Even though the Punjab government has fast-tracked the investigation into the Rs 33-crore pesticide scam, protesting farmers have decided to go ahead with their two-day ‘rail roko’ programme from October 7 (Wednesday).
Farmers plan to block railway lines leading to the national capital from the state. The places chosen for the purpose are Phagwara (Kapurthala), Beas (Amritsar), Rampura town (Bathinda), Shergarh and Pathrala villages (Muktsar), Patiala city, and Dagru village (Moga). Rail lines would also be blocked in Ludhiana, Sangrur and Gurdaspur districts.
A section of farmer bodies is of the opinion that former director, agriculture, Mangal Singh Sandhu, has been made the scapegoat in the scam.
“We are not saying that Sandhu has no role in the scam, but the big fish involved in the scam have plotted his arrest to save their skin,” said Sukhdev Singh Kokari, general secretary of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan).
“The clean chit to agriculture minister Jathedar Tota Singh has raised questions about the Parkash Singh Badal government’s claim of conducting a fair investigation,” he added.
On the call of eight farm organisations, farmers will block rail traffic for two days after their talks with the state government on October 3 remained inconclusive.
Farmers are demanding compensation of Rs 40,000 per acre for the loss to their cotton crop and Rs 20,000 per acre to farm labourers. They are also seeking Rs 4,500 per quintal for the 1509 basmati variety and Rs 5,000 for the 1121 variety, waiver of debts, providing additional relief package of Rs 5 lakh to economically weaker families, and clearing payments of sugarcane growers.
“Why shouldn’t we protest as it has now become clear that the government is responsible for the farmers’ losses? Why is it hesitating to give us adequate compensation?” Kokari said.
He claimed that during their meeting with the government delegation, they had asked chief secretary Sarvesh Kaushal and his subordinates to investigate the alleged role of the agriculture minister.
Buta Singh Burjgill, state president of BKU (Dakaunda), said Sandhu’s arrest came only after pressure built up by farmers. “We would ensure that the minister and bureaucrats involved in the pesticide scam are brought to book,” Burjgill said.
Another farmer activist, Joginder Singh Ugrahan, president of BKU (Ugrahan), said this scam was exposed by farmers, but the police should investigate purchases and quality of pesticides in previous years as well.