Even as the ‘rail roko’ agitation by various farmer bodies of Punjab entered the fourth day on Saturday, all eyes are now on a meeting of farmers’ unions where the next course of action will be decided.
The meeting will be held in the afternoon at an undisclosed location in the Malwa region on Saturday.
Meanwhile, all the trains continued to remain off track.
Twenty-one trains in Northern Railway Division, Ferozepur were cancelled as farmers continued their sit-in. In Bathinda, the protesters are squatting on the Bathinda-Ambala railway track at Rampura town, Bathinda-Bikaner track at Pathrala village and Bathinda-Mansa-Delhi railway track at Shergarh village, while the Moga-Ludhiana railway track has been blocked at village Dagru in Moga district.
The government’s repeated attempts to resolve the issue has failed to reach any conclusion so far.
In the past three days, more than 250 trains have been cancelled, according to railway officials who estimated the loss to be Rs 10 crore.
Akali MP mediates but deadlock on
The state government approached the farmer leaders unofficially through the Akali member of Parliament (MP) from Anandpur Sahib, Prem Singh Chandumajra, to break the deadlock. While Chandumajra offered the leaders a meeting with chief minister Parkash Singh Badal at the earliest, the rider was that the agitation be called off before the meeting. However, farmer leaders are insisting on meeting the chief minister while the agitation is going on, so as to keep the option of continuing with the stir open in case talks with the CM do not bear favourable results for them.
The leaders of the agitation are meeting on Saturday afternoon at an undisclosed destination to work out their future strategy. The government, which issued advertisements in newspapers on Friday urging farmers to call off the agitation, is also expected to make a fresh move to make the leaders see reason.
Railways loss at 10 crore
The “rail roko” protest by the farmers has not only hit the train services in the region but has also added to the losses of the railways. Officials say the railways suffered a loss of more than `10 crore in three days.
As per information, a total 87 trains were cancelled under the Ferozepur railway division, while 49 mail express and 58 passengers trains were cancelled under the Ambala division. Besides, 54 trains were cancelled partially and 24 mail express trains were diverted.
“Though no formal calculation was done, the financial loss to both the divisions has been estimated at more than `10 crore,” said divisional railway manager, Ambala division, Dinesh Kumar. The loss is not an issue, as the inconvenience to railway customers is state of concern in the past three days.
“The passengers, who had advanced booking, are the worst sufferers as their schedule went for a toss due to protest,” he added.
When asked if the railways had had any communication with Punjab government, the DRM said: “What is the point of asking the government when it has shown its inability to end the farmers’ protest.”
The Malwa region remained cut off from New Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan for the third consecutive day on Friday as all trains remained off track due to the “rail roko” protest.
The protesting farmers continued to block the Bathinda-Ambala railway track at Rampura, Bathinda-Bikaner track at Pathrala village and Bathinda-Mansa-Delhi railway track at Shergarh village. The Moga-Ludhiana railway track was blocked at Dagru village in Moga district.
The police have set up check posts after every three kilometres on roads to stop farmers from moving towards the rail tracks.
President of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda) Buta Singh Burjgill said they would not hesitate to sit indefinitely on the rail track if the government fails to accept their demands.
“It is unfortunate that the police have arrested our fellow colleagues. But we wanted to give clear message to the police and the government that their activities would not stop us to fight for our rights,” he added.
The farmers unions are demanding a compensation of `40,000 per acre for cotton crop loss and `20,000 per acre for farm labourers.
They are also seeking a support price of `4,500 per quintal for the “1509” basmati variety and `5,000 for the “1121” variety, besides waiver of debts, providing additional relief package of `5 lakh to economically weaker families and clearing payments of sugarcane growers.