Friday, 4 October 2013

The Banana train of India

Who has not heard of the word “Banana Republic”. It is one of the most famous words in English and one that is used rather frequently to describe unstable economies and countries on the verge of social, political and economic collapse.
This is a term in political science, used for a politically unstable country whose economy is largely dependent on the export of a single limited-resource product, such as bananas. It was originally coined by the American writer William Sydney Porter (1862–1910), better known as O’Henry.
He used the term for the first time to describe his fictional Republic of Anchuria in the book Cabbages and Kings (1904), a collection of thematically related short stories inspired by his experiences in Honduras during the 1896–97, when he was wanted in the U.S. for bank embezzlement.
Well, if Banana Republic in political science also stands for a dictatorship that abets or supports, for kickback, the exploitation of large-scale plantation agriculture, how would you describe a banana train. Yes, a banana train that has been operational in India for a little more than two years.
Sadly, very few Indians outside farmers, horticulturists and officials of  Indian Railways and Horticulture Department have heard of the train, let alone seen it.
However, growers, traders and even consumers are happy at the launch of the Banana Train.
The Banana Train runs from Jalgaon in Maharashtra to Dehli.
Jalgaon is India’s biggest banana centre and Delhi one of the largest consumers.
The train operates once or twice a week and it unloads bananas at the rail yard of the Azadpur mandi in Delhi. Incidentally, this is Asia’s biggest market for fruits and vegetables.
The train has 80 insulated and ventilated containers and it can easily carry more than a thousand tonnes of bananas. It was launched in mid-September 2011 and it has proved to a boon to traders and  consumers alike.
It is also called the ‘horti train’, and it has not only reduced transportation cost for traders, but also seen a sharp drop of waste reported during transportation of fruits and vegetables by road. It is generally accepted that  20 per cent to 30 per cent of the horticulture produce goes waste because of lack of modern storage and transportation facilities.
The banana train was the idea of the National Horticulture Board under the Agriculture Ministry, Container Corporation of India (CONCOR) and the Indian Railways. Both the board and CONCOR have invested Rs 8 crore each for transporting fruits and vegetables across the country.
Each container can hold at least 12 tonnes and the train generally makes five trips a month from Raver  near Jalgaon to Delhi. The train has a travel time of about 26 hours, including eight hours for loading and unloading of bananas, in a one-way trip.
Both Jalgaon and Bhusawal in Maharashtra are the biggest banana producing regions in India and they mostly cater to markets in north India, including Delhi.
The horti train was first mooted under the Kisan Vision Yoyana launched by the Indian Railways in 2009. It had successfully conducted a dry run of the banana route from Jalgaon to Azadpur  and an onion route from Nashik in Maharashtra to Kolkata and Malda in West Bengal, which  terminated in Fatwa, Bihar.
A dry run of a potato train was also conducted from Kolkata to Guwahati and from Agra to Bangalore. However the banana train was the first off the block and by the looks of it, it has come to stay.
Enthused by the response to the banana train, the horticulture mission has proposed an expenditure of R100 crore during the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) where the cost would be shared by CONCOR. It aims to launch ten such trains for carrying fruits and vegetables between growing and consuming regions during the next five years.
Do you want a reality check. So here it is.
The container rake docked at the Kherwadi railway station, north of the Nashik Road station, will receive the cargo. The Horticulture Express will deliver consignments to Chitpur near Kolkata, covering 1,800km in 36 hours. Currently, onions are transported by trucks that need at least 120 hours for the journey. The cost too has come down from Rs. 40,000  per container to transport 16 tonne of onions, to  Rs 32,000.

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