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Friday, November 27, 2020

Explained: Behind the suspension of goods trains in Punjab, farm protests, and politics

When did farmers lift the dharna from railway tracks for freight trains? How are farmers affected due to the suspension of train movement? What is the current scenario?

Written by Raakhi Jagga | Updated: November 6, 2020 1:01:44 pm
Members of Various Farmers Organizations blocked the railway tracks in Ambala during their protest against the Central government's farm bills (Express Photo by Harmeet Sodhi)

Amid the continued suspension of goods trains to Punjab, the ruling Congress party in state and the opposition BJP has remained engaged in a verbal spat over the issue, even as Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh pointed out that no movement of freight trains can have a dangerous consequence on national security, including depriving the armed forces in Ladakh and Kashmir of critical supplies ahead of winter. The CM has also been citing how the thermal plants are running out of coal stock and the farmers being deprived of fertilizers ahead of the rabi sowing season. The protesting farmers, meanwhile, claim that they have cleared most of the tracks. We explain the controversy.

When did Railways stop running freight trains to Punjab and why?

The Railways have not run any freight trains to Punjab since October 24. Railway divisions at Ferozepur and Ambala, which operate trains in Punjab, have not received any directions on resumption of service.

The farmers agitating against the three central farm laws had earlier organised rail roko protests at more than 33 locations in Punjab. On October 21, they announced to clear all tracks for freight trains. Railways operated 173 goods trains on October 22 and 23 in Punjab. However, according to Rajesh Aggarwal, divisional railway manager (DRM), Ferozepur division, farmers had stopped an empty rake of passenger train, which was being run for maintenance purpose at Romana Albela. He claimed that some goods trains were stopped at several locations on October 22. Subsequently, the Railways issued directions to stop movement of goods trains to Punjab from October 24 onwards. The DRM had said that Railways cannot run trains in uncertainty and want farmers to clear all tracks for smooth operations. On October 30, Sukhwinder Singh, additional DRM, Ferozepur division said, “We have got no orders for running the trains. Status quo is being maintained.”

How many trains run on railway tracks in Punjab?

On an average, 28 freight trains and 300 passenger trains were running on tracks passing through Punjab on a daily basis. During lockdown, while there was no reduction in the number freight trains, that of passenger trains came down to 14 pairs. Few more passenger trains were to be added from October onwards, but the decision now remains in abeyance. According Ferozepur division, 499 freight trains ran on tracks in April in Punjab earning Rs 234 crore in revenue, while 427 such trains brought in another Rs 208 crore in May. In June and July, 408 and 556 freight trains ran in Punjab bringing in Rs 177 crore and Rs 259 crore in revenue, respectively. Railways earned Rs 326 crore by running 693 freight trains in August, and Rs 330 crore by running 676 trains in September. The rail roko protest had started on several tracks in Punjab from September 24 onwards.

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Punjab Farmers, Rail Roko, Punjab Farmers Protests, Farm Bills 2020 During a protest in Patiala’s Dhablan village (PTI Photo)

How is industry affected due to suspension of goods trains?

Different industrial organizations, in a written representation to the Punjab government, have stated that industry has suffered more than Rs 1500 crore in losses since October 1 as import and export of goods have been affected. Upkar Singh, president of Chamber of Industrial and Commercial Organization (CICU), said, “Goods trains’ movement was not stopped by the Centre even during the terrorism days in Punjab. This has happened for the first time. They must sort out issues with farmers and state government and should not let industry suffer. When farmers have cleared most of the tracks, they must run freight trains”.

Also from Explained Ideas | Why are farmers unwilling to trust the govt’s farm reforms?

How are farmers affected due to the suspension of train movement?

The suspension of freight trains has led to an acute shortage of fertilisers, with the state authorities saying Rabi crop sowing is likely to be affected. Farmers require urea, and DAP (diammonium phosphate) for sowing wheat and other vegetable crops such as potato. “Punjab needs 14 lakh tonnes urea, 5.25 lakh tonne DAP, 0.5 lakh tonne muriate of potash (MOP) and 0.5 lakh tonne nitrogen phosphorus potassium (NPK Complex) for the Rabi 2020-21 season. At present, we have only 2.05 lakh tonne urea, 1.95 lakh tonne DAP, 0.35 lakh tonne MOP and 0.08 lakh tonne NPK Complex,” said Rajesh Vashisht, director agriculture, Punjab.

Officials said 4 lakh tonnes of urea was supposed to arrive in the month of October, but only 1 lakh tonnes was received. For November, the state has an allocation of 4 lakh tonnes of urea. Punjab gets urea supplies through trains from Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and other states. Wheat is expected to be cultivated in about 35 lakh hectare area in the state during the rabi season. Of this wheat has already been sown in 30 per cent area.

farmers protests, farm bill protests, modi govti farm bills, punjab rail roko, punjab farmers protests losses, haryana farmers protest At a protest in Ambala. (PTI Photo)

Why did farmers’ start a rail roko protest in Punjab?

The rail roko protest was planned by 30 farmer unions of Punjab as part of protests against the central farm laws. Kisan Mazdoor Sangrash Committee (KMSC) and Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan) had first started rail blockade from September 24 at 11 locations – Ferozepur, Amritsar, Sangrur, Mansa, Patiala, Barnala, Fazilka, Muktsar, Moga, Faridkot and Patiala – due to which all the passenger trains were cancelled while goods trains continued to run during night hours from select locations. From September 27-30, this blockade was reduced to only two locations – at Basti Tenka Wali in Ferozepur and Devidaspura in Amritsar by KMSC. However from October 1 onwards, all the 30 farmer unions started indefinite rail blockade at 33 locations after which all train services were put on hold. As part of protest, farmers sat on railway tracks and platforms. 📣 Click to follow Express Explained on Telegram

When did farmers lift the dharna from railway tracks for freight trains?

It was done in phases. BKU (Ugrahan) lifted dharnas from Dablan in Patiala, Budhlada in Mansa and Chhajali in Sangrur from October 13 onwards. However dharnas at the other 30 locations continued. October 21 onwards, unions lifted dharnas from the remaining 30 locations. However, the dharnas were lifted only for the movement of freight trains as farmers said that they will not allow movement of passenger trains. Hence, farmers continued to sit on the platforms at more than 20 stations in small gatherings, Jagmohan Singh, working committee member of All India Kisan Sangrash Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) said. Moreover, farmers, under the banner of KMSC, after lifting dharnas from all rail tracks, started a fresh dharna at Jandiala Guru local railway line in Amritsar from October 22 onwards. In addition to this, they also sat on the internal coal supply lines of private thermal plants at Talwandi Sabo and Rajpura thermal plants so as not to allow any coal supplies to private power plants.

At a protest in Patiala (Express Photo/Harmeet Sodhi)

For how many days did the railways run freight trains despite rail roko?

In September, freight trains traffic was not much affected as dharnas were held at select few locations mostly during day hours. But, no passenger train has been moving in Punjab since September 24. In October, movement of more than 173 freight trains took place in Punjab over two days after farmers lifted blockade from almost all the tracks, barring three new locations.

What is the current scenario?

Farmer unions across the nation will be holding chakka jam protest on national as well as state highways on November 5 for four hours to lodge their protest against farm laws and also to protest against suspension of goods trains by Centre in Punjab, said VM Singh, national convener, AIKSCC.

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