Normal life was hit as farmers blocked highways, roads and squatted on railway tracks at many places in Punjab and Haryana, and other states, on Monday in view of a “Bharat Bandh" called by farm unions from 6am to 4pm, against three agriculture laws of the Centre. Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait called the strike “successful".
Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar had earlier in the day urged farmers not to protest and said the government is ready to hold discussions on the issue. “I urge farmers to adopt the path of discussion by leaving the path of protests. Central government is ready to discuss any issues raised by farmers," he said in Madhya Pradesh’s Gwalior on Sunday. Farmers from different parts of the country, especially Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, have been protesting at Delhi borders since November last year, demanding the repeal of the three contentious farm laws that they fear would do away with the Minimum Support Price system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporations. The government, however, has been projecting the three laws as major agricultural reforms. Over 10 rounds of talks between the two parties have failed to break the deadlock.
Top 10 Highlights of the Bharat Bandh:
1. 25 Trains Affected Due to Bandh: About 25 trains have been affected due to the Bharat Bandh. “More than 20 locations are being blocked in Delhi, Ambala, and Firozepur divisions. About 25 trains are affected due to this," a spokesperson for the Northern Railway said.
- Officials said the Delhi-Amritsar Shan-e-Punjab, New Delhi-Moga Express, Old Delhi-Pathankot Express, Vande Bharat Express from New Delhi to Katra, and Amritsar Shatabdi are some of the trains that have been affected. In the North-Western Railway zone, rail traffic on the Rewari-Bhiwani, Bhiwani-Rohtak, Bhiwani-Hisar and Hanumangarh-Sadulpur-Sriganganagar-Fatuhi sections has been affected due to the farmers’ agitation.
- According to Lt. Shashi Kiran, Chief Public Relations Officer, North-Western Railway, due to the bandh train, the Bathinda - Lalgarh special train service has been cancelled on Monday along with the Sriganganagar-Ambala special train service. Partially cancelled train services include the Jaipur - Daulatpur Chowk Special train service which left Jaipur on Monday but will operate only till Dhulkot station.
- While the Daulatpur Chowk Jaipur Special will leave Ambala on Monday, instead of Daulatpur Chowk, this train will run partially between Daulatpur Chowk-Ambala stations. Other partially operated services include the Tilakbridge Sri Ganganagar Special train service which will operate from Rewari in place of Tilak Bridge, the Rewari Jodhpur Special train which will operate from Sadulpur instead of Rewari and the Delhi Sarai Rohilla Bikaner Special train service which will leave Delhi Sarai on Monday but will operate up to Sri Ganganagar station.
2. Almost Complete Shutdown in Punjab: In Punjab, the ruling Congress said it firmly stands by the farm unions’ “Bharat Bandh" call against the three laws. The shutdown was almost complete in the state, with transport services suspended during the bandh period, while shops and other commercial establishments remained shut at most places. National and state highways in several districts, including Amritsar, Rupnagar, Jalandhar, Pathankot, Sangrur, Mohali, Ludhiana, Ferozepur, Bathinda, were blocked by the protesters.
3. Protestors Block Highways in Haryana: In neighbouring Haryana, the protesters blocked highways in Sirsa, Fatehabad, Kurukshetra, Panipat, Hisar, Charkhi Dadri, Karnal, Kaithal, Rohtak, Jhajjar and Panchkula districts. The protesting farmers also squatted on railway tracks at many places in the two states.
4. Massive Traffic Snarls in Delhi: Markets remained open and business activities were largely unaffected in the national capital on Monday, though massive traffic snarls were witnessed in border areas due to road blockades.
- The auto and taxi unions as well as several traders’ bodies extended only “in-principle support" to the Bharat Bandh and decided not to join the strike, saying their livelihood has already been hit hard due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.
- A section of trade unions and civil society groups held a protest at Jantar Mantar in solidarity with the Bandh called by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body of over 40 farm unions spearheading the farmers’ agitation. The protesters held banners of ‘Long Live Farmers Unity’ and demanded the repeal of the agri laws and equal opportunities for all.
- Parts of the national capital witnessed traffic snarls in morning hours as police closed some key roads to prevent any untoward incident during the bandh. Commuters faced difficulty while crossing the city borders, especially the Delhi-Gurgaon border. The traffic on DND was also affected. The Ghazipur border is closed for vehicular movement and the whole traffic is being diverted to DND and Apsara border for Noida and Ghaziabad respectively. There was chaos on one carriageway of the national highway coming from Ghazipur border to Sarai Kale Khan near Akshardham Mandir.
- The Delhi Police increased security checks at its border points which led to the slowing down of traffic and it informed commuters about road closures and traffic snarls on Twitter. According to police, roads around the historic Red Fort, which witnessed violent clashes during a farmers’ tractor rally on January 26, as well as the dual carriageway at the Ghazipur border were closed for traffic.
