The railways on Saturday declined to resume only goods train services in Punjab as demanded by agitating farmers, who cleared tracks after squatting on them for over 40 days, and said it will operate both freight and passenger trains or none. Addressing a press conference online, Railway Board Chairman V K Yadav said states cannot "pick and choose" and it is not feasible to allow anyone to dictate which trains to run on which tracks.
He said protesters still remained at one railway station in Punjab and have assembled just outside station premises in 22 other places threatening to move to tracks if passenger trains are run. "Statements from both the protesters and the state government are similar — the tracks are clear for freight trains only. IR (Indian Railways) cannot operate in that way. If tracks are clear, they are clear for both freight and passenger trains. We request that the running of trains be left to the railways," he said.
Officials of the state government and the national transporter have been discussing ways to resume train services in the state that were suspended on September 24 after peasants blocked tracks in protest against three recent farm sector laws. The state government in a statement Friday night said that the tracks had been cleared for train operations, but the railways claimed it was aimed at "misguiding" people who have been inconvenienced due to the suspension of trains during the festive season.
Rejecting the protesters' demand, Yadav said, "We cannot run trains in a situation where protesters are demanding that we run certain trains and there is no assurance from the state government of the safety and security of those trains. The state government is also saying what the protesters are saying." "They (protesters) have conveyed to our station masters that they will allow railways to run freight trains but will come on the tracks if we run passenger trains. Our operating staff is not confident about running trains under these circumstances," he said. Yadav reiterated that the railways needs 100 per cent security clearance from the state government to resume train operations in Punjab.
He said the railways is seeking track clearance in all sections for all kinds of train operations, adding that "states cannot pick and choose type of trains for their convenience". Yadav said that all passenger trains scheduled to be operated during the current festival season were fully booked and their cancellation was inconveniencing a lot of passengers. The railways also tried to run just goods trains between October 22 and October 24 and this had raised huge security concerns.
"Trains were stopped to check whether they were goods or passenger services. We cannot stop trains for protesters to give us certificates to run trains…. There were times when possible accidents were averted. If people come in front of trains and try to stop trains, it is damaging for both railways and the persons involved, he said. He also said that it was not feasible to allow anyone to dictate which trains to run on which tracks. "This is not possible operationally in any part of the country. We have conveyed this to the Punjab government again and again…if this is done then the entire IR system will be unable to work and from every corner of the country people will start telling us which trains to run. We run trains depending on technical feasibility of tracks only, he said.
Train services in the state have remained suspended since September 24 when farmer organisations organised protests on tracks and station premises against the farm laws. The suspension of railway services has led to a shortage in supplies in the state.
The three farm laws — the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 — were enacted recently. Farmers' bodies protesting against the laws have expressed apprehension that these would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the "mercy" of big corporate entities. They demand that the laws be withdrawn. The Centre has asserted that these new laws will be beneficial for farmers and will increase their income.