In a first for onion growers in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat, Indian Railways is taking their bulb to a prospective market, all the way to Bangladesh.

The first goods train — a rake of 42 wagons — carrying about 2,500 tonnes of onions from the districts of Rajkot and Junagadh will start from Dhoraji station in Rajkot district and reach Darshana railway station on the Bangladesh border.

“Loading will be completed today and the first rake will start for Bangladesh. It is expected to reach Darshana station within three days as we have much better path availability for goods trains currently,” said VK Tailor, Senior Divisional Commercial Manager, Bhavnagar Division of Western Railways.

In the absence of regular passenger traffic due to the pandemic, the Railways is exploring ways to scale up its commercial revenues by tapping new business avenues with trading communities, APMCs, merchants and bulk buyers/industrial customers to check their transport requirements.

The Railways found huge quantities of onions with traders in the areas of Junagadh, Dhoraji, Upleta, and Gondal. “We spoke to them and motivated them to use rail transport to send them to Bangladesh, where there was a good demand. At the moment, this is the first rake, but over time we expect more such rakes to go,” Tailor told BusinessLine .

Dhoraji-based Mahesh Nathwani is among the dozen onion traders who loaded onions for export to Bangladesh, and finds it much faster and cheaper mode than trucks.

“I have eight wagons of my onion stocks in this rake. We have a good deal in freight. Also, the market rates in Bangladesh are better than our local prices. This makes it a profitable proposition for us,” Nathwani said, adding that the freight cost of ₹1.12 lakh per wagon (containing 40 tonnes of onions) works out to be 50 per cent cheaper than truck-transport.

Freight earnings

The Railways is expected to make freight earnings of ₹46.55 lakh. While the move is beneficial for the Railways amid falling revenues due to suspension of normal passenger trains, it has also come as a boon for the onion growers, who saw prices crashing in the local wholesale markets due to a glut as bulk buyers stayed away as there was no demand from hotels and restaurants.

Highlighting the significance of the development, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal had also tweeted saying, the move is “propelling agriculture exports to economically empower farmers... in a first, railways is transporting onions from Dhoraji in Gujarat to Bangladesh.”

In 2018-19, Gujarat produced about 7,20,000 tonnes of onion (6,69,000 tonnes during the rabi season and about 51,000 tonnes during summer harvest). This year, the 2019-20 harvest season, onion output is estimated (State government’s Fourth Advance Estimate), at 13,06,000 tonnes, about 80 per cent more than the previous year, causing a glut.

The prices plummeted from ₹2,988 per quintal in January at Mahuva market, to ₹933 per quintal in June.

As per trade sources, Bangladesh market prices are more than double the local rates. After currency conversion, the Bangladeshi onion rates workout at ₹15-17 per kg.