All eyes are now on a crucial meeting between the Punjab government and leaders of various agitating farmers’ organizations to be held here on Monday as the protest by the peasantry has severely paralysed train services in Punjab and even adjoining Haryana.
Railway officials said that nearly 800 trains were affected in the region, mostly comprising Punjab and Haryana, as the agitation by farmers went on for the fifth consecutive day on Sunday.
Railway passengers were the worst sufferers with several trains being cancelled, blocked or diverted in Punjab.
“This is the worst-ever protest by farmers in Punjab which has badly affected train services in the region. Several trains have been cancelled and diverted,” divisional railway manager, Ferozepur division, Anuj Prakash told media.
The Samjhauta Express – the peace train between India and Pakistan – is also affected by the agitation and has been cancelled till Monday.
The farmers have already extended their “rail roko” (railway blockade) protest till Monday, ignoring appeals from Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to end the protest and hold talks with the state government.
Talks between leaders of agitating farmers and government representatives in the past week failed to break the deadlock over the formers’ demands.
The farmers are particularly agitated over the government’s response to the whitefly attack on the cotton crop in the Malwa region, where the pest has damaged over 60 percent of the crop and caused losses of hundreds of crores of rupees to the growers.
The agitating farmers are demanding compensation of at least Rs.40,000 per acre for the cotton crop loss, immediate release of money to sugarcane growers and higher support price for basmati rice.
The agitation has had spill-over effect on rail traffic in neighbouring Haryana as well with trains connecting with Punjab being cancelled.
Farmers continued to block the Amritsar-Jalandhar railway track at Muchhal village near Amritsar, 225 km from here, and the Ludhiana-Ferozepur track near Moga, 170 km from here, on Sunday. They pitched tents and spread mattresses on the tracks.
Railways officials said that about 800 trains have been affected so far due to the farmers’ protest, which started on October 7. The loss to the railways and the state administration is estimated at over Rs.100 crore.
Trains from Haryana linking various places in Punjab were also been cancelled in the past four days.
“Nearly 240 trains from Haryana, including express, passenger and freight trains, have been affected since the farmers’ agitation began in Punjab,” said Ambala station manager Hans Raj.
Leaders of the farmers’ organisations on Saturday decided to extend their agitation for two more days till Monday, despite being invited by Badal for talks. The talks will take place here on Monday.
“We have decided to extend our agitation till Monday. We will decide the next course after talks with Punjab government on Monday,” said farmers’ leader H.S. Sandhu.
The rail blockade call was given by eight farmer organisations, including factions of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, to protest the “anti-farmer policies” of the Punjab government.