Still full of anger against the Punjab government, farmers vented it on the police at Khokhar village in this district on Saturday, forcing cabinet minister Janmeja Singh Sekhon to skip a public function.
Eight people, including five policemen, were injured in the clash that started when police attempted to clear protesting farmers from the venue where the public works department (PWD) minister was to lay the foundation stone of a link road. Sekhon was on his way there from a public function at Sooch village in his constituency when the protesters set ablaze the tents pitched at Khokhar. Even one of the local Akali groups joined them.
The agitators even demolished the plaque on the foundation stone and shooed away the policemen deployed to maintain law and order. On a call for not letting the Akali MLAs and MPs into villages, the farmers had hijacked the stage before the function; and when police moved in and took the mike from them, they pelted the cops with stones, inviting a heavy cane charge.
The injured people were admitted to the civil hospital at Rampura Phul. Senior superintendent of police Rajeshwar Singh Sidhu said police reacted only after repeated provocation. “Farmers hurled stones on us from rooftops, refusing to listen to the appeals to clear the venue. We used force only to disperse them,” said the SSP.
Police registered two cases against more than 20 farmers under Sections 353 (criminal force to deter public servants) and 186 (obstructing public servant) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Bathinda deputy commissioner Basant Garg warned of strict action against the agitators. “The government is bound to do development works in villages. People should not be swayed by bad elements who want them to disrupt government’s functioning,” he said.
“The protest was against Akali leaders as well as police who harass our activists,” said Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan) district president Shingara Singh Mann, adding: “We were protesting peacefully. It were the police who provoked us with cane charge.”
The farmers want compensation of Rs 40,000 per acre for damage to the cotton crop; Rs 4,500 per quintal as price of the 1509 variety of Basmati crop; and Rs 5,000 per quintal as price of the 1121 variety. In spite of repeated attempts, cabinet minister Sekhon could not be contacted.
Bajwa flays cane charge
Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa condemned Saturday’s police cane charge on farmers, including women, at Khokhar village near Maur in Bathinda district. He accused the state government of resorting to repressive measures instead of meeting farmers’ demands. “This government should face the fact that it has become intolerable to the people, who don’t want them in their villages,” he said.