With agitating Punjab farmers extending their “rail roko” (railway blockade) protest against the state government for another two days, rail traffic continued to be affected in Punjab on Sunday.
The agitation has had spill-over effect on rail traffic in neighbouring Haryana as well with trains towards Punjab being cancelled.
Farmers continued to block the Amritsar-Jalandhar railway track at Muchhal village near Amritsar, 225 km from here, and the Ludhiana-Ferozepur track near Moga, 170 km from here, on Sunday. They have pitched tents and spread mattresses on the tracks.
Railways officials said that over 250 trains have been affected so far due to the farmers’ protest, which started on October 7. The loss to the railways and the state administration is estimated at over Rs.100 crore.
Railway passengers were the worst sufferers with several trains being cancelled, blocked or diverted in Punjab.
Trains from Haryana linking various places in Punjab were also been cancelled in the past four days.
“Nearly 240 trains from Haryana, including express, passenger and freight trains, have been affected since the farmers’ agitation began in Punjab,” Ambala station manager Hans Raj said.
Leaders of the farmers’ organisations on Saturday decided to extend their agitation for two more days till Monday, despite being invited by Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal for talks. The talks will take place here on Monday.
“We have decided to extend our agitation till Monday. We will decide the next course after talks with Punjab government on Monday,” farmers’ leader HS Sandhu said.
The rail blockade call was given by eight farmer organisations, including factions of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, to protest the “anti-farmer policies” of the Punjab government.
The Samjhauta Express - the peace train between India and Pakistan - is also affected by the agitation.
Talks between leaders of agitating farmers and government representatives in the past week failed to break the deadlock over the formers’ demands.
The farmers are particularly agitated over the government’s response to the whitefly attack on the cotton crop in the Malwa region of Punjab. The pest has damaged over 60 percent of the cotton crop and caused losses of hundreds of crores of rupees to the growers.
Earlier, chief minister Badal appealed to the peasants to end the “rail roko” agitation, terming it as “unfortunate” and “politically motivated”.
The agitating farmers are demanding compensation of at least Rs.40,000 per acre for the cotton crop loss, immediate release of money to sugarcane growers and higher support price for basmati rice.