Protesting Punjab farmers threw rail traffic out of gear for the second consecutive day on Thursday as 39 trains, including Lahore-Delhi Samjhauta Express, were cancelled, putting thousands of passengers to great inconvenience.
As talks between the state government and agitating farmers failed, the latter decided to extend their rail blockade till October 10. Terming the ‘rail roko’ agitation by farmers as “unfortunate”, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal said the state government was ready to accept “every genuine demand of the peasantry.”
Protesters are up in arms against the ‘anti-farmer’ policies of the SAD-BJP government , which has been accused of paying inadequate compensation for the widespread loss to cotton crop due to the whitefly attack. The Samjhauta Express was halted at the Wagah station in Pakistan in the afternoon on the request of Indian authorities as the Delhi-Attari train carrying passengers to the border station could not reach its destination due to farmers’ stir. Later, the train was cancelled. The other cancelled trains include those linking Amritsar, Jalandhar and Ferozepur to New Delhi and Chandigarh besides Rajasthan and Bihar.
According to reports, protesters from eight farmer bodies blocked rail tracks at Mansa, Shergarh (Bathinda), Rampura (Bathinda), Pathrala (Muktsar), Dagru (Ludhiana) and Mucchhal (Amritsar). Also, there are reports of disruption of traffic on the LehraSunam state highway.
Though no untoward incident was reported from the Ferozepur-based Northern Railway division, the travel plans of commuters went for a toss due to the stir.
Stations wore a deserted look as passengers were forced to opt for buses and taxis with several trains being diverted and terminated before their destinations.
Earlier, farmers held their emergency meeting at an undisclosed location on Thursday to decide further course of action after their talks with government representatives ended in a stalemate. Sources said government representatives have a sought a 15-day time from farmer unions to fix up their meeting with the chief minister.
“Even after two days of ‘rail roko’ protest, the government is seeking 15 more days to fix up our meeting with the CM. This clearly shows their insensitive attitude towards our demands”, said Sukhdev Singh Kokri, general secretary of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan). He said the farmers have now decided to continue their ‘rail roko’ agitation till October 10.
What farmers want
Agitating farmers are demanding compensation of Rs 40,000 per acre for loss to their cotton crop due to the whitefly attack besides Rs 4,500 minimum support price (MSP) per quintal for the 1509 basmati variety and Rs 5,000 for the 1121 variety, waiver of debts, additional relief package of Rs 5 lakh to economically weaker families and immediate clearance of cane growers’ dues.
The state government has come under widespread flak for not taking adequate steps to control the widespread damage to the cotton crop in the wake of whitefly attack.
The pesticide scam and the recent arrest of Punjab, director, agriculture, Mangal Singh Sandhu for his alleged involvement in the scandal has further added to its woes.
The farmers claimed that the “spurious” pesticide supplied to them led to the whitefly attack. As per reports, over a dozen distressed farmers have committed suicide in the past one month in Punjab.