5. No Major Impact in Madhya Pradesh: The Bharat Bandh had no major impact in Madhya Pradesh on Monday as day-to-day and commercial activities went on as usual. Eyewitnesses said road traffic was normal in the state capital Bhopal and commercial hub Indore. However, talking to PTI, Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Mahasangh national president Shivkumar Kakkaji claimed, “The bandh called by farmers against the three laws and for demanding guaranteed MSP for crops has been successful. He further claimed that the outfit had given relaxation from the shutdown to Bhopal as most of its residents are (private and government sector) employees and not farmers, but the protest was successful in the farming community-dominated small towns of Nimar region, Shahdol, Umaria, Raisen and Silwani. Kakkaji said he was sitting in the “control room" in Bhopal and was getting reports that the shutdown call was “successful", and added that no untoward incident was reported from anywhere. Peaceful protests were also seen in districts like Vidisha and Satna.
6. Demonstrations Across Jammu District: Demonstrations and rallies were held across Jammu district. Led by CPI(M) leader M Y Tarigami, hundreds of activists and farmers took out a rally and sat on a dharna on the main road here, leading to disruption of traffic. Addressing the activists, Tarigami said these “anti-farmer" laws are bound to “destroy" the agriculture sector and threaten India’s food security. “Besides, these laws will lay the basis for abolishment of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and mortgage the country’s agriculture and markets to the corporate sector", he charged. Tarigami said the issue of providing fair price for farmers’ produce by ensuring a minimum support price has been a long pending demand of farmers.
7. In Separate Stir, Farmers Confront Cops in Noida: Meanwhile, hundreds of people from various villages here and a large number of police personnel were involved in a confrontation on Tuesday during a demonstration over land compensation outside the Noida Authority Office on Delhi’s outskirts, coinciding with the Bharat Bandh call given by farmer unions. The protestors, mostly supporters of the Bharatiya Kisan Parishad, have been staging a sit-in outside the Noida Authority’s office for the past several days over a host of demands including hiked compensation for their land acquired by the government. Police officials said that security had been heightened in the area in view of the ongoing protest and barricades were also set up to prevent the protestors from moving towards the Authority’s office in Sector 6. While trying to pacify the demonstrators, led by farmer leader Sukhvir Pahalwan, Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police (Noida) Ranvijay Singh asked them not to take the law into their hands.
8. Gujarat Remained Largely Peaceful: Gujarat largely remained peaceful on Monday during the Bharat Bandh, though there were reports of highways being blocked briefly which affected traffic movement, officials said. Protesters were detained in some parts of the state, they said. Traffic movement on a national highway connecting Surat to Mumbai in neighbouring Maharashtra as blocked in Kamrej for some time by protesters, who burnt tyres on the arterial stretch, a police official said. Later, police detained about 25 people and restored traffic movement on the road, he said. Protests were also witnessed in Surendranagar where farmers gathered in large numbers on a highway connecting Ahmedabad to Rajkot, but they were later dispersed by police, another official said. A group of farmers in Surat’s Olpad area were detained even before they could begin their protest. “Even before we could start our protest, the police detained all our members. The government is using police machinery to suppress our voice," a farmer union member alleged. In districts like Mehsana, Sabarkantha, Morbi and Gandhinagar, heavy rains during the morning affected the plans of groups supporting the bandh, which is in effect from 6 am to 4 pm.
9. Lukewarm Response in Andhra Pradesh: The Bharat Bandh calledevoked lukewarm response in Andhra Pradesh though the YSR Congress government lent support. Heavy to very heavy rains in different districts had a severe impact on normal life, other than the bandh. Only at a few places like Tirupati, Anantapuramu and Kadapa did the opposition parties stage protests against the farm laws . The main opposition Telugu Desam Party also supported the bandh, along with the Congress and the Left parties. In the temple town of Tirupati, workers of Left parties squatted on the rail track inside the railway station before police whisked them away. A sit-in protest was also staged on the main road in the city. In Kadapa and Anantapuramu, the opposition workers staged protests in front of the RTC bus depots.
10. Assam Remains Unaffected: Assam remained unaffected by the Bharat Bandh on Monday as public transport operated as usual, markets were open and offices registered usual attendance. The opposition Congress, which supported the bandh, did not organise any protest programme in the state. In Guwahati, members of the SUCI (Communist) took out a protest rally in the morning, raising slogans against the three farm laws. They were detained by the police near the Ulubari point. There were no reports of any other protest or demonstration from across the state. Congress state president Bhupen Bora urged the people to come out on the streets in support of the bandh, but party workers were missing.