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Deadlock continues: BKU (Ugrahan) refuses to lift blockade from tracks leading to private power plants

Goods train services had resumed in the state after farmer unions on October 21 announced exempting them from their weeks-old 'rail roko' agitation over the Centre's new farm laws.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh |
October 29, 2020 11:25:55 pm
The development comes after over a month of protests by farmers across Punjab, Haryana

A much-anticipated meting between the Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan) and a Cabinet committee over lifting of the blockade from railway tracks through which coal is supplied to two private thermal power plants in Punjab failed to yield any result with the farmers’ outfit saying it will continue with its rail roko programme, which is part of its protests against the three central farm laws.

A delegation of BKU (Ugrahan) led by its president Joginder Singh Ugrahan and state general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan met the cabinet committee comprising ministers Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa and Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria over the issue. Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh’s political secretary Capt Sandeep Singh Sandhu and MLA Kuljit Nagra also attended the meeting at Punjab Bhawan here.

Farmers under the banner of BKU (Ugrahan) have been squatting on two rail tracks — at Banawali village in Talwandi Sabo and Rajpura in Patiala — protest against the three farm laws.

After the meeting, Kokrikalan said, “We told them (ministers) that our struggle against the BJP’s farm laws will continue. We have rejected their appeal. We will continue to gherao the BJP leaders and also would not allow the business of corporates to run. We told them that the dharnas at special lines dedicated to L&T thermal plant in Rajpura and Vedanta Power Plant at Banawali in Talwandi Sabo will continue.”

Kokrikalan said they have asked the state government to take over these power plants and run them.

Goods train services had resumed in the state after farmer unions on October 21 announced exempting them from their weeks-old ‘rail roko’ agitation over the Centre’s new farm laws. However, the railways decided to extend its suspension of goods train operations, saying protesting farmers are still blocking the tracks.

Joginder Singh said the protesters have not blocked any main rail track. “We are agitating outside the private thermal plants. We will not lift our blockade,” he said.

Joginder Singh said the delegation told the ministers to start generating power from the state-owned power plants instead of private ones. The Centre is trying to “target” the state government by suspending the goods trains in the state, he claimed.

The suspension of freight trains has hit the coal supplies to power thermal plants in Punjab. On October 26, the suspension was extended up to October 29.

Railway Minister Piyush Goyal had sought the Punjab government’s assurance of the safety of trains and their crew members to restore freight services, after Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had asked him to intervene in resuming the same.

They railways has argued that it has already suffered a loss of Rs 450 crore in the last one month besides losing out on other freight charges from Punjab and J&K. Railways has also taken the plea that under Section 71 of The Railway Act, it cannot discriminate. It means railway cannot supply coal to state owned thermal plants while stopping the same for private thermal plants.

After the meeting, Randhawa too hit out at the Centre stating that the farmers were blocking tracks at only two places. “All the other tracks are clear. The farmers are sitting on only two tracks going to private thermal plants. The trains used to run even during trouble-torn times of terrorism. Now, they are talking about security. They just want to discriminate against Punjab. This is anarchy,” Randhawa said.

The Cabinet committee will now hold a meeting with leaders of Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee in Amritsar Friday and appeal to them to clear rail blockade from Jandwala. The farmers, under the aegis of Sangharsh committee, have been blocking the railway track ever since the agitation started.

The suspension of freight trains has affected coal supply for thermal plants in Punjab and hit state’s industrial sector, which is staring at massive financial losses.

Nearly all industrial verticals, including bicycle and bicycle parts, textile, hand tools, auto parts, steel, machine tools, among others are facing dearth of raw materials in the wake of non-operation of goods trains.

A senior official of power utility Punjab State Power Corporation Ltd (PSPCL) said against the demand for 6,000 MW of power, the state is managing 5,000 MW from central hydro and biomass plants, leading to shortage of 1,000 MW. A private thermal power plant has stopped power generation, while other thermal plants are left with just two to three days of coal, the official said.

PSPCL is also buying electricity through power exchange, the official added.

Industry representatives from Punjab said around 10,000 containers for imports and exports have been stuck at various dry ports due to suspension of goods trains.

“Containers are carrying raw material and finished goods which include thread, steel, cycle parts, hand tools and other items worth Rs 6,000 to 7,000 crore,” Ludhiana-based industrialist S C Ralhan, who is also a former president of the Federation of Indian Export Organisation, said. “We have already faced financial loss to the tune of Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 crore due to non-operation of goods trains,” he said.

Avon Cycles Chairman and Managing Director Onkar Singh Pahwa said the bicycle industry is facing difficulties in procuring raw materials like strips and pipes for making bicycles. “Whatever material we have will soon end,” he said.

Pahwa said bicycles which were to be exported to other countries are also stuck in containers, while buyers are asking to honour the commitments. The company is sending containers through trucks to ports for urgent export supplies, he said, adding that it increases the cost.

The industry representatives blamed the Congress-led state government in Punjab for the current situation. “It is the duty of the state government to maintain law and order. The government should immediately get the rail tracks cleared,” Ralhan said.

With PTI

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