November 11, 2020: Punjab farmers, who have been protesting against the Centre’s farm laws, have been invited to Delhi on 13 November to meet senior ministers in a bid to end the ongoing impasse between them and the Railways, and restore train services in the state.
The meeting, proposed by senior BJP leader Harjeet Singh Grewal, is expected to take place between a delegation of the protesting farmers and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal.
On 14 October, talks between a delegation of the protesting farmers and Union Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agarwal had failed to yield any results, with the farmer bodies demanding to meet the agriculture minister regarding the central laws.
“All issues related to the farmers will be discussed and I am hopeful of a positive solution to the problem,” Grewal told ThePrint, confirming the 13 November meeting.
Dr Darshan Pal, convenor of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, which is spearheading the protest in Punjab, however, said they have not received any formal invitation or agenda for the meeting on 13 November.
“We have only been sent some feelers. Once we have the agenda before us, we will hold an emergent meeting of the various unions and decide on our next course of action,” he said, adding that all train tracks have now cleared of protesters.
Train services to Punjab have been suspended since 3 October when farmers, protesting against the three farm laws brought by the NDA government, launched an indefinite ‘rail roko’ agitation.
On 23 October, most of the farmer bodies called off their agitation and decided to allow goods trains to pass in view of the acute shortage of coal and fertilizer supply to the state. They, however, decided not to allow any passenger trains to pass through.
The Railways did not restore goods train services to Punjab, insisting that the state government should assure them of uninterrupted passage and security to railway property.
Despite several assurances by Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh to the railways minister and complete clearance of all train tracks last week, the Railways has refused to restore the services.
Suspension of goods train services has hit Punjab hard as it is staring at a severe power crisis and a shortage of urea while huge grain stocks pile up, waiting to be transported out of the state.
CM appeals to farmers again
Last Thursday, a team of BJP leaders from Punjab met Goyal seeking his intervention to resume the train services.
Among others, Punjab BJP chief Ashwani Sharma attended the meeting and claimed the Congress government in Punjab was playing politics over the issue. Sharma requested Amarinder to ensure both passenger trains as well as goods trains are run in the state.
On Monday, Amarinder said the BJP was fueling anger among the farmers by linking the movement of goods trains with passenger trains.
“This is nothing but a patent excuse to continue with the suspension of freight services,” said Amarinder in a statement issued Monday evening.
In another statement, the chief minister appealed to the farmer unions to reconsider their decision regarding not allowing passenger trains to run in the state in view of the initiatives taken by the central government to hold talks with them.
“Also take into account the inconvenience being caused to lakhs of Punjabis, including soldiers who were unable to come home for Diwali due to the suspension of passenger trains,” said the CM.
The chief minister Sunday spoke to Union Home Minister Amit Shah seeking his intervention over the issue.
Meanwhile, Congress General Secretary Harish Rawat Monday hit out at the Centre for not resuming goods trains in Punjab despite farmers clearing all rail tracks and said it is an “injustice” to the state.
‘CM must appeal to Centre too’
Dr Darshan Pal said that while the chief minister had appealed to them to restore passenger train movement, he should appeal to the Centre also to create an amicable environment for the upcoming talks by restoring the movement of the goods trains.
“This is not a precondition for the talks but would generate a positive environment for subsequent talks,” he told ThePrint.
Meanwhile, taking up two separate petitions over the crisis arising out of the suspension of train services, the Punjab and Haryana High Court Monday sought status reports from the Centre and the Punjab government. The matter will next come up for hearing on 18 November.
Source: The Print