Farmers in Punjab and Haryana on Thursday put up blockades on different roads and highways as part of their countrywide protest against the Centre’s farming laws, PTI reported. A day earlier, the farmers had agreed to leave the Railways premises but said that they would continue with their agitation, according to The Indian Express.

The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee had called for a countrywide “chakka jam” from 12 pm to 4 pm. Commuters faced difficulties because of the road blockade put up on several state and national highways. The police diverted the commuters to a different course, which led to traffic snarls.

Bharatiya Kisan Union general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan said road blockades have been put up at 35 places, including Mansa, Sangrur, Patiala, Bathinda, Barnala, Ludhiana and Punjab. Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee General Secretary Sarwan Singh Pandher said they have put up road blockades at 45 places in 10 Punjab districts.

Protesting farmers called the Centre’s farm legislation “black laws”. They expressed fear that the laws would destroy their farming community and would only be beneficial for corporates. The farmers also criticised the Centre for suspending goods train, affecting the supply of fertiliser, coals and other essential items.

On Wednesday, farmers had said that they would allow for the movement of goods trains but not passenger trains. Indian Railways has claimed that it incurred a loss of more than Rs 1,200 crore because of the “rail roko” protest by farmers.

Kokrikalan, however, said that the Railways was projecting a wrong picture. “Our union is sitting at tracks at two places,” he said. “But, these tracks are used only by thermal plants. The main lines are open.”

However, the railway ministry claimed that protests along railway tracks in Punjab were underway in 32 places, according to the Hindustan Times.

Earlier on Thursday, Railways board chairman Vinod Kumar Yadav said he has been assured that blockades along railway tracks would be removed by the next day. “DG RPF [director general of Railway Police Force] is reviewing [the] safety of the tracks,” he said. “We will resume all train services once the tracks come back in our control.”

He added that the railway ministry has put forth two conditions before the state government – there should be no compromise on safety and blockades should be removed – for train services to resume.

On Wednesday, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh staged a protest at the Jantar Mantar in Delhi against the farming legislations. He was joined by Congress MLAs from Punjab, state ministers, Punjabi Ekta Party MLA Sukhpal Khaira, Lok Insaf Party legislator Simranjit Singh Bains and Shiromani Akali Dal (Democratic) MLA Parminder Singh Dhindsa. Singh accused the Centre of “choking” the state by suspending goods trains.

All essential goods in Punjab are in short supply, including fertilisers for winter crops and coal for power plants. Punjab needs 14.5 lakh tonnes of urea for winter crops, but the state has only about 75,000 tonnes, according to government officials.

The farm laws

The Parliament had passed three ordinances – Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Ordinance 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Assurance and Farm Service Ordinance 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 – in September. They were signed into laws by President Ram Nath Kovind on September 27.

Protests had erupted against the laws in many parts of the country. When two of the legislations were tabled during a chaotic session in Parliament on September 20, some Opposition MPs claimed that they would prove to be the “death warrant” for the agricultural sector.

Taken together, the three legislations loosen regulations on the sale, pricing and storage of agricultural produce. They allow farmers to sell outside mandis notified by the Agricultural Produce Market Committee. They enable contract farming through deals with private sector companies. They take food items like cereals and pulses off the list of essential commodities, lifting stock limits on such produce.

The government claims the new laws would give farmers the freedom to sell in the open market. But farmers say the laws will weaken the minimum support price mechanism under which the government buys agricultural produce, leave farmers to the mercy of market forces and threaten food security.

Most Opposition parties and farmers’ organisations across the country have strongly opposed the bills. The Shiromani Akali Dal, one of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s oldest allies, pulled out of the National Democratic Alliance in protest against these bills.