Punjab’s farmer unions announced on Saturday that they will completely lift their nearly two-month-long rail blockade against the Centre’s new agriculture laws from Monday, clearing the way for movement of goods and passenger trains to ply in the state.
However, the unions have given 15 days’ time to the Centre to take a decision on the withdrawal of the laws; if that doesn’t happen, they have threatened to restart the blockade.
Saturday’s announcement came after chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh invited leaders of all 31 farmer unions to Chandigarh for talks to break the deadlock over resuming train services in Punjab.
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“Had a fruitful meeting with Kisan Unions. Happy to share that starting from November 23, unions have decided to end rail blockades for 15 days. I welcome this step as it will restore normalcy to our economy. I urge the Centre to resume rail services to Punjab forthwith,” the chief minister tweeted soon after the meeting.
Amarinder urged the Centre to support his government in creating a congenial environment for ending the agitation, which he said had grave repercussions for the state and the nation.
Punjab farmers’ bodies initially said on Wednesday that they would consider allowing passenger trains to run in the state if the Centre started running the goods trains first.
However, the railways refused, saying it would either operate both freight and passenger trains or none.
The suspension of goods trains has hit supplies of fertilisers for the agriculture sector and coal for thermal power plants, besides adversely affecting industry.
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 farmer unions with the chief minister to resolve the imbroglio.
“If the Centre fails to address our issues and clarify its stand on withdrawal of bills within 15 days, we will again start our agitation,” said Rajewal.
Thanking the unions for accepting his request, the chief minister assured the farmer leaders that he would meet the Prime Minister and the Union home minister soon to press for their demands.
Singh also promised the farmer representatives that he would look into their other demands, including those related to a sugarcane price hike and clearance of dues, as well as withdrawal of FIRs registered in stubble burning cases. He said he would hold talks with them on these issues within the next week, and also set up a committee of officers to discuss the matter.
Singh said the Centre’s decision to engage with the farmer unions indicated that it was realising the grave repercussions of the hastily passed farm laws, particularly in the context of the omnipresent Pakistan threat to disturb India’s, especially Punjab’s, peace. Islamabad is sending guns, drugs, fake currency, etc through drones, and a large amount of arms and ammunition had been seized along the Punjab border, he said, adding that it is the responsibility of every Punjabi to ensure peace.