Protesting farmers in Punjab decide to call of rail blockade

Chandigarh: Protesting farmers in Punjab on Tuesday decided to call off their seven-day 'Rail Roko' stir, which has crippled rail services in the state, but said their agitation against the Parkash Singh Badal government would continue in support of their demand for higher compensation.

Instead of blocking tracks, the farmers have now decided to gherao all state ministers, ruling party MLAs, other party leaders at all the district headquarters on October 22.

"We have decided to call off our 'Rail Roko' agitation. We will lift our blockade at different places in the state at 2 PM," BKU Ekta (Dakunda) General Secretary Jagmohan Singh said.

However, he said their agitation against the SAD-BJP led state government would continue for non-acceptance of all of their demands including higher compensation for cotton crop loss.

"Our agitation will continue. We will now change the format of our agitation. We have decided to gherao all the state ministers, ruling party MLAs, other party leaders at all the district headquarters on October 22. We will also show black flags to ministers, ruling party leaders at village level regularly," Singh further said.

Agitating farmers arrived at the decision after holding their core committee meeting which continued till late night at Kisan Bhawan here.

The farmers' agitation, which began on October 7, paralysed rail movement in Punjab as over 1,100 trains were affected because of protest in Ambala and Ferozepur divisions of railways, causing inconvenience to passengers and heavy loss to financial loss to railway authorities.

Railway officials said it will take a minimum of 24 hours to restore normalcy as railway would carry out inspection of tracks where protesting farmers had put up blockades.

The crucial talks between protesting farmers and Badal failed to break the deadlock over peasants' demands yesterday, following which farmers announced to continue with their agitation till today.

"Our meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal was a failure despite some positive results (for farmers)," Singh said.

The BKU leader lashed out at Badal for expressing "inability" to raise the quantum of compensation for cotton crop loss and basmati prices.

"During the meeting, Badal told us that state government has nothing to offer. But said our demands are genuine and farmers are in pain. Badal said his government's financial position was worse than the cotton crop which has been extensively damaged by the whitefly attack," Singh said.

"Should such kind of response be given by a CM to protesting farmers," asked Singh.

Singh said the state government was not ready to pay more than Rs 8,000 per acre as compensation for crop loss and the government also did not accede to their demand of giving higher rates for PUSA 1121 basmati variety.

"The state government told us that PUSA 1121 basmati crop will not be purchased at MSP by state agencies. We were demanding higher rates for PUSA 1121 variety which is in great demand in overseas markets like Iran," he said.

However, he said Punjab Police DGP Sumedh Saini, who was also present in yesterday's meeting of farmers with Badal, had assured them that police would inquire into alleged fleecing of farmers by Arthiyas who had been paying "lower rates" to farmers for PUSA 1509 basmati variety.

Protesting farmers have been demanding Rs 40,000 per acre compensation for farmers whose crop got damaged by whitefly attack, Rs 20,000 per family compensation for farm labourers, Rs 4,500 per quintal rate for Basmati PUSA 1509 variety, Rs 5,000 per quintal for Basmati PUSA 1121.

Besides, they are also seeking payments of sugarcane dues by private mills, debt relief and Rs 5 lakh financial assistance to the family of farmers who commit suicide.

Asked what the farmers got from the state government, BKU leader said the state government has offered to pay Rs 64 crore compensation to farm labourers.

On the issue of debt waiver, Singh said that Punjab CM has assured that he would take up the matter with RBI while for cooperative loans, the state government would come out with a policy. To check exploitation of farmers by commission agents (Arthiyas), Singh said the state government would come out with a Money Lending Act in this regard. He said Badal had also assured that land ownership would be given to those who had been cultivating land for long and land was in their name as Girdwari.

After the meeting with representatives of farmers remained inconclusive yesterday, Badal had again appealed to them to lift their rail blockade while assuring that he was ever ready to resolve any issue related to agriculture through mutual dialogue.

Badal had termed as "very unfortunate" and "agonizing" the inconvenience caused to various section of people particularly women, children and students, due to the rail blockade.

Farmers' organizations along with farm labour outfits, including BKU Ekta (Dakunda), BKU Ekta (Ugrahan), BKU (Krantikari), Kirti Kisan Union, were participating in the 'Rail Roko' agitation which began on October 7.

Initially, the agitation was for two days - October 7 and 8 but it was extended for two days till October 10, and extended for another two days till October 12.

The seven-day blockade had disrupted movement of 564 trains in Ferozepur division. While 289 trains (127 mail/express and 162 passenger trains) were cancelled, the rest of them were diverted, short terminated and short originated, railway authorities said.

The protest on Tuesday affected the movement of 91 trains, out of which 48 trains were cancelled, railway officials said. The cancelled trains were Nangaldam-Amritsar Express, New Delhi-Amritsar intercity, New Delhi-Jalandhar intercity, Chandigarh-Amritsar intercity, Shan-e-Punjab, Gorakhpur-Amritsar Express, Shan-e-Punjab, Ferozepur Cantt-Delhi Sarai, Ludhiana-Ferozepur Express and several passenger trains.

Among trains which were diverted were Tata Nagar-Jammu Tavi, Amritsar-New Delhi Shadabdi, Amritsar-Haridwar Jan Shatabadi, Amritsar- Mumbai, Delhi-Pathankot, Ahemdabad-Katra, Mumbai-Amritsar, Amritsar-Ajmer express, Ferozepur-Mumbai, Golden Temple Mail.

Train which were short terminated and short originated were Howrah-Amritsar Express, Amarpali Express, New Delhi-Amritsar Shatabdi, Chhattisgarh Express, Jansewa Express, Jan Nayak express, Kanpur-Amritsar weekly, Paschim Express, Sachkhand express.

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