At a meeting attended by 30 farmers’ organisations at Chandigarh’s Kisan Bhawan on Wednesday, it was decided that a “positive decision” regarding letting passenger trains enter Punjab will be taken only after the Centre resumes freight movement in the state.
The Indian Railways had suspended train services in Punjab on October 24, nearly a month ago. It maintained that either both – passenger and goods trains – would run, or there would be no movement. Farmers groups, who have been squatting on rail tracks since September 24 agitating against the Farm Laws, have accused the Narendra Modi-led Central Government of a vendetta against Punjab, the state which has been at the forefront of the protests against the laws.
The decision taken by the 30 organisations was unanimous. It was taken in the wake of negotiations with the Centre about the resumption of train services to Punjab, the absence of which has now begun to pinch the state’s industries.
Jagmohan Singh, general secretary, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda) said that the farmers have decided to stick to their demands. “The Centre has to resume freight train services in Punjab, and only then we (the farmers’ bodies) will take a call about passenger trains,” he told NewsClick over the phone from Chandigarh.
Singh added that industries and traders in Punjab have already been affected by the pandemic-triggered lockdown this year and that the rail blockade was only adding to their woes. “The Centre must also think about the workers here; mass retrenchment is largely looming over them as industries are facing a shortage of essential supplies,” he said.
Calling the suspension “anti-Punjab”, Singh, who is also a working committee member of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), said that with freight trains not operational, farmers are facing a shortage of urea for their crop.
The marathon talk between the Centre and the farmers on November 15 remained inconclusive, even as the government was informed that railway tracks in the state have been cleared and that farmers have shifted their demonstration to parking lots at railway stations.
Reacting to the stand taken by the farmers, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh said that he was “disappointed”. In a tweet last night, he said “he had expected Farm Unions to give up their adamant approach in the interest of Punjab and its people.”
Kulwant Singh Sandhu, general secretary, Jamhuri Kisan Sabha, told NewsClick that the farmers’ bodies decided to continue with their demonstrations near railway tracks across the state. Protests will also take place at toll plazas, petrol pumps, silos owned by corporate houses and residences of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, among others.
“All the leaders present at the meeting also decided to proceed with the march to Delhi,” he said, adding that this was so even after the Delhi police denied them permission to hold protests in the national capital, citing a surge in COVID-19 cases.
The AIKSCC, which is a coming together of over 250 farmers’ outfits from across the country, has given a ‘Delhi Chalo’ call to all its constituent bodies for November 26 and 27. It is to intensify the farmers’ agitation against the agriculture reforms, which, they fear, will tilt the playing field towards the corporates.
The Delhi police must allow the farmers to hold a demonstration either at Ramlila Maidan or Jantar Mantar, Sandhu said. “If we are stopped from entering the city at the borders, then we shall stay put for days to come. Dera daalo, ghera daalo,” he said.
Preparations have also begun. “We have already started arranging for mattresses to beat winter nights; we are also going to have everything required to prepare langar to feed the protestors,” Sandhu added.
Almost three lakh farmers from Punjab alone are preparing to participate in the rally to Delhi, Sandhu claimed. The farmers are expected to begin their joint march on tractors from November 25. In order to finalise the plan, district level meetings are scheduled for November 21 across the state.
A similar vigour for the ‘Delhi Chalo’ rally is also being shown by farmers in the neighbouring state of Haryana, where groups have already planned to assemble at the Rajiv Gandhi Education City near the Kundli border. They are expected to march on foot march there onwards and join the protesting groups from other states.