Punjab Industries and Commerce Minister Sunder Sham Arora on Monday claimed that the state’s industries have suffered a financial loss of Rs 22,000 crore due to the suspension of good trains amid protests against the new farm bills, reported PTI.
The Indian Railways had refused to resume goods trains in Punjab, saying it would run both passenger and freight trains or neither due to the protests. Arora urged Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal to immediately restart operation of freight trains in the state.
Industries in Ludhiana, Mandi, Gobindgarh and Jalandhar have suffered the losses, Arora said, highlighting the adverse impact of the suspension of freight trains. He added that 13,500 containers, carrying goods, were stuck at Dhandari Kalyan dry port in Ludhiana.
The minister cautioned that if the situation continued, the industry will not be able to pay salaries to employees. The iron and steel industry has been forced to bear increased cost of transportation for bringing raw material from other states, Arora said.
“I do not know what the Centre has in its mind,” the minister added. “But they are discriminating against Punjab.”
Train services in the state were initially cut off from September 24 when farmers began the “rail roko” agitation against the new farm laws. The train services had briefly resumed after farmer unions on October 21 announced their exemption from the demonstration. However, the Railways resumed the suspension of services, citing the blockade of rail tracks by protesting farmers.
On Monday evening, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh called the Railways’ move to link the movement of freight trains and passenger ones completely irrational and illogical. “Passengers wanting to come to Punjab can easily travel by train to stations in nearby states, such as Ambala in Haryana and Chandigarh, from where they can go by roads to their destinations in Punjab in a few hours,” he added.
However, the chief minister pointed out that this can be done for freight movement, adding that if people of Punjab and its farmers may be deprived of essential needs in this way.
Singh said by defending the railway authorities’ decision the BJP has fuelled the anger among farmers. The chief minister also refuted the saffron party’s state unit chief Ashwani Sharma’s allegation that the state administration was trying to arm-twist the Centre.
“Instead of questioning the Railways and supporting the state government in persuading the Centre to allow freight trains to ply, the BJP leadership continue to indulge in dirty politics at the cost of the Punjab people’s welfare and those of neighbouring states,” Singh said, according to PTI.
Singh added that the BJP was not concerned about soldiers in Ladakh and Kashmir waiting desperately for critical supplies before the extremely harsh winter conditions set in.
The Punjab chief minister has also reportedly appealed to farmer unions to completely lift their rail blockade to allow passenger trains to ply in the state as the Centre has decided to discuss the new farm laws, reported ANI.
The new farm laws
The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill is one of the three farming bills approved by the Parliament in September. The bill sought to remove onions, potatoes, cereals, oilseeds, pulses and edible oils, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities.
Apart from the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, the Parliament had also passed the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Ordinance 2020 and the Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Assurance and Farm Service Ordinance 2020. The three bills were signed into laws by President Ram Nath Kovind on September 27.
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 claimed 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 them to the mercy of market forces and threaten food security.
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 and farmers’ unions claimed that they would prove to be the “death warrant” for the agricultural sector. The governments of Punjab and Rajasthan have even passed bills to counter the Centre’s laws.