Disgruntled notes of protest have finally started emerging from several quarters, including the industry and the common public, over the continued agitation by farmers in Punjab against the three central agri laws. As leaders representing 30 farm unions from state head for a meeting with Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, most people in Punjab are now wagrly waiting for a positive outcome. While the farmer unions have accept the Centre’s invitation for holding talks in Delhi on Friday, they have made it clear that will demand the three farm laws be repealed.
The industry in Punjab, already reeling under Covid disruption, has estimated losses in thousands of crores as train services remain suspended. With farmers staging dharnas at several toll plazas across state, the National Highway Authority of India too is counting losses. At least 48 company owned petrol pumps of a corporate house and 10 of its stores, including some in malls, have remained shut since October 1.
“No doubt, the farm laws passed by the central government are the reason for these protests, but the losses due to these dharnas will cause long term damage to Punjab. I feel that damage to Punjab is more than that to Centre,” Sikander Singh Maluka, president, Shiromani Akali Dal Kisan Cell told the Indian Express.
The Dyeing Association and Bicycle Association leaders meanwhile are questioning the state government’s wisdom in allowing farmers to stage protests on tracks. Bobby Jindal, general secretary of Punjab Syers Association said, “Allowing farmers to sit on railway tracks was not a wise decision. No one can imagine the losses the industry is suffering. We have had to get our containers booked from Ludhiana dry port cancelled. The containers were sent via road to Mundra port in Mumbai. Similarly, the containers, which would have otherwise reached us on trains, are being brought in by truckers. This is causing huge lossed to the industry. There is no reason for us to celebrate Diwali this year”.
The protesting farmers claim to have vacated all the tracks, but says the will only allow goods trains to run. The Railways, however, has made it clear that it will either run both passenger and the goods trains or none at all.
One group facing the brunt of this stand-off is that of the migrants. Punjab has a sizeable number of migrants who land here mostly from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Most of these migrants head home for a few days ahead of Diwali and Chatth six days later. With no passenger trains this year, such migrants have been forced to shell out Rs 3000-4000 per person as they book private vehicles or other means of transport home.
“No protest should last so long that it starts eating up the economy of the state,” said Badish Jindal, president, Federation of Small Scale Industries Association.
Upkar Singh, president, Chamber of Industrial and Commercial Undertakings (CICU), said, “We support farmers and are aware that tracks are clear now but due to tussle between the farmers and Centre over passenger trains, goods trains are not being run. We are now hoping for a positive outcome in Friday’s meeting of farmers with Union ministers. We need trains back on tracks else the industry will be ruined.”
“This prolonged protest is going to harm the state government more than the BJP (led central government ). We blame the state government for our losses,” said Rajesh Bansal, owner of Rana Cycles.
Sources revealed that even urban population, which earlier extended support to the farmers, is feeling upset Surjit Kumar Jyani, chairman of 8-member panel of BJP leaders formed to coordinate with farmers, too said he was “hopeful that in Friday’s meeting, something positive will transpire”.
It may be noted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already hinted against any change in the three farm laws. Asked if Friday’s meeting will yield any results, Satnam Singh Pannu, president, Kisan Mazdoor Sangrash Committee, said, “We are not hopeful of any positive outcome and that is why we decided not to be part of the meeting”.
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