A day before the eighth round of talks between the government and farm unions, thousands of farmers Thursday took to the eastern and western peripheral expressways in their tractors — via Ghaziabad and Manesar. The tractor march, farmers said, was a “dress rehearsal” for Republic Day, when they plan to hold a bigger march towards Delhi.
Despite a foggy, cold Thursday morning, farmers left the Singhu, Tikri, and Ghazipur protest sites as scheduled. At Singhu, vehicles began leaving at 9 am and headed towards Tikri via the expressway, which soon turned into a sea of tractor-trolleys and barricades. At police checkpoints, the few commuters were advised to take different routes.
By 11 am, Punjabi songs and slogans against the Centre filled the air as several farmers stood atop their vehicles and waved the tricolour. Within half an hour, the roads were packed and farmers stopped near the western periphery due to traffic.
“We are here to meet our brothers from Tikri. Together, we will protest against the government and show that we are united. We aren’t going to back down,” said Brar Singh (51) from Sangrur in Punjab, who has been at Singhu for a month.
According to the farmer organisations, over 5,000 tractors came for the march from Singhu, Tikri, Ghazipur and Palwal.
An ambulance from Civil Hospital Sonipat accompanied tractors. Dr Amit Mehra (25) said they had come prepared with first aid kits and medicines in case of an emergency. Over 50 Jamindara Student Organisation (JSO) members cooked chole-rice for farmers at Tikri border.
Farmers said the difficult bit was planning and coordination. Bhupender Singh Longowal (35), a farmer from Sangrur, volunteered to manage traffic near the Singhu border. He said, “We are 100 volunteers across the borders. Communication regarding the march spread through word of mouth and WhatsApp. Our main role today is to ensure that the traffic is under control. When we get a direction from our seniors to return, we will ask everyone to turn back.”
Around 1 pm, a few farmers from Singhu and Tikri borders met on the expressway. Due to traffic and high barricading, most tractors couldn’t pass and farmers returned after an hour.
Farmers from Ghazipur border also participated in the march. Haseeb Ahmed (40), a farmer from Rampur, said, “We left with 300 tractors. Another thousand tractors from parts of Ghaziabad, Noida, Hapur and Bulandshahr joined the protest and returned with us.”
At Nuh, meanwhile, farmers claimed they were unable to execute their rally with police detaining one of them and placing three others under house arrest. They also alleged police did not let tractors travel till the Kundli-Manesar-Palwal expressway, and only a few protesters in cars were able to carry out the planned demonstration.
Rally coordinator Ramzan Chaudhary said he was picked up by police personnel from his home around 8 am and kept at the police station through the day: “Other protesters placed under house arrest were released by late afternoon, but I was detained through the day.”
Superintendent of Police Narendra Bijarniya said police teams had visited homes of protesters to take details of the route of the planned rally and the number of people participating in it. “We had to note the number of tractors participating in the rally so we could plan our deployment accordingly. Only advocate Ramzan Chaudhary was taken into preventive detention and he has also been released. Nobody was placed under house arrest.”
With Sakshi Dayal
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