Punjab farmers who had set up rail blockades across the state to protest the centre’s controversial farm laws will allow trains (both passenger and goods) to resume service from Monday night, it was announced after a meeting between farmers’ unions and Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
The farmers’ unions said they would lift the blockade for a 15-day period, but warned it would be re-imposed if talks to address and resolve their issues failed to take place within that period.
Tweeting shortly after the announcement was made, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said he welcomed the farmers’ decision and called on the centre to resume rail services to the state.
“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,” Mr Singh said.
“I urge the central government to resume rail services to Punjab forthwith,” he added.
On Wednesday the farmers decided against lifting their blockade. They later said they would allow passenger trains, but only if the centre committed to allowing goods trains to run. The supply of essential commodities – like fertilisers for the agriculture sector and coal for power plants – has been hit due to the weeks-long standoff between farmer unions and the Railways.
The Railways had stopped all trains in Punjab after vociferous protests by farmers saw blocked highways and rail rokos at more than two dozen locations across the state. The farmers had said their protests would continue indefinitely if the centre did not accept their demands.
Last week representatives from the farmers’ unions met Union Minister Piyush Goyal (Railways) and Narendra Singh Tomar (Agriculture) in Delhi and presented a long list of these demands, which included the immediate withdrawal, or repeal, of the farm laws.
“We have made a demand in front of the Agriculture Minister and Railway Minister that the three laws related to agricultural reform should be withdrawn because through this the corporate grip will become very strong,” Sukhdarshan Singh Natt, the leader of the Punjab Kisan Union, told NDTV.
The farmers also called for the immediate restoration of goods train services across the state.
The blockade had led to losses to the state economy worth Rs 22,000 crore, minister Sunder Sham Arora told news agency PTI. The Railways, meanwhile, suffered an estimated Rs 1,200 crore loss.
The set of three farm laws – cleared by parliament after shocking chaotic scenes – have been met with protests from across the country.
Apart from fears it will remove MSPs (a source of credit in hard times like droughts and crop failure), critics say the laws leave small and marginal farmers at the mercy of corporates and private players.
The government says by removing barriers to inter- and intra-state trade of farm and agricultural produce, it is empowering farmers to sell their goods at markets and prices of their choice.
Last month Punjab became the first state to formally reject and counter the farm laws; the Assembly passed three bills – each of which is designed to counter one of the centre’s laws.