Indian govt to import 1 lakh tonne of rice from Myanmar
New Delhi, Sept 7:
The Indian government has approved import of one lakh tonne of rice from Myanmar in the next few months to deal with expected disruption of foodgrain supply to the Public Distribution System (PDS) in Tripura and Mizoram.
Sources said that state-owned trading firms MMTC or PEC would be assigned to go for “exploratory tender” on September 8 to get the price at which the rice would be imported from Myanmar.
An official said that initially, the government has approved import of 20,000 tonne of rice monthly from Myanmar for five months and subsequently, depending on the availability of grain in Tripura and Mizoram, further imports would be carried out.
After getting the quote on rice prices from the tender, the food ministry would move a cabinet note for import of grain. This is for the first time in decades that the country will import such significant quantities of grain for PDS purpose.
Supply of rice from mainland India to the northeastern states is likely to be hit by railway gauge conversion work starting October 1 on the 220-km Lumding (Assam)-Badarpur-Agartala (Tripura) line.
The cost of transporting rice from surplus states like Punjab or Andhra Pradesh to Tripura and Mizoram works out to about Rs 3,200 per quintal, taking into account the Food Corporation of India (FCI)’s economic cost at Rs 2,755 per quintal.
“As against this, importing rice from Myanmar would be more economical at around Rs 2,400 per quintal, including cost of transportation from the border,” said a senior official.
In 2013, Myanmar had exported around 1.8 million tonne of rice, mostly to China and Africa.
Food ministry sources said that due to closure of the Lumding-Agartala meter gauge section, the transportation of foodgrain is expected to slow down, particularly in parts of Assam (Silchar), Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura.
According to a food ministry official, although the railways have said the gauge conversion work will take around six months to a year to complete, FCI needs to be prepared to supply uninterrupted grain to the northeastern states for at least two years.
At present, more than 70% of monthly requirement of PDS foodgrain, around 3.2 lakh tonne, to the seven northeastern states is transported through railways while only 30% moves through the road network.
In a recent high level meeting at Guwahati attended by senior officials from FCI, North-east Frontier Railways, National Highway Authority of India (NHA) and state government officials from NE states have acknowledged that the national highway (NH-44) which connects Shillong to Tripura is in a ‘bad shape’ thus hampering smooth movements of traffic.
The four laning or expansion of NH 54, which connects Assam to Mizoram is yet to be completed by NHAI.
While major parts of Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland have broad gauge rail connectivity, the foodgrains transportation to South Assam (Silchar district), Mizoram, Tripura and parts of Manipur is currently done through shifting to meter gauge rail from broad gauge line at Lumding, part of Nagaon district of Assam.
Recently, India has transported 10,000 tonne of rice through Bangladesh route to Tripura from Andhra Pradesh on a pilot basis. Further transport of foodgrains through Bangladesh route to North-Eastern states is yet to discussed between two countries.