THE DEADLOCK between Punjab farmers and the Centre over the new farm laws continued on Wednesday, even after a five-hour meeting with state Cabinet ministers. Farmer unions refused to budge from their stand, stating that if the Centre starts running good trains in the state, they would allow passenger trains to run.
In a statement, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh expressed his disappointment over the development, adding that the protests had brought the state to a virtual standstill for the past month and a half, causing immense hardship and loss.
The CM said he had expected the farmers to “back down from their unyielding approach in the interest of Punjab”, especially in view of the state government’s absolute support for their cause, and also in the light of the Centre’s decision to engage with them on the issue of farm laws.
Various farmer unions met in Chandigarh on Wednesday, and ministers including Sukhjinder Randhawa, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa and Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria as well as several MLAs and the CM’s political secretary Capt Sandeep Singh Sandhu attended the meeting. The ministers appealed to them to allow passengers trains to ply so that goods trains could also run, restoring supply of raw materials to industry.
Speaking to the media after the meeting, BKU president Ruldu Singh Mansa said they had refused to consider the ministers’ appeal. “They did not stop trains to Rajasthan during the Gujjars’ ‘rail roko’. Why do they want Punjab farmers to relent? Why are there different rules?” he asked.
He further said that farmers had already softened their stand by allowing goods trains to run, keeping in mind the problems being faced by the government, farmers, industrialists and traders.
“The day the Centre starts running goods trains on these tracks, I promise that the next day we will take a positive decision towards passenger trains also,” said Mansa.
A ‘Delhi Chalo’ protest call has been given by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a body of more than 200 farmers’ organisations across the country. The BKU president added that farmers from across the country will descend on Delhi on November 26 and 27 on tractors and trolleys, and if they are be stopped, they would ‘gherao’ the national capital.
During the meeting, the unions took on the minister for closing the sub yards in rural areas. The government had shut down sub yards in rural areas after most of the paddy was procured in the state. But farmers said paddy was still arriving in mandis and closing these yards amounted to harassment of farmers, who then had to go to faraway mandis. The ministers assured them that the sub yards would be opened. They took up the issue with the chief minister, after which the government issued orders allowing reopening of mandis in several districts.
A government functionary said a number of mandis were shut down every year after most of the grains were procured. But this time, the government had set up 4,500 mandis ahainst the usual 1,800 in the state keeping in view the Covid-19 pandemic. Hence, huge numbers of sub yards were shut and it had become an issue with the farmers.
NOT AT THE COST OF PUNJAB’S FUTURE: CAPT
In his statement, Amarinder said, “The decision of the kisan unions to maintain status quo with respect to their blockade of passenger trains, which was obstructing movement of goods trains also, was extremely unfortunate.” He added: “They should realise things cannot continue like this ad infinitum, and if rail transportation continued to remain suspended any longer, the state would plunge into an irreversible crisis…no government could afford such a situation.”
Pointing out that his government had backed the farmers to the hilt since the Centre introduced its agriculture ordinances, the CM said that the Bills brought in the Vidhan Sabha were a major step towards negating the impact of the central laws. “In fact, the farmers had received the full support of every section of Punjab,” he noted, adding that he himself had made it clear that his government was ready to lose power than give up his fight for the farmers. “Instead of reciprocating this gesture, the kisan unions were standing firm on not allowing trains to move in the state without considering the grave financial and other implications it was having on the state exchequer, the industry, the common people and the farmers themselves,” he lamented.
The government has been having talks with farmers organisations at the backend also, with the CM sending his representatives to talk to them. But the talks have not borne any fruit yet.
‘INDUSTRY SUFFERS LOSSES WORTH Rs 30,000 CRORE’
Industry alone had already suffered losses to the tune of Rs 30,000 crore (and still counting), said Amarinder, adding that coming on the heels of the Covid disruption, this was putting the state under massive pressure. Industries in Ludhiana and Jalandhar alone had suffered Rs 22,000 crore in losses, while more than 13,500 containers were lying at Dhandari Dry Port, from where they could not be sent to other parts of the country due to the rail transport suspension.
GUNNY BAGS STUCK
As for the agriculture sector, 60,000 gunny bags were stuck in Delhi and Rajpura, thus impacting the lifting of paddy crop from grain markets, the CM pointed out. Suspension of train services had also prevented the supply of 40 lakh metric tonnes of parboiled rice from Punjab to Bihar and eastern UP for PDS distribution, causing the central government to pick up the grain from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, he further observed. “What if the central government makes this the norm? What will happen to Punjab’s rice then? What will happen to our farmers,” he asked.
The chief minister said the farmer organisations had to understand that their continued blockade had put a stop on normal functioning for Punjab, which was already reeling under serious problems due to the pandemic. While the implementation of the farm laws had to be checked at all costs, to which his government was also committed, it could not be at the cost of Punjab’s future, he added.