” Northern Railway official told BusinessLine. Moreover, within Punjab, 96 train engines and 33 rakes are stuck. Railways, which are in talks with Punjab officials, expects to start both freight and passenger trains soon given the forthcoming Diwali and Chhat festivals.

Meanwhile, the Gurjar agitation has led to cancellation of local trains prompting railways to divert trains. “Freight trains are also being diverted that may be adding to our operational expenditure,” added another official.

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Published on November 10, 2020
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