More than 265 farmers’ groups across the country on Friday staged protests against the three contentious agricultural legislations passed in Parliament last week, NDTV reported. Opposition parties, including the Congress and Samajwadi Party, backed the protest call by farmer groups.

All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee General Secretary Avik Saha told the news channel that the protests were held at nearly 20,000 locations across India. “More than 265 farmers’ groups affiliated with the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee took part in protests today [Friday],” he said. “Additionally, around 100 non-affiliated groups also participated.”

Hundreds of farmers gathered on a key road in Noida in Uttar Pradesh and held demonstrations, PTI reported. Police in riot gear stopped them from proceeding towards Delhi. Heavy police deployment and barricades were seen at the Noida-Delhi border as farmers on foot, tractors and two-wheelers staged a demonstration.

“Police personnel have been deployed at the Noida Gate to check the movement of protesters,” Deputy Commissioner of Police, Noida, Rajesh S told PTI. “The situation is under control. We are talking to the farmers and ensuring no law and order situation arises.”

Members of the Bharatiya Kisan Union held protests near the Delhi border, ANI reported. Protests also erupted across Uttar Pradesh including Baghpat, Lucknow, Lakhimpur Kheri, Hapur, Bijnor and Ghaziabad, News18 reported. The protesting farmers also blocked the Ayodhya-Lucknow highway and the Delhi-Meerut highway, according to NDTV.

In Punjab, farmers gathered under the aegis of Bharatiya Kisan Union and Revolutionary Marxist Party of India blocked the Amritsar-Delhi National Highway near Phillaur in Jalandhar. Additional forces were deployed in Ludhiana and Amritsar to control the spiralling protests.The Punjab-Haryana border near Ambala was sealed. The police installed barricades at the Ladowal Toll Plaza in Ludhiana.

Shiromani Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal led a protest from his native village in Muktsar district. Former Union minister and his wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal was also a part of the protest.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh meanwhile, urged the farmers to maintain law and order and to follow Covid-19 safety protocols. However, the chief minister assured the farmers that no first information report will be registered for violating prohibitory orders during the protest. The police in Amritsar had on Thursday banned gatherings of over four people, under Section 144 of the Code Of Criminal Procedure, till September 27.

Women protesters under the banner of Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee in Amritsar led a march against the agriculture bills. Shops and commercial establishments at many places in Punjab remained shut on Friday. Krantikari Kisan Union chief Darshan Pal said farmers would hold protests at over 150 places across the state, adding that they were getting support from traders, transporters and taxi operators among others.

In Karnataka, members of the state association held a protest near Bommanahalli on Karnataka-Tamil Nadu highway.

In Bihar, Rashtriya Janata Dal workers staged a protest in Darbhanga while riding buffaloes. “Central government has made our ‘anndaata’ [farmers] a puppet through its ‘fund daata’,” said Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav. “Farm Bills are anti-farmer and have left them dejected. Government had said that they’ll double farmers’ income by 2022 but these bills will make them poorer. Agriculture sector has been corporatised.”

An RJD district worker, protesting against the bills in Gaya, said it must be repealed by the Centre. “It’ll only benefit corporations and will lead to the closure of all mandis,” he told ANI.

Farmers in some places also shouted slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, according to News18. The farmers said that the BJP government was opening up the farm sector to big corporate houses and pushing small and marginal farmers to starvation.

Protests were also seen in the rural belts of Hooghly, Murshidabad, North 24 Parganas, Bankura and Nadia districts in West Bengal.

Ten central trade unions, including All India Trade Union Congress, National Trades Union Congress, Centre of Indian Trade Unions and Hind Mazdoor Sabha, extended their support to the call of a shutdown. Farmer organisations like Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, Swadeshi Jagran Manch – both affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – are also demanding amendments to the legislations. However, these two outfits will not take part in the protest on Friday.

The Congress also backed the call of the Bharat Bandh. The party’s General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi on Friday said MSP will be taken away from farmers. “They will be forced to become slaves of trillions through contract farming,” she tweeted. “Farmers will neither get the price nor the honor. It will become laborer on his own land. We won’t let this injustice happen.” Her brother and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also said the bills will “enslave the farmers”.

The Samajwadi Party also staged protests against the bills across Uttar Pradesh. They sent a memorandum to Governor Anandiben Patel, requesting her to ensure that the “anti-farmer and anti-worker” bills are not implemented, according to PTI.

Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav accused the Centre of exploiting the farmers. “Laws are being made in Parliament only for multinational companies and a few industrialists,” he said. “The BJP government has first introduced a bill for exploitation of farmers to benefit capitalists and now a bill of labour exploitation to benefit industrialists. They brought the bills without taking any suggestions.”

Train services hit

In anticipation of the protests, special passenger trains operating from the Ferozepur division in Punjab were cancelled or partially stopped. The Amritsar-Haridwar train was cancelled for Friday and Saturday and the New Delhi-Jammu Tawi Express from Thursday to Saturday.

The Sachkhand Express, which runs between Nanded city in Maharashtra and Amritsar and the Shaheed Express running between Amritsar and Jaynagar in Bihar were also suspended, according to PTI. Unidentified Railway officials told the news agency that 14 pairs of special trains will remain suspended till September 26.

Train No. 02904, earlier scheduled to run from Amritsar, will now begin its journey from Ambala between Thursday and Saturday. The Mumbai Central-Amritsar train arriving on Thursday will be rerouted to Ludhiana and it will stop at Ambala on Friday and Saturday.

The farmers organisations have decided to go for an indefinite rail blockage from October 1.

The controversial legislations

Three controversial Bills on agriculture reforms are set to become law after being passed by the Rajya Sabha on September 20 in the middle of utter pandemonium. The three bills are the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill. The last one was also approved by a voice vote in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.

Critics say that these new agricultural policies will lead to farmers losing out on guaranteed purchase prices for their crops, to the benefit of large corporations.

Opposition parties held three rounds of protests in Parliament on the last day of the Monsoon Session of Parliament on Wednesday. Congress MP and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad had also met President Ram Nath Kovind and requested him to not give his assent to the three farm bills passed in Parliament. Opposition leaders have also asked that the bills be sent to a select committee.