Chandigarh: The suspension of freight trains amid farmers' stir has affected coal supply for thermal plants in Punjab and hit state's industrial sector, which is staring at massive financial losses. Nearly all industrial verticals, including bicycle and bicycle parts, textile, hand tools, auto parts, steel, machine tools, among others are facing dearth of raw materials in the wake of non-operation of goods trains.
Goods train services had earlier resumed in the state after farmer unions on October 21 announced exempting them from their weeks-old 'rail roko' agitation over the Centre's new farm laws. The railways began running goods trains on October 22, but decided to suspend them on October 23 after some farmers blocked their movement.
On October 26, the suspension in the state was extended up to October 29. Railway Minister Piyush Goyal had sought Punjab government's assurance for safety of trains and crew members to restore freight services, after Chief Minister Amarinder Singh asked him to intervene to resume the services.
A senior official of power utility Punjab State Power Corporation Ltd (PSPCL) said against the demand for 6,000 MW of power, the state is managing 5,000 MW from central hydro and biomass plants, leading to shortage of 1,000 MW. A private thermal power plant has stopped power generation, while other thermal plants are left with just two to three days of coal, the official said.
PSPCL is also buying electricity through power exchange, the official added. Industry representatives from Punjab said around 10,000 containers for imports and exports have been stuck at various dry ports due to suspension of goods trains.
"Containers are carrying raw material and finished goods which include thread, steel, cycle parts, hand tools and other items worth Rs 6,000 to 7,000 crore," Ludhiana-based industrialist S C Ralhan, who is also a former president of the Federation of Indian Export Organisation, said. "We have already faced financial loss to the tune of Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 crore due to non-operation of goods trains," he said.
Avon Cycles Chairman and Managing Director Onkar Singh Pahwa said the bicycle industry is facing difficulties in procuring raw materials like strips and pipes for making bicycles. "Whatever material we have will soon end," he said.
Pahwa said bicycles which were to be exported to other countries are also stuck in containers, while buyers are asking to honour the commitments. The company is sending containers through trucks to ports for urgent export supplies, he said, adding that it increases the cost.
Ajit Lakra, a garment maker, also echoed similar sentiments saying that any delay in sending goods meant for exports will not only lead to companies losing buyers but will also dent the industry's credibility. Pahwa also expressed concern on shortage of coal, saying if thermal plants stop generating power, the industry will not be able to run its operations.
The industry representatives blamed the Congress-led state government in Punjab for the current situation. "It is the duty of the state government to maintain law and order. The government should immediately get the rail tracks cleared," Ralhan said.