Nationwide Farmers Protests Against Agriculture Bills in India Disrupt Supply Chain Operations

Nationwide Farmers Protests Against Agriculture Bills in India Disrupt Supply Chain Operations

Executive Summary

  • The House of the People, the lower house of India’s bicameral parliament, passed new agriculture bills on September 17, leading to farmers’ groups calling for protests nationwide. Severe road and rail disruptions have been reported in Punjab and Haryana states due to blockades set up by protestors.
  • Blockades have impacted fuel, coal, and food supplies, likely leading to power outages in Punjab as coal supply in power plants reach critical levels. Fuel shortages are likely as protestors block fuel stations, further adding to operational challenges in the area.
  • Automotive, life sciences and healthcare, and chemical industries in Punjab are likely to face disruptions due to the ongoing road and rail blockades. Power cuts and supply shortages leading to disruption in production, as well as logistic challenges, are expected.
  • Customers with supply chain presence in India should continue to monitor Everstream Analytics for the latest updates to anticipate further road and rail disruptions nationwide, especially with regards to the nationwide strikes on October 31 and roadblock protests scheduled for November 5.
  • Monitoring developments and planning ahead can mitigate any potential risks that could lead to shipment delays or supply chain disruptions as the farmers’ groups in Punjab state have extended an ongoing rail blockade until October 21 following failed negotiations with the government.

Background

After the passing of agriculture bills by the Lok Sabha, or the House of the People, on September 17, widespread protests have erupted in India. To oppose the reforms, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), which represents 250 farmers groups, has called for several indefinite demonstrations at the national level. 

The agriculture bills include: a “one nation, one market” ordinance, which allows farmers to sell crops to any merchant, without restriction to specific areas; an ordinance where farmers are to sell crops based on parameters set by crop standards; as well as an amendment to the Essential Commodities Act, which was set to curb black market activities, that removes agricultural products such as potatoes, edible oils, oilseeds, and cereals. Several farmers groups, trade unions, and opposition political parties claim that the three reform bills will only weaken the government’s support for the agricultural sector as the domestic market will allegedly be vulnerable to market forces. 

Farmers groups across India have been staging protests, which involve an indefinite rail blockade as well as roadblocks on national highways to denounce the legislation. The protests include marches and road blockages in New Delhi and other states such as Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Haryana, Karnataka, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. However, most protests have been concentrated in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana where farm yields are high. The ongoing agitations have severely disrupted freight rail traffic, affecting essential supplies including coal from thermal power plants in Punjab. Protesting farmers have also staged sit-ins outside petrol pumps, toll plazas, a power thermal plant, and food grain warehouses.

Rail and road blockades

Since September 24, protesters have taken part in ‘rail roko’, a form of protest involving a large number of people preventing traffic, usually on a busy thoroughfare. The indefinite protests have already caused significant losses to both the Indian Railways entity and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). 

The protestors reportedly blocked rail tracks at 33 different areas in Punjab causing disruptions to freight and passenger trains entering the state. Indian Railways has incurred revenue losses amounting to INR 2 billion (USD 27.3 million; EUR 23.2 million) as well as losses related to passenger refunds up until October 7 of about INR 2 billion (USD 27.3 million; EUR 23.2 million).i Losses in freight capacity sale have also been reported, amounting to INR 2.1 billion (USD 28.6 million; EUR 24.4 million) in Punjab until October 9. Following failed discussions with the central government, the rail blockade will reportedly continue until October 21. Similarly, several farmers’ organizations and other affiliated groups have intermittently targeted state highways and major thoroughfares in Punjab and Haryana states by erecting roadblocks and sit-in protests since September 20. They have also blocked other strategic routes connecting Haryana to the National Capital Region and the state borders between Haryana and Punjab at the Shambu barrier as part of their sit-in protests. 

The groups are further calling for a countrywide road blockade on national highways, locally known as ‘chakka jam’, on November 5 from 10:00 local time until 16:00, with the aim to spread the protests to other states.[i] The NHAI reported that the total revenue loss from road freight in Punjab as of October 8 amount to INR 75 million (USD 1,023,771; EUR 870,949), while in Haryana, a loss of INR 35 million (USD 477,812; EUR 406,481) was incurred as 37 toll plazas (18 in Punjab and 19 in Haryana) were blocked.i 

Precedents indicate that a number of national highways, sections, and key roads are likely to be targeted on November 5. Figure 1 lists the known locations that may be targeted.

Figure 01: Highways and roads across India that are likely to be targeted during the November 5 strike. Source: Everstream Analytics

Coal and fuel supply disruptions

Protests have disrupted 194 freight trains carrying essential goods such as coal, iron, steel, fertilizers, cement, food grains, and potatoes, leading to an acute shortage of coal supplies for power plants in Punjab. The shortage is expected to lead to severe power outages in the state as coal supply in power plants reach critical levels. According to a Punjab State Power Corporation Limited representative statement on October 14, Lehra Mohabbat, Ropar thermal, and Goindwal Sahib power plants have shut down while Talwandi and Nabha thermal power plants have three and six days of coal supplies left respectively. Power outages have already been reported for some areas in Punjab due to a decrease in electricity generation. The disruptions have led to the state government urgently transporting food grain, coal, petroleum, and fertilizer as a priority. 

