A day after agitating farmers agreed to move their protests away from railway stations, a meeting between Punjab Congress MPs and Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal over restoration of goods train traffic ended in a walk out by some MPs, who claimed that Goyal was “unrelenting”.
Eight Congress MPs, including Preneet Kaur, Manish Tewari, Dr Amar Singh, Ravneet Bittu, G S Aujla, Santokh Chaudhary, Jasbir Singh Gill and Mohd Sadiq, met Goyal with a letter from Chief Minister Amarinder Singh assuring that the state would provide police force to ensure safety of trains running in Punjab. However, seeing the meeting not taking any direction, three including Bittu, Chaudhary and Aujla walked out after an hour.
According to agency reports, Mohd Sadiq was also among those who walked out.
Sources said tempers flared at the meeting after Goyal accused the Congress government in Punjab of “provoking and aiding farmers” to protest against the central farm laws that has led to disruption of rail traffic in the state.
The MPs walked out after objecting to the Railway Minister’s remarks accusing the Congress government in Punjab of “instigating” farmers.
Aujla said the Goyal’s remarks were “objectionable and unacceptable”. “He (Goyal) should not have made such accusations. In fact, we handed over a letter to the minister assuring the Chief Minister’s full support in removing the blockades on rail tracks,” he said. Aujla said the Punjab government had nothing to do with the farmers’ agitation and the CM has set up a committee which is in talks with the farmer unions to end their blockades. He said the state government was doing everything to remove the agitating farmers from rail tracks and ensure that train traffic was restored as Punjab was suffering.
Bittu told The Indian Express the Rail Minister told them that “he will not run the trains if we do not support the farm laws”.
Bittu added that he has been a three-time MP and he has met many Union Ministers in his political career, but has never come across anyone who treated his MP colleagues like this.
“He made us wait for an hour. BJP leaders led by Union Minister Hardeep Puri came right in front of us and they were given time. We were kept waiting. We had senior people like Preneet Kaur and Manish Tiwari with us. But he never cared. We had been seeking time from him for last so many days.”
“He kept pointing out to us that our Chief Minister wanted to take political credit out of farmers protest. He told us that no other state was witnessing protests by farmers. It was only Punjab where they were protesting. He said these protests were sponsored by the state government,” Bittu said.
The Ludhiana MP said that the Union Minister kept telling them that Punjab was now facing a crisis due to cut in supply line of essential items.
“He said we are now crunched and once we get enough supply of coal and fertilisers, we would prompt the farmers to stop trains again.”
Bittu added, “We told him that we are carrying CM’s letter with us, who has assured of safety of trains. If the Railways is still not confident, the MPs will sit as security guards on the trains. We had gone to break ice with the Union Minister and apprise him about what all was happening in Punjab amid suspension of trains. But he was unrelenting. I realised that this meeting is not going to go anywhere. Hence, I walked out and other MPs including Chaudhary and Aujla also accompanied me. Later, others also followed me. Manish Tewari and Dr Amar Singh, however, kept trying to persuade the minister before coming out.”
In his letter to Goyal, Amarinder said: “The state government stands fully committed towards ensuring the safety and security of railway properties in Punjab. It is pertinent to mention that there has been no incident of arson or damage to rail property during the current farmer agitation.”
He said between October 22 and 24, after partial withdrawal of the agitation by farm unions, a large number of goods trains have moved across Punjab. The CM said the DGP of Punjab Police has assured the RPF DG that the state police, including the General Railway Police (GRP) will work closely with the RPF to carry out a joint survey of the entire rail track in the state.
“We will deploy adequate police and security personnel along with RPF day and night to ensure full protection to railway personnel and property,” the CM also said, urging the Railway Minister to restore train traffic in Punjab.
The Union Minister, according to Bittu, took objection to CM mentioning his telephonic conversation with the Union minister. “He kept telling us that this was in confidence and here it has been made part of the letter. He said he will not run the trains if we do not support the farm laws as they are meant to liberate the farmers that our party could not do,” Bittu said.
The MPs will be meeting Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday.
Congress MPs Partap Singh Bajwa and Shamsher Singh Dullo, meanwhile, met the Union Railways Minister separately. Both were given a time slot before the eight Congress MPs. They handed over a memorandum to the minister demanding immediate restoration of railway traffic.
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