Updated: August 22, 2021 3:50:35 am
As many as 89 trains were cancelled and 54 others diverted or short-terminated, as farmers seeking hike in sugarcane prices continued to block the rail tracks and a national highway in Jalandhar for the second consecutive day on Saturday. The Punjab government has now called the farm leaders for a meeting on Sunday at Punjab Bhawan in Chandigarh.
BKU (Doaba) president Manjit Singh Rai said that if their demands are not met, then they will observe ‘Punjab Bandh’ on Tuesday (August 24).
The farmers Friday launched an agitation demanding that the Punjab government raise the state assured price (SAP) of sugarcane to bring it at par with Haryana where it is Rs 358 per quintal. They have already rejected the hike of Rs 15 per quintal announced by the Punjab government on Thursday. The state government had revised sugarcane rates to Rs 325 for the early variety, Rs 315 for mid variety and Rs 310 per quintal for the late maturing variety, which the farmers had termed as too little.
Earlier the protest call was given by a couple of farm organisations only for Friday. However, members of all the 32 farm unions later joined the protest, which has now been extended for an indefinite period.
Protesters have blocked the Jalandhar-Phagwara stretch of the national highway near Dhanowali village of Jalandhar district. The blockade affected vehicular movement to and from Jalandhar, Amritsar and Pathankot, though the administration diverted the traffic through some alternative routes.
Emergency vehicles have, however, been allowed to ply.
BKU (Doaba) general secretary Satnam Singh Sahni confirmed that they will be meeting government officials over the issue on Sunday. “Punjab Cane Commissioner has informed us about the meeting. We will decide about lifting the protest only after the meeting,” said Sahni.
On behalf of government, Cooperation Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa will attend the meeting along with Additional chief secretary (development) Anirudh Tiwari, Cane Commissioner Gurvinder Singh, and Director Agriculture Dr Sukhdev Singh.
Twelve farmers leaders – Balbir Singh Rajewal, Jagjit Singh Dallewal, Manjit Singh Rai, Balwinder Singh Mallinangal, Jangbir Singh Chauhan, Balwinder Singh Raju Aulakh, Sukhpal Singh, Kuldeep Singh Wajidpur, Baldev Singh Sirsa, Kulwant Singh Sandhu, Harinder Singh Lakhowal and Mukesh Chander – are expected to take part in the meeting.
Meanwhile, Deputy Commissioner Ghanshyam Thori said that state government was committed for the well being of the food growers. He said the genuine demands of the farmers are under constant consideration. The government has already cleared 94 per cent sugarcane dues and the remaining payment, if any, will also be made soon.
The protesting farmers claim sugarcane arrears to the tune of Rs 200-250 crore is still pending.
Meanwhile, rail passengers travelling for ‘Raksha Bandhan’ festival on Sunday bore the maximum brunt of the farmers’ blockade.
Farmers sitting on the Jalandhar-Chaheru section have blocked the Ludhiana-Amritsar and the Ludhiana-Jammu rail tracks in Jalandhar, affecting several trains, including the Amritsar-New Delhi Swarna Shatabdi EXP SPL (02030), Amritsar-Dehradun EXP SPL (04664), New Delhi-Amritsar Shatabdi SPL (02013), and the New Delhi-Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra Shri Shakti SPL (02461).
Many rail passengers said they could not reach their destinations as their trains were cancelled. “We got a message in the morning that our train scheduled to leave at 8 am has been cancelled. We booked tickets in another train but we are unsure whether it will run or not,” a man sitting with his wife and a child at the Amritsar railway station said.
He added that he was to go to Bhopal. “Tomorrow (Sunday) is Rakhi festival, and we do not know how we will reach our destination,” he rued.
Another passenger at the Jalandhar railway station said he was not aware of the farmers’ agitation and came to know about the cancellation of trains bound for Dehradun after reaching the station.
Satnam Sahni, however, said they are allowing families travelling for ‘Raksha Bandhan’ to go through the service lane along the national highway.
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