Fuel supply shortages have also been reported in Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh after farmers blocked over 30 fuel stations in various areas as part of the agitation. The regions are reportedly only getting 70 percent of fuel supply via road as freight trains have been stuck at Karnal, Haryana, and Jalandhar, Punjab due to the ‘rail roko’. At the time of writing, 200 trucks loaded with fuel from various oil companies have been supplying Jammu and Kashmir, though the daily amount required for sufficient consumption of petrol and diesel is at least 300 trucks for the 675 petrol filling stations in the region. As fuel is crucial for the security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, the state that borders Pakistan and China, the ongoing situation can turn critical for the government.  

Potential supply disruptions

The major industries in Punjab include food processing and dairy products; manufacturing of tractors; auto components; bicycle parts; light engineering goods; metals and alloys; chemical products; and textile-based industries such as yarn and readymade garments. Figure 2 provides a snapshot of auto parts and chemical suppliers in Ludhiana and surrounding areas, while Chandigarh, a capital for both Haryana and Punjab states, has a larger presence of life sciences and health care suppliers. Similarly, Haryana state hosts automotive, agro-based industry, technology, textiles, oil refining, biotechnology, and petrochemical industries. 

Figure 02: Automotive, life sciences and healthcare, and chemical facilities clusters in Ludhiana, Chandigarh, and surrounding areas in Punjab. Source: Everstream Analytics 

Although there have been no reports of logistics disruptions and supply shortages at the manufacturing facilities as of this writing, the looming power crisis may pose a challenge for the aforementioned industries. Punjab’s coal stocks are at a critical stage, which may subsequently hamper production at the factories. The Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) has already started two-hour power cuts in the agricultural sector by supplying six-hours instead of eight. If the situation worsens, PSPCL has stated that it will also consider cutting electricity supply to domestic and other businesses. 

Pharma suppliers in the area may face major challenges in the event of intermittent or prolonged power outages. Prolonged road and rail blockades on strategic routes could also hamper shipment schedules that are time-sensitive amid the pandemic.    

Recommendations

  • Keep abreast of regulatory updates: As the protests have intensified with new threats, organizations should liaise with local contacts, including in-country material suppliers, freight forwarders, and regulatory authorities to remain informed of developments. Despite the blockades, there is potential for critical goods, such as medicines and its formulations and food supplies, to be exempted and be allowed to pass through. Moreover, customers can also monitor developments on Everstream Analytics to acquire the latest information such as regulatory changes in India to assist in making informed decisions.
  • Expect cargo transportation or shipping schedule disruptions: While airports have not been targeted by the farmers, sections of intercity highways and rail routes connecting to transport hubs have been affected. Thus, intermittent shipment delays can be expected, particularly on November 5, which may subsequently affect production schedules for manufacturers based in India and those that rely on supplies from the country. As the situation remains fluid, customers with suppliers based in Punjab and Haryana should secure cargo capacity for critical goods before November 5. 
  • Anticipate disruptions in neighboring states: Customers should anticipate the possible spread of protests to neighboring states, especially to Delhi, India’s capital territory. Protestors have previously attempted to enter the area but were stopped by police forces. Disruptions to high-impact areas are likely as protesters grow impatient and intensify protests to assert demands. 
  • Monitor COVID-19 infection cases: As protestors are often in close-proximity and are taking part in prolonged demonstrations, an increase in COVID-19 cases is likely in the coming weeks. The possible increase in cases could lead to further lockdown measures and movement restrictions in the affected areas, which can disrupt business operations. Customers with suppliers or future shipments in the areas of protests are encouraged to prepare contingency plans and identify alternative measures should this risk materialize.

Outlook

As an agricultural-based economy, farmers’ protests are common in India. Previous protests include the 2017 severe drought in Tamil Nadu, the agrarian crisis in 2018, and other regulatory changes that have caused protests by farmers, most of which were concentrated in New Delhi. 

The current protests have escalated and extended across several weeks despite pleas by the government, fueled by sentiments stemming from the high unemployment rate in the rural economy, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a World Bank survey in September, the unemployment rate in rural India in July was more than double the 18 percent share reported in March, when Prime Minister Modi’s government imposed a strict nationwide lockdown to curb the virus outbreak.

Similar to other countries, India’s economy is slowly recovering through reopening efforts after a lengthy lockdown. In light of this, the parliament passed the agricultural reform bills to allow farmers to sell their products directly to the private sector as well as to allow corporate investment in farms. 

However, the ongoing protests in India are not expected to abate in the short-term as talks with the government broke down on October 14 and October 19, causing the farmers’ groups to vow to intensify the protests. Farmers indicated that they were not heard at the meeting with the Agriculture Ministry and have since announced intensified statewide protests in Punjab on October 31, and a continuation of rail blockades in the state until at least October 21. Customers are advised to monitor Everstream Analytics for the latest updates to anticipate upcoming protests and mitigate any potential delays or disruptions to shipments.


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