Punjab farmers end rail blockade, protests to continue
Chandigarh: Farmers in Punjab ended their rail blockade on Saturday afternoon after thousands of passengers were stranded, but said protests against slow procurement of paddy by central and state government agencies will continue.
"Although our demands have not been met by the government, we have decided to lift the blockade from the railway lines, for the sake of the public. However, we would continue our protests from the grain markets across Punjab," Sukhdev Singh, general secretary of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta group), said.
The farmers, who began the blockade on Friday, are seeking relaxation of moisture and colour norms for procurement of their paddy, in addition to a higher minimum support price (MSP).
Heavy rains in September, when paddy is normally dried for harvesting, have led to higher moisture content and discoloration of the crop. Five procurement agencies of the Punjab government and the centre`s Food Corporation of India (FCI) are engaged in the procurement process at 1,710 centres across Punjab.
The agitation call had been given by various farmers` bodies, including factions of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU). In New Delhi, the BKU (Lakhowal) leader Ajmer Singh Lakhowal said the farmers will `gherao` (surround) Parliament on November 08 to highlight their demands.
"If MPs can get big salary hikes due to inflation, what sin has been committed by poor farmers of this country that the government is not bothered about them," Lakhowal said.
The blockade by farmers led to the cancellation, diversion and termination of several trains in Punjab, stranding thousands of passengers, many of whom were going for festival holidays to other states.
Earlier on Saturday, nearly 50 trains were affected in Ambala and Ferozepur divisions of Northern Railway due to the protests.
"Our operations have been adversely affected due to this farmers` agitation. Yesterday, around 30 trains were either cancelled or delayed and Ambala division suffered a loss of over Rs 10 lakh," GM Singh, commercial manager, Northern Railway (Ambala division), said.
Local and inter-state trains were stopped by farmers in Bathinda, Jalandhar, Amritsar and Mansa districts on Saturday.
"Yesterday, 24 trains were affected and today at least 30 trains have been hampered. We have to run the trains from alternate and longer routes to avoid any untoward incident," Vishvesh Chaube, divisional railway manager (DRM), Northern Railway (Ferozepur division), said on Saturday.
Seeking prompt action on relaxation in quality specifications, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on Friday requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his direct intervention in the matter.
Badal demanded that the moisture specification should be increased from 17 to 20 percent and discoloration of paddy up to 10 percent.
Punjab and Haryana have procured over 10 million (105 lakh) tonnes of paddy this season, which commenced on October 01.
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