Punjab farmers had blocked rail tracks and highways to protest against the farm laws

Chandigarh:

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 freight) 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.

The Chief Minister is now likely to meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi next week to push for resumption of rail services in his state.

On Wednesday the farmers had decided against lifting their blockade on passenger trains, insisting that the centre must first allow freight trains – which the farmers said they had allowed nearly a month ago – to resume operations. The Railways, however, cited security concerns and refused to do so, saying that it would operate either both passenger and goods trains or none at all.

The farmers’ decision was criticised by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who is widely seen as being supportive of the their position. The Chief Minister pointed out that the farmers’ continued blockade of passenger (and consequently freight) trains was affecting the state economy.

“They should realise things can not continue like this… if rail transportation continues to remain suspended any longer, the state (will) plunge into an irreversible crisis,” Mr Singh had said.

According to news agency PTI the blockade has led to losses to the state economy worth Rs 22,000 crore. The Railways, meanwhile, has suffered an estimated Rs 1,200 crore loss.

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 demands, which included the immediate withdrawal, or repeal, of the farm laws.

The set of three farm laws – cleared by parliament in early September after shocking and chaotic scenes in both Houses – were met with protests from across the country.

Apart from fears the laws will remove MSP (minimum support price, a source of credit in hard times like droughts and crop failure), critics say small and marginal farmers will be left at the mercy of corporates.

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.

With input from PTI

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