Delays of Nepal-bound freight trains worry tradersIndian Railways now takes 25 days to transport containers from Visakhapatnam to Birgunj, compared to four to five days previously.
Nepal-bound railway rakes originating at the Indian sea ports of Kolkata and Visakhapatnam are being subjected to long delays and stops en route, resulting in losses to Nepali traders, insiders say.
Indian Railways normally takes four to five days to transport containers from Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh to Sirsiya dry port in Birgunj, Nepal. Now the rakes arrive after 25 days.
The journey from Kolkata port to Birgunj has also increased from the usual three days to more than a week.
Madhav Rajpal, vice-president of the Birgunj Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said problems started after the horrendous train accident in Odisha on June 2 which killed at least 293 people.
“We have been frequently requesting Pristine Valley, the operator of the dry port, to do something about it, but nothing has happened,” said Rajpal.
He said that after the Odisha rail accident, Nepal-bound freight trains have been stopped at each railway station for four to five days. “That’s the reason the travel time has increased by three to four times.”
According to Rajpal, Pristine Valley has replied that trains departing from Visakhapatnam port for Nepal have to pass through the accident site in Odisha, and this has led to long delays.
Hari Gautam, another vice-president of the Birgunj Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Indian Railways completely halted Nepal-bound freight trains for 15 days in June and eight days in July. Indian Railways is an undertaking of the Indian government.
Gautam said that Indian Railways has not been able to operate at the Khurda and Asansol divisions on India's east coast through which Nepal-bound trains have to pass.
“This has resulted in difficulties to Nepali traders. It's unfair to stop Nepali containers for long periods due to the incompetence of Indian Railways,” said Gautam. He said that they had informed Ramesh Rijal, Minister of Industry, Commerce and Supplies, about the hurdles faced by Nepali traders. “But to no avail.”
There used to be problems in the past too, but the former operator of the dry port, Himalayan Terminals, used to deal with them promptly. The company was a joint venture of the Container Corporation of India (CONCOR).
The current dry port operator, Pristine Valley, has shown no urgency in resolving the issue, traders said. Pristine Valley, a joint venture of Pristine Logistics of India, was awarded the contract to operate and manage Sirsiya dry port in August 2020.
Traders say the problem is becoming more complex. Gautam suspects that the current difficulties might have been caused by obstructions created by CONCOR in the operation of freight trains.
“In the past, CONCOR, which is an Indian government undertaking, held the monopoly in transporting containers from Indian ports to Nepal, but now there are several other private companies competing for the business. So there is something suspicious here,” said Gautam.
Traders worry that they will have to pay more in bank interest as their cargoes of imported goods take longer to arrive in Birgunj.
“The containers also hold perishable goods which may rot if the freight trains are held up for long periods,” added Gautam.
Pristine Valley has admitted that cargo containers are being delayed inordinately.
Atul Sharma, chief administration officer of Pristine Valley, said that Indian Railways has been holding up Nepal-bound freight trains for multiple days at several stations.
“When we talked to Indian Railways, they said that they were in the process of upgrading their security system and other devices at several stations. Therefore, trains are getting delayed,” said Sharma.
“The current situation is not under our control. There is no possibility of resolving the problem until India Railways completes their upgradation project.”
Birgunj on Nepal's southern border is a major business centre, especially for trade with India. More than 60 percent of the country’s international trade passes through the customs point here.
According to the Department of Customs, the total amount of imports through Birgunj amounted to Rs593.39 billion in the last fiscal year 2022-23, which is 36.82 percent of Nepal’s total imports.
Birgunj handled 23.34 percent of Nepal's exports amounting to Rs36.67 billion in the last fiscal year.