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Rail Blockade in Punjab: Farmers’ Bodies Stick to Demands, Talks with Centre Remain ‘Inconclusive’

Preparations are underway to make the march to the national capital on November 26-27 possible, to which the Delhi Police have currently denied the permission.
Punjab farmers' rail bloackade

Image Courtesy: OrissaPOST

Negotiating talks have begun – once again – between the Punjab farmers’ outfits and the Centre, with the former suggesting scope of more talks with the latter in the days to come. 

On Friday, all farmers’ unions, barring one, from Punjab met a three-member ministerial delegation at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi, in a meeting that saw discussions over various issues including the urgent matter at hand, that has led to squeezing of essential supplies in the state: suspension of train services. 

The marathon discussions, that went on for about seven hours, were held almost a month after the farmers’ bodies staged a walkout, complaining no minister was present in the talks that were initiated then. Before that, an invitation to negotiate with the Union government was boycotted by all the groups.

On Friday, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Prakash, spoke with the farmers from the Centre's end.

Dr. Darshan Pal, coordinator of all the farmers’ unions in Punjab told NewsClick that while both the sides stick to their demands, each expressed their views in a “cordial manner”. “The representatives of the unions discussed their issues in the meeting in a detailed and explanatory manner. We believe that if such a conducive environment is maintained, then the dialogue shall continue in the coming days as well,” he said.

Likewise, a press note by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution on Friday evening also claimed that issues relating to farmer’s welfare were discussed “at length” in the meeting, and that “both sides agreed to continue to hold further discussions”.

Pal, who also presides over Kirti Kisan Union, informed NewsClick that even though no date has been fixed yet for the next discussions, it is most likely to be called after the meeting of the Punjab farmers group, to be held on November 18 at Chandigarh. “We will be reviewing the current developments in that meeting,” he said.

Jagmohan Singh, general secretary, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda), said that the farmers reiterated their demands and pressed the Centre to resume the goods train in the state. “On that, we were told that either both passenger and goods train services will be resumed or none. We informed them that the farmers will not allow passenger trains in the state, as a mark of protest,” he said. “Hence, as of yet, the negotiations remain inconclusive.”

Starting from September 24, farmers were squatting on railway tracks at multiple protest sites, bringing train services in the state to a grinding halt. After 22 days in October, the demonstrations were shifted to railway station premises in a bid to allow the train carrying goods to run, but not the passenger ones.  

With the Centre adamant on its stand of allowing both passenger and goods trains, farmers’ unions have accused it of resorting to a “calculated move” to “punish” Punjab. Suspension of train services in the state is taking a toll on industrialists and and even activities relating to farming.

Also read: Selling Dreams of Prosperity in the Shadow of Exclusion

Asked if the unions will feel the pressure in the coming days, if the suspension is not lifted, Pal denied the possibility. “We understand that many people are bearing pains due to this protest. To all of them, I can only say that agriculture is the backbone of Punjab. And if that is destroyed, then there will be nothing left,” Pal said.

Satnam Singh Pannu, president of Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, the sole Punjab union which has rejected the Centre’s invitation to talks, termed the suspension of train services as a “political decision”. “They want to put pressure on the unions here to submit to their stubbornness. However, that won’t happen,” he told NewsClick, adding that farmers led by his outfit have already shifted their demonstrations – that is at about 36 sites – to railway station parkings in a bid to allow the goods trains to run.

Explaining why the Sangharsh Committee refused to enter into negotiations with the Centre, Pannu said, “This is not the right time to talk with the central government, when they have shown no interest in accepting our demands.”

Here, the demands include: repealing of the three farm legislations, along with guaranteeing farmers the minimum support price (MSP) for their produce as a ‘legal right’ and withdrawal of the proposed amendment to the electricity act.

“As the agitation of the farmers is continuing, this year we will all celebrate ‘Black Diwali’ in Punjab, which will witness effigies of Prime Minister Modi being burned,” said Pannu, irked.

‘Delhi Chalo’

Meanwhile, preparations are underway to make the march to the national capital on November 26-27 possible, which will be crucial for the farmers’ bodies across the country to achieve intensification of their struggle against the agriculture reforms.

Called by All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), an umbrella farmers’ body, the ‘Delhi Chalo’ programme too, however, doesn’t seem to be materialising without hitting any roadblocks, as the Delhi Police – reporting to Union Home Ministry – have denied the organisers the permission.

“We had demanded the permission for the farmers to assemble either in Ramlila Maidan or Jantar Mantar. Both have been denied by the Delhi Police as of now,” Singh of BKU (Dakaunda) said, adding that a new application has been submitted that carries among other references to the huge assemblies that have already taken place in the recent past in the national capital.

Gurnam Singh Charuni, president of BKU (Charuni), who will be leading the farmers’ march from Haryana told NewsClick that even if permission is not granted by the Delhi Police, the march will continue.

“Farmers from Haryana shall begin a foot march on November 19 from Shambhu Border (Punjab-Haryana border), who will assemble and be joined by others at the (Rajiv Gandhi) Education City near the Kundli border,” Charuni said, outlining the plan.

We will break the barricades in case they are installed to stop us from entering Delhi, he added.

Also read: Modi Pleads for Foreign Investment, While Workers & Farmers Prepare for Strike

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