Agitating farmers in Punjab on Saturday announced that they were extending their state-wide rail blockade against inadequate compensation for the cotton crop loss by two days till Monday. A delegation of agitating farmers will also be calling on chief minister Parkash Singh Badal in Chandigarh on Monday evening to discuss their demands.
Sarwan Singh Pandher of the Kisan Sangharsh Committee and Sukhdev Singh Kokri, the general secretary of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan), announced the farmers’ decision to extend the agitation after a meeting held at an undisclosed venue in the state’s Malwa belt.
The decision is being seen as a bid to keep up the pressure on the government as the rail roko agitation, which has derailed train services in the state, entered the fourth day on Saturday.
The farmers’ delegation will meet Badal at Punjab Bhawan at 4.30pm on Monday.
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 PARALYSED
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?”