CHANDIGARH — Farmer groups and the Punjab government have accused the Narendra Modi-led central government of choking off essential supplies — such as coal, fertilizer, and gunny bags for crops — to the state in a bid to weaken the farmer’s agitation against the Modi administration’s controversial farm bill.
The farm bill, which critics allege favours large corporations over small farmers, attracted widespread protests ever since it was passed in the last session of Parliament. In Punjab, farmer groups responded by blocking railway tracks in several locations across the state; but subsequently announced they were moving off the tracks and would allow goods trains to ply.
The Punjab government’s allegations suggest a worrying deterioration of centre-state relations. While state governments are often at odds with the union; the decision to choke off supplies to an entire state by suspending the railways appears without precedent.
This week, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s office said the state was braced for significant power cuts as the de facto rail embargo had depleted coal stocks intended for the state’s thermal power plants. The Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) has announced to impose power cuts from four to five hours in villages and one to two hours in cities.
The Bharatiya Janata Party at the centre has dismissed these allegations, blaming the Congress-led Punjab government for letting farmers disrupt rail operations.
“In my view, you are fully responsible for the unfortunate situation,” BJP Chief JP Nadda wrote in a letter to CM Singh, that Nadda subsequently made public on Twitter. “Your government added fuel to the fire by openly declaring that you will not lodge an FIR against the agitators even if they indulge in road dharnas, railway track blocking.”
Farmer representatives say the Modi government has suspended the railways to put pressure on agitating groups to call off their protests.
“Once we had cleared the tracks on October 21, there was no reason for the railway to disrupt goods train services in Punjab,” Balbir Singh Rajewal, President Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) told HuffPost India.
“ Later, we even cleared platforms and cleared that also and have now taken our protests to the railway parks outside the railway stations,” Rajewal said. “Even so, the center keeps the state choked for essential supplies.”
Punjab, Rajewal said, was suffering because of the blame game between the state and the center but this will not stop farmers in taking back their fight against the draconian farm acts passed recently by the Parliament.
While continuing their protests against the Farm Acts, the farmers across the state held a ‘Chakka Jam’ for four hours on Thursday and blocked all state and national highways in Punjab.
Deepak Kumar, Chief Public relations officer of the Northern railways told HuffPost India over the phone that the trains cannot run in uncertainty.
“The farmers though have not blocked tracks at all places, they are protesting at the platforms and on RUBs and railway crossings, which can lead to any untoward situation anytime,” Kumar said, adding that at least 32 goods trains were currently stranded inside Punjab and over 230 trains loaded with coal, fertilizer and other essential supplies for Punjab are waiting from the green signal to leave for Punjab.
“We cannot move them as we are waiting for farmers to lift their protests from the railway sites,” Kumar said.
At present, there does not seem to be much clarity on precisely how many tracks have been blocked by the protests.
Kumar said farmers in Punjab were protesting in over 32 sites as on Thursday while Divisional Security Commissioners of both Ferozpur and Ambala division said the protests were happening at 28 sites.
C.Raghuveer, Sr. DSC, Ambala division, the farmers have blocked over 15 sites but now it has reduced to 14.
“They are holding protests from 1 pm to 4 pm. They are not holding tracks at all places but are protesting on platforms, near railway signals and crossings. So far, the protests have been peaceful and no damage to any railway property has been reported,” said Raghuveer while talking to HuffPost India.
“We are currently checking the current situation. The centre has asked us to update on the sites currently blocked by farmers,” said Ashish Kumar, Senior Divisional Security Commissioner(Sr. DSC), Firozpur Division, Northern Railways, adding that 14 sites were currently blocked by the farmers in Firozpur division.
Rajewal, the farmer representative — as mentioned earlier — has said that the farmers were not preventing the movement of goods trains.
“The railways did not suspend its services this long anywhere even after the Godhra riots or even after the Vienna riots in 2009 where an angry mob burnt coaches of a train at Jalandhar Cantt railway station,” said Punjab’s Jails and Cooperation Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa. “What made them suspend the railway services amidst the peaceful protest of farmers against the draconian farm act?”
Randhawa said that the centre’s refusal to resume train services was hurting the state’s export hubs in Ludhiana and Amritsar.
The farmers were protesting peacefully on platforms, Randhawa said. “Then what is stopping the railway’s to resume goods trains in Punjab?”
Randhawa said the centre’s delay in resuming train services in the state may soon pose a serious national threat as the disruption could cut off essential winter supplies to thousands of army personnel posted along India’s northern borders.