A delegation of agitating farmers will meet Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal in Chandigarh on Monday evening to discuss their demands, including compensation for the cotton crop loss due to the whitefly pest attack. The farmers, however, kept up the pressure on the government by continuing to block rail traffic in Punjab for the fourth consecutive day on Saturday.
The farmer delegation will meet Badal at Punjab Bhawan at 4.30pm, it was announced after a meeting of farmer leaders on Saturday. The farmers are yet to take a call on whether to end their protest before Monday’s meeting or decide depending on its outcome.
Sukhdev Singh Kokri, the general secretary of Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan), said that a meeting to decide on the future course of action would be held later on Saturday.
The farmers are demanding a compensation of Rs 40,000 per acre for cotton crop loss and Rs 20,000 per acre for farm labourers. They are also seeking a support price of Rs 4,500 per quintal for the 1509 basmati variety and Rs 5,000 for the 1121 variety, besides waiver of debts, providing additional relief package of Rs 5 lakh to economically weaker families and clearing payments of sugarcane growers.
Prem Singh Chandumajra, the Akali MP of Anandpur Sahib, is the main negotiator between the farmers and the government. Earlier, government officials had sought 15 days from the farmers to fix their meeting with Badal but the relentless protest that paralysed rail services for four days and the mounting loss of more than Rs 10 crore to the railways besides inconvenience to passengers forced the government to agree for talks.
RAIL TRAFFIC DERAILED
Twenty-one trains in the Ferozepur-based Northern Railway division were cancelled on Saturday with protesters blocking the Bathinda-Ambala section at Rampura town, the Bathinda-Bikaner track at Pathrala village and the Bathinda-Mansa-Delhi route at Shergarh village. Traffic on the Moga-Ludhiana section was also hit due to the blockade at Dagru village in Moga district.
In the past three days, more than 250 trains have been cancelled, according to railway officials. “Though no formal calculation has been done, the financial loss to both the divisions has been estimated at more than Rs 10 crore,” said divisional railway manager, Ambala division, Dinesh Kumar. “The passengers, who had advanced booking, are the worst sufferers as their schedule has gone for a toss due to the protest,” he added.
Asked if the railways had had any communication with the Punjab government, the DRM said: “What is the point of asking the government when it has shown its inability to end the farmers’ protest?”