Punjab Farmers Begin 3-Day Protest Against Farm Bills, Block Rail Tracks

Famers in Punjab's Amritsar and Firozpur districts have started their three-day 'Rail Roko' protest today against the contentious farm sector bills. Farmers' unions in Punjab have called for a statewide "bandh" tomorrow and October 1; 14 trains cancelled.

Farm sector bills: Farmers in Punjab plan to block railway tracks for 3 days starting today.

Chandigarh:

As a famers' union in Punjab starts its three-day "Rail Roko" protest today against the three farm sector bills in Amritsar and Firozpur districts, others have given a call for a statewide "bandh" on September 25, and from October 1. In view of tomorrow's protests, the Firozpur Railway Division has cancelled 14 trains affecting the state's connectivity with Mumbai and Nanded in Maharashtra, Kolkata and New Jalpaiguri in West Bengal, Jaynagar in Bihar, and Haridwar in Uttar Pradesh.

The increasing calls for protests amid the coronavirus pandemic in Punjab indicate that though the bills may have been passed in the parliament, the farmers - who are wary that the bills will spell the end of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) system once procurement starts outside mandis - are in no mood to accept them.

In rural areas of Amritsar, farmers and their families, including children and the elderly, headed out to the nearest railway tracks this morning.

"The government doesn't want to talk to us farmers. If we don't accept these laws they can't be implemented on ground. We will keep fighting; it can be 2, 5 or 10 years. The government should not think the country's farmers and workers will accept these bills," a farmer told NDTV.

Farmers have warned that if the government does not repeal these three bills - passed by voice vote amid unprecedented chaos - they will further intensify protests, which have been going on for weeks in the country's primary wheat and rice growing states of Haryana and Punjab.

They said the rail-roko move - called by the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh a week ago - was indicative of just how far they have been pushed without dialogue amid a pandemic.

An elderly farmer without a face mask said he was more concerned by these bills than coronavirus. "These bills will end MSP and mandi system as we know it," he told NDTV underlining the farmers' trust deficit in the government which, they say, never consulted them before bringing in "corporate friendly" laws.

Wary that political parties might highjack their movement, Sarwan Pandher of Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee said, "This is an agitation of farmers. Sitting or former MLAs/MPs should not come."

In parts of rural Punjab, including Mansa - the parliamentary constituency of former Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal of the Akali Dal - the anger against BJP has taken the form of social boycott, with a list of local BJP leaders supporting the bill doing the rounds.

As pressure mounts, the central government, too, seems to be in no mood to give in and the BJP is planning to launch an awareness campaign.

According to the Centre, these bills - repeatedly called "Black Laws" by Opposition parties, including Congress - will help small and marginal farms by allowing them to sell produce outside mandis and sign agreements with agri-business firms; and doing away with stock-holding limits on key commodities.