Farmer unions in Punjab started a three-day ‘rail roko’ protest against Centre’s farm Bills at six different locations in the state with 1,000 to 1,500 farmers sitting on the tracks at each protest site. The Railways partially cancelled 20 trains and short-terminated five trains till September 26 as protesters blocked rail tracks at various places, including Amritsar, Ferozepur, Sangrur, Barnala, Mansa and Nabha.
The ‘rail roko’ started at about 1 pm on Thursday, will continue till 1 pm on Saturday, said Satnam Singh Pannu, president of Kisan Mazdoor Sangh Committee.
Farmers in Punjab and Haryana will go on a day-long strike Friday in protest against the farm Bills. As many as 31 farmer organisations have also announced an indefinite ‘rail roko’ agitation from October 1.
“The disruption of rail services at this time will have a serious impact on freight loading as well as passengers movement. It will affect movement of essential goods. Just as the economy is recovering, the agitation will severely hurt the freight movement that has gained some momentum since the Unlock began. Also, this is a time when people are travelling for emergency purposes and this will hurt them too as we have had to cancel/divert special trains,” said General Manager, Northern and North Central Railway Rajiv Chaudhry.
Among the trains that will remain suspended are the Golden Temple Mail (Amritsar-Mumbai Central), Jan Shatabdi Express (Haridwar-Amritsar), New Delhi-Jammu Tawi, Karambhoomi (Amritsar-New Jalpaiguri), Sachkhand Express (Nanded-Amritsar) and Shaheed Express (Amritsar-Jaynagar), railway officials said.
The call for the “rail roko” agitation was given by the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee and later different farmers’ outfits extended their support to it.
Railways said the decision to cancel trains was taken keeping in mind the safety of passengers and protection of railway property from any damage. At present, routine passenger train service remains suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“If Railways has cancelled their trains well in advance, then it shows our pressure on the system. However, despite that our workers will sleep on tracks overnight. We have brought mattresses along with us. Workers are cooking langar as well near the dharna spot,” said Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan, general secretary of BKU (Ugrahan).
Apart from digging up tents in the middle of the rail tracks, protesters have also made arrangements for ration for three days. Women, youth and elders are also part in the protest, farmers said.
The BKU general secretary added, “Akali Dal has created confusion by announcing a ‘chakka jam’ for three hours on Friday, the day we have announced Punjab Bandh from 9 am- 4pm. Let them do whatever they want to do, we will go ahead as per our programme as they intentionally chose our date to earn brownie points.”
Apart from the ‘rail roko’ dharnas at different places are also being organised across the state. Kokri Kalan said, “We have told people that no politician is welcome in our dharnas and if any farmer wants to join, he/she should come without any party flag. However, any leader or elected representative is not allowed at all with or without flag.”
Late in the evening, PPCC issued a press statement in which party’s state chief Sunil Jakhar appealed to all Punjab residents to support Punjab bandh call. Farmers maintained that they have appealed to people to shut their business, shops and offices from 9 am-4pm on Friday to support farmers’ cause. However, they added that health services will not be disrupted.
Movement of essentials, passengers hit
Railway authorities in Delhi and Punjab said that said that the ‘rail roko’ has hit the supply of essential commodities.
Officials pointed out that Punjab loaded 990 rakes of FCI foodgrains in August this year and 816 rakes till September 23. Thus, FCI is loading more than 35 rakes of foodgrains daily from Punjab. They said Punjab also loads 9-10 rakes daily of fertilizer, cement, auto, mixed goods in containers. The state receives around 20 rakes daily of coal, food grain, farm products, machinery petroleum products, imported fertilizer etc.
“Apprehending a setback to for transportation of foodgrains due to ‘rail roko’, Punjab had sent 55 rakes (one rake contains 2,700 tonnes food grain) of foodgrain yesterday. The protest will hit the supply, but the impact will be less,” said KAP Sinha, Principal Secretary of Food Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, adding that in routine over 30 rakes are transported from here.
Sources in the Ferozepur division said that Punjab was sending a receiving little more quantity of the essential goods in the past few days keeping the ‘rail roko’ in mind and it may help meet the need for essential goods during three days rail rook programme in the state.
“Definitely Railways will incur losses due to cancellation of the passengers and rail freight trains but the exact figure of looses will come out only after ‘rail roko’ is over” said Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) Northern Railway (Ferozepur), Rajesh Agarwal, adding that no loss to the property has occurred so far.
Passengers left high and dry
The ‘rail roko’ also left scores of passengers high and dry on Thursday. Over 350 tickets were cancelled till 4:00 pm and refund of Rs 3.10 lakh was issued.
Sohal Singh, an NRI who had to fly to the UK from Delhi Airport, said that he was supposed to travel in Amritsar-Mumbai train to reach Delhi on Friday, but now the train will originate from Amabal Cantt and he will have to reach Ambala by a cab.
Parkash Kumar Chaudhary, who had to travel to West Bengal in an Amritsar-Kolkata train with his family, said: “I was to visit my old parents because they are not keeping well but now I am getting the refund for my tickets and will get new tickets in the coming days.”
Stranded at Jalandhar railway station, Harman Singh said: “I was working from home but now I am required to attend office for a couple of days in a week and for that, I have to return to my work-place in Mumbai but my train got terminated at Delhi and will originate from there itself. I will have to hire a taxi to reach Delhi now to catch the train tomorrow.”
A Mandi labourer Mahesh Kumar, who works at the Jalandhar grain market, said: “I along with 20 labourers was coming in Jaynagar-Amritsar Shaheed train to work in the mandi, but now the train journey has ended at Ambala. We are looking for a way to reach Jalandhar.” He added:“It is quite inconvenient, but we are with farmers in their agitation.”
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