Protesting Punjab farmers agree to lift rail blockade

| | New Delhi
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Protesting Punjab farmers agree to lift rail blockade

Sunday, 22 November 2020 | Rajesh Kumar | New Delhi

After 57 days of standoff, protesting Punjab farmers’ unions have agreed to lift rail blockade and decided to allow passage of all trains in the State from Monday evening for a fortnight. The decision by the members of a conglomerate of 30 farmer unions came after a one and a half hour meeting with Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh.

Railways are estimated have suffered a loss of over Rs 2,220 crore, while industries in Punjab suffered a loss to over Rs 30,000 crore due to farmers’ protests. Now, farmers’ unions will be concentrating their protests outside residences of BJP leaders and businesses owned by corporates, while preparing for their protest in Delhi on November 26-27.

Amarinder welcomed the farmers’ decision and urged the Centre to resume rail services to Punjab forthwith. “Had a fruitful meeting with kisan (farmers’) unions. Happy to share that starting November 23 night, kisan unions have decided to end rail blockade for 15 days. I welcome this step since it will restore normalcy to our economy,” Amarinder said.

“I urge the Central Government to resume rail services to Punjab forthwith,” he added. The Chief Minister is now likely to meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi next week to push for resumption of rail services in his State.

The decision to lift the rail blockade was announced by Bharti Kissan Union (Rajewal) president Balbir Singh Rajewal at a meeting of representatives of the Kisan Unions with the Chief Minister here to resolve the imbroglio over the rail blockade imposed by the farmers in protest against the Centre’s laws. Rajewal, however, warned of resumption of blockade if the Central Government fails to hold talks with the farmers’ representatives in the next 15 days to address their concerns on the agricultural laws.

Buta Singh Burjgill, president of the BKU (Dakonda), said their protests at toll plazas, outside railway stations, shopping malls and residences of BJP leaders will continue.

According to railways, it has suffered a loss of Rs 2,220 crore, including Rs 67 crore in passenger revenue, due to the ongoing protest by farmers in Punjab. A total 2,352 passenger trains have been cancelled or diverted since farmers began a protest in September against the Centre’s new farm laws. The Railways said around 230 loaded rakes for Punjab are currently held up outside the State. This includes 78 rakes of coal, 34 of fertiliser, eight each of cement and petroleum, oil and lubricants and 102 containers carrying steel and other commodities. Around 33 rakes are stuck in Punjab itself, it said.

The deadlock between the protesting farmers and the Railways continued with the national transporter rejecting a proposal by the protesters that only freight trains will be allowed to run in the State. The farmers’ organisation that resorted to ‘rail roko’ agitation from September 24 over the farm laws, had already agreed to allow goods trains to run in the State, besides clearing rail tracks and vacating platforms. The Railways has maintained that it needs full guarantee from the State Government that no trains will be disrupted and both passenger and freight trains would be allowed to operate.

As per a State Government statement, the industry had suffered losses of Rs 30,000 crore and the major industrial hubs of Ludhiana and Jalandhar 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.

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