The outbreak of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) and the resultant drop in economic activity has dragged down Indian Railways’s freight earnings by 8.76 per cent so far in March, compared to the corresponding period last year. The losses are likely to increase during the 21-day lockdown announced in the country.
The decline in March has led to a 0.1 per cent reduction in annual earnings till March 25 to Rs 1,21,873.61 crore, compared to a year ago. With six days left in the month, freight loading is expected to decline further because of the lockdown. In financial year 2018-19 (FY19), there was an 8.86 per cent increase in freight earnings over FY18. The lower numbers this year would mean that the national transporter is likely to fall well short of its revised earnings target of Rs 1,37,433 crore.
Freight loading, too, saw a dip of 2.6 per cent in March, though annual freight loading in the current fiscal rose 0.51 per cent to 1,196.4 million tonne (MT). In FY19, freight loading rose 5.33 per cent to 1,221.39 MT from 1,159.55 MT in FY18. In the past seven days, earnings dropped by 10.79 per cent and loading by 5.81 per cent compared to the corresponding period last year.
This comes at a time when the Indian Railways has cancelled all passenger train services, including suburban ones, till April 14, as a measure to check the spread of Covid-19. This is the longest shutdown of operations by the railways since the 54-day strike in 1974. However, freight operations are functioning to ensure the availability of essential commodities.
“Close coordination is being maintained with state governments so that rakes of essential commodities are handled smoothly without any delay, amidst various restrictions imposed in the wake of Covid-19,” the Indian Railways said on Tuesday.
On March 23, a total of 891 rakes were loaded by the Railways. This included 474 rakes for essential commodities — including foodgrains, salt, edible oil, sugar, milk, fruits and vegetables, coal and petroleum products. In addition, 121 rakes were allotted for iron ore, 48 for steel, 25 for cement, 28 for fertilisers and 106 for container operations. The total number of rakes increased to 980 on March 24.
Among commodities, coal and coke loading has seen a dip of 2.08 per cent so far in the current financial year, owing to a decline in demand from the power sector. For cement and clinker the decline was 3.35 per cent. However, this drop was partially compensated by an increase of 9.43 per cent in minerals and ores, and 4.71 per cent in petroleum products and gasses, compared to a year ago.
Earning from coal loading saw an increase of 0.53 per cent, while that from minerals and ores rose 15.45 per cent till March 24. The earnings from commodities that were hit severely include foodgrains, flour and pulses, which dropped 12.85 per cent, and cement and clinker, which was down 8.14 per cent.
Following the Covid-19 outbreak, the Railway Board slashed the demurrage and wharfage rates for goods to half the prescribed rates till March 31. The free time for loading and unloading of wagons, and for removal of consignments from railway premises has been increased to double the prescribed free time till March 